Despite Washington’s campaign to isolate Beijing, it has shown itself capable of steering global politics towards its goals
The past few weeks have seen a comprehensive show of diplomatic force by China. Shortly after Xi Jinping completed a successful trip to Moscow, where he met with Vladimir Putin, Beijing announced it had brokered a deal to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The breakthrough was widely regarded as a blow to US influence in the Middle East. Then China persuaded Honduras to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing, and now high-ranking Western politicians and EU officials, including French president Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and the Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sanchez, are piling in to visit Beijing.
When viewed as a whole, the last several weeks have seen China enjoy massive diplomatic gains at the expense of the US, pouring freezing water on Washington’s attempts to isolate Beijing ‘Cold War-style’ on the global stage and on a relentless propaganda campaign steeped in negativity and fear-mongering. But in spite of it all, the reality continues to shine through that China is simply too big and too globally significant to isolate, illustrating that Biden’s strategy of creating overlapping multilateral alliances in a bid to contain Beijing, isn’t going to work.
China’s ‘great power moment’
China has demonstrated that it is a superpower with the ability to steer global affairs in its own direction, a privilege which the US believed was its own exclusive entitlement. Beijing’s peace proposal for Ukraine and the Saudi-Iran normalisation deal caused a shock to the system in Washington. Xi’s visit to Moscow in particular has brought a new balance to the dynamic around the Ukraine conflict and jeopardized hubris-led US miscalculations that it can escalate the conflict to the point of forcing a zero-sum outcome in favour of its own strategic objectives.
As noted above, European leaders have responded to Xi’s visit, not by turning against China as was hoped, but by intensifying their diplomatic engagement with Beijing and scrambling to remain on board. But what is China’s response going to be? It is reasonable to expect an element of “Then stop siding with the United States against us”. Thus, a potential consequence of China’s strategic partnership with Russia, down the line, could be the weakening of American influence over the EU, which Washington is trying to strengthen by fanning the flames of the Ukraine war. Beijing is thus bringing some much-needed balance to the equation.
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Taiwan is bleeding allies, and the US is powerless to stop it
In the midst of this all, the US was powerless to stop Honduras from recognising mainland China over Taiwan, with the two countries officially opening up diplomatic relations on Sunday. US officials have reportedly tried to “lean on” Honduras to change its mind, even speaking about a “change of heart”. Not surprisingly, Washington’s condescending attitude was rejected – after all, why would Honduras not be entitled to the same diplomatic relations with China that the US itself has? And who is the US to lecture Honduras on what constitutes its national interests?
The move leaves Taiwan with just 13 so-called official “diplomatic allies” left. Although the influence of these states combined is less than the “unofficial” support the US is now granting to Taipei, it nonetheless shows that international recognition of the One China policy, and therefore the affirmation that Taiwan is a part of China, is growing. Further, while Washington is attempting to create conflict over this issue, Beijing is not struggling to get countries to recognize and support its position. The Honduran switch, which Taiwan dubbed “dollar diplomacy”, is a reminder that the economic size and scope of China as a partner is too big to be ignored, and the US cannot do anything about it.
A losing battle?
American foreign policy right now is focused on containing China as a geopolitical rival through protracted military, economic, technological and political strategies. This has included building comprehensive new alliances such as AUKUS, weaponizing human rights issues such as allegations of “Uyghur genocide”, imposing an ever-growing embargo on high-end components and generating military tensions over the island of Taiwan.
However, US assumptions that China can be comprehensively isolated stem from the hubris of the unipolar experience, which chronically overestimates American power and underestimates China’s position. The past few weeks have shown that isolation is not easy to accomplish, and that despite everything, Beijing retains the ability to shape geopolitics to its own accord. The great game thus continues, and Xi Jinping is likely to have a few more tricks up his sleeve yet.