By Herman Tiu Laurel

Kissinger to Biden: Go easy on China

December 2, 2020, 10:13 pm

WHILE China and its leadership continue on a one-track express train towards the multi-polar world, helping build (with ASEAN) the gigantic RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) that will include 30% or the world economy and population into one trading bloc, the US continues its transition agonies.  Outgoing president Trump is laying political landmines for the incoming Biden administration and the US intelligentsia is in angst over how the new administration will relate with China without giving political ammunition to the “Trumpian” opposition.

Speculation is rife on how the Biden administration will shape its policy relative to China. As the influential Washington newspaper, The Hill, reported, “The Biden administration’s campaign for hearts and minds began with Kissinger’s preemptive strike at the recent virtual Bloomberg conference on national security...”

That’s where Kissinger advised Biden to “go easy on China”, also laying out some ideas on how to deal with allies in dealing with China: “I think democracies should cooperate wherever their convictions allow it or dictate it... I think a coalition aimed at a particular country is unwise, but a coalition to prevent dangers is necessary where the occasion requires.”

The Trump-Pompeo anti-China Quad would fall under the coalition of the first type, which is to be avoided, while the coalition of the second type suggested by Kissinger could be an initiative of the new Biden administration to show a pro-active plan that would moot the Trumpian opposition allegations of pro-China bias.

Bury the failed Quad at sea

Thus far, the Trump administration has failed to boost its sagging political fortunes in its final year despite a last-two-minutes fast break to rally allies and the US voters around an anti-China crusade, raising the “China virus”, the admittedly humorous “Kung Flu” and an anti-China battle-cry to unite ASEAN allies behind it and launching the Quad with Australia, India, and Japan.

Kung Flu or the “China virus” never picked up as Americans stuck to using “COVID-19” and ASEAN remained mum, while India and Japan stuck to their diffident “go along” attitude.

The Pompeo “rally ASEAN” gambit fell on deaf ears, while India and Japan eventually had their real voices heard. India’s real position on the Quad was more nuanced and complex, as articulated in Modi’s speech at the Shangri-La dialogue on June 1, 2018, when he stated that “India does not see the Indo-Pacific as a strategy or as a club of limited members … And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country...” In October 2020, Japan’s new PM Yoshihide Suga stated i that Japan is not looking to form an “Asian NATO” to contain any specific country.

The sting of the Trumpian whip was felt most acutely on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s backside as he goosestepped to the anti-China diktat of Trump and Pompeo despite risking billions of dollars of exports to China, at tremendous cost to Australia’s national interest and economic welfare. But as the exiting Trump administration’s whip loses its sting, Australia’s rhetoric has begun to relent and soften. – Now, Morrison says Australia does not take sides between US and China while praising China’s anti-poverty achievements and its quest for WTO reforms. Hopefully, it not too late.

The Global Times, China’s unofficial “talkback” newspaper, commented on Morrison’s softening stance as follows, “Economic pressure, White House transition are keys to change of attitude.” With Australia’s change of tone and heart, the advice from Kissinger and the clear signals from ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific countries, Biden would indeed do well to bury the anti-China rhetoric and the Quad and other anti-China projects at sea into the Davy Jones’ locker. Left to Asians without Western interventions, the Asia-Pacific and the South China Sea –- will be calm and peaceful as they have been for millennia.

All over

Meanwhile, China is, so to speak, all over the place, organizing, urging, encouraging, motivating, building, pushing trade, and economic recovery. Without this pro-active initiative, it will likely take years to recover from the pandemic’s adverse economic impact. China is the only major country now providing the get-up-and-go spirit to kickstart regional and global economic resuscitation, from offering the most tested, cheapest, and available vaccine to opening the world’s largest market for exports from all countries of the world.

President Xi and China have been non-stop in urging policy and implementation of projects for economic recovery. Its advocacy measures have included: (a) CIIE 2020 (China International Import Expo) on November 5 in Shanghai for Chinese buyers to view and buy products from countries desiring to export to China; (b0 President Xi Jinping’s call for advancing the COVID-19 fight at the BRICS meet on November 17; (c) President Xi’s proposal for a “global QR code system to help free up travel” at the G20 virtual summit on November 21; and finally,  (d) his call for an “elevated China-ASEAN cooperation for regional economic recovery.”

While China’s indispensability to the world’s economy has always been underreported, it has long been known that China contributes 30 percent to the global economic growth. In its November 8, 2020 report entitled “China: Still the world’s growth engine after COVID-19”, McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm, the word “still” is significant as China was also the growth engine of the West and the rest of the world relent and after the US Financial Crash of 2008. It was China’s economic stimulus at home that boosted demand for global commodities and services.

Bullish on China

In the final reckoning, China has not only survived the virus very well but also overcome the four years of Trumpian trade war and verbal vitriol; it has done so astoundingly well. The problem will now be left to the Biden administration to take back many of the things Trump said about China. The new US president will need to rectify without losing face for his nation and without triggering an eruption of backfire from Trumpian supporters. In the heat of the presidential campaign, Biden called Xi a “thug”- but now he needs to learn to hug.

This week I received an FB messenger comment in Taglish saying, “Medyo behave na mga bigots ah.” (It seems that the bigots are sort of behaved now.) There has always been one major topic between me and Oliver Felix, the message sender, and that is the argumentation and polemics against China-bashers. This simmering down of the anti-China bigots seems to be a good measure of China’s success all around in demonstrating its tangibly peaceful, constructive, and beneficial engagement with all countries. Yes, Filipinos are also dropping the anti-China attitude.

Despite its past overbearing hubris as embodied in the ideas of “American exceptionalism” “America First”, and even Biden’s “America back, ready to lead the world”, I believe the US ruling class is wise enough to see the writing on the wall when it is pointed out to them again and again. The world has changed and “the end of history” just saw it restarting again. There’s a new paradigm in town and there are new players on stage. It is time for Biden and the US to take Kissinger’s advice to “Go easy on China.” And “Make it easy on yourself.”

(Join: “Power Thinks” with Ka Mentong Laurel and guests: Every Wednesday 6 pm Live on Global Talk News Radio (GTNR) on Facebook and Talk News TV on YouTube; and every Sunday 8 to 10 am on RP1 738 on your AM radio dial.)




About the Columnist

Image of Herman Tiu Laurel

Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.