America, China, and Russia – Where to From Here?
Al-Etihad, UAE, April 8
During the first 10 weeks of his presidency, US President Joe Biden appeared flustered about China and Russia. He sent contradictory signs about his foreign policy stances in respect to the two superpowers, without any clear or decisive action. But then, the Biden administration severed its tone with both countries. While previous administrations preferred to settle disputes with China and Russia behind closed doors, Biden decided to put his disagreements with Beijing and Moscow out in the open. The US president described Putin as a “heartless killer,” while his secretary of state criticized China in front of a group of journalists following the strategic dialogue held in Alaska in late March. However, despite Biden’s admirable stance and decision to protect his country’s strategic interests, picking a simultaneous fight with China and Russia is a dangerous bet. It could easily push the two countries, Russia and China, to join hands and cooperate with one another, in an effort to weaken the United States even further. We’ve already seen signs of this happening. Iran and China recently announced a 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which consists of extensive Chinese investments in the Iranian economy in exchange for heavily subsidized Iranian oil exports to Beijing. In light of Biden’s recent attacks on Putin, it would come as no surprise if Russia were to announce its own plan to sign a cooperation agreement with Iran, especially given Moscow’s growing presence in neighboring Syria. There is no doubt that Biden’s hawkish policy is a product of domestic, not foreign, considerations. Biden is attempting to prove his superiority over previous administrations and appease segments of the population who believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 US elections. He wants to be perceived as a strong leader who can talk about mending the rifts inside American society while using an iron fist against America’s enemies. He’s also hoping to win the support of human rights advocates who want countries like Russia and China held accountable for their actions. So far, most of the tension between the US, China, and Russia has been limited to words and rhetoric. But there are also actions on the ground. Biden decided to launch a quadripartite security dialogue with Australia, India, and Japan, in a manner indicating America’s effort to build a cordon around China. But Biden must also be careful of not provoking the two superpowers too much, lest he find himself in a full-on confrontation with one, or both, of them. The key is to find the right balance between protecting America’s interests and taking irreversible steps that would aggravate America’s enemies. This is a fine line to tread, and the Biden administration will have to do so very carefully. –Waheed Abdul Majeed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)