The noise before defeat

Trade relations with China and Russia are differentiated across Europe

Dr Talat Farooq July 06, 2021
The writer is a Senior Consultant at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security, University of Birmingham

Tactics without strategy, says Sun Tzu, is the noise before defeat.

The Biden administration’s foreign policy approach towards China, Afghanistan and Pakistan is reactive and emanating from a combination of misplaced hubris, domestic social and political polarisation, wounded pride and denial.

Take China. That there is no clear strategy apparent from President Joe Biden’s June 2021 executive order expanding the number of banned Chinese companies and barring American businesses from holding stocks in firms that, according to Biden, constitute the Chinese military-industrial complex.

However, some American analysts are pointing out that as things stand, few, if any American business entities are pouring capital into these companies. They argue that the Chinese banking system is strong enough to offer ample credit to these firms and that they were not dependent on American investment to begin with.

During his European visit this June, Biden sought to influence China’s trade relations with the European Union. Optics notwithstanding, the Europeans see China as an economic competitor unlike the US that views China through the Cold War lens. Trying to replicate outdated containment policies in a changed geopolitical environment, signifies a lack of appropriate strategy relevant to contemporary times.

Trade relations with China and Russia are differentiated across Europe. Zero-sum games and staunch loyalty cannot be guaranteed. This was reflected in the Biden administration’s waiving off of sanctions on an under-construction gas pipeline between Russia and Germany in order to avoid a rift with Berlin during the G7 summit.

The Build Back Better World Partnership (B3W) project was also announced at the G7 Summit as a key part of Biden’s plan to counter China’s BRI. Political rhetoric aside, how does Biden and his buddies intend to pay for the project that requires $40 trillion for infrastructural development in developing countries, especially in the post-Covid-19 economic woes? Raising taxes or private capital will not be an easy task.

Biden’s signature plan to improve American domestic infrastructure had to be considerably scaled down recently to get reluctant bipartisan support and has yet to be approved by Congress. And the EU countries backing B3W have often sought and continue to seek Chinese capital to improve or build their own infrastructural systems.

Clearly, America’s securitised mindset is driving its improvised approach, be it India, NATO or QUAD. The Cold War vocabulary of containment and democratic-autocratic ideological dichotomy is being spread by loyal media channels to manufacture consensus.

Added to the mix is the self-righteousness of the US and its western allies on selective human rights abuses. Their joint hypocrisy vis-à-vis human rights violations in India, Israel, and American allies in the Middle East, as well as racist and xenophobic trends within America and Europe, is shamelessly blatant. And all this to ensure undisputed American global leadership.

But leadership is about taking responsibility. A case in hand is Washington and its western allies’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They resorted to months of vaccine hoarding even as poorer nations could not even vaccinate their medical workers. Moreover, European governments thwarted efforts to help developing countries manufacture vaccines locally, as WHO warned of “catastrophic moral failure”.

In contrast, Beijing has already provided $2 billion to developing countries and pledged an additional $3 billion in aid over the next three years. The Chinese are transferring technologies and carrying out joint production with developing countries, while also deferring debt repayments.

Global responsibility includes the responsibility to be held accountable. The US and NATO initiated and perpetuated a devastating war in Afghanistan for two decades, following a ‘strategy of moving goal-posts’. Now they are abandoning the country without any peace plan in place.

Are they not answerable for their irresponsible behaviour? Instead, the ICC investigators have been sanctioned by the US for daring to investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Biden refusing to talk to Imran Khan while banking on Pakistan’s support is a knee-jerk miscalculation disguised as policy. Demanding military bases is even more myopic. These bases are needed not only for keeping an eye on Afghanistan but primarily to watch China and to help India keep playing America’s dirty game to thwart CPEC.

“Absolutely not”, therefore, is an apt response from Pakistan’s prime minister who has also made it clear that Islamabad will not be part of any military engagement with the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan must ensure timely completion of CPEC projects to strengthen its economy, consolidate relations with China, Russia, Iran and Turkey while supporting an Afghan-owned governance model. Working towards empowering regional organisations like the SCO should be part of a joint strategy.

Some deft diplomacy is needed to highlight Islamabad’s interests and redefine its image in the world.

The civil-military combine has taken a principled stance on national interests as Pakistan navigates the vagaries of great power rivalry. There should be no second guessing. The military leadership’s national security briefing to parliamentarians last week is a step in the right direction.

The western liberal world order is not under threat from China. The US has been doing the job through violations of international law in the name of national security. To make matters worse, capitalist greed disguised as freedom has increased the economic gap between industrialised democracies and developing states.

The world needs a more equitable order for the sake of millions of people whose lands have been militarily and economically attacked and devastated not by China, but first by colonial powers and then the US and NATO.

Unfortunately, the western world order has mutated into a control mechanism not by colonising territories but through domination and manipulation of international institutions.

Today, we remain on the FATF grey list despite meeting the requirements and have been ridiculously included in the child soldier recruitment list after Islamabad’s refusal to allow US bases.

Meanwhile, the RAW-NDS-CIA combine is targeting our soldiers and civilians to thwart CPEC in keeping with incoherent US militarised solutions to non-military problems. Looks like Sun Tzu will have the last laugh!

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2021.

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