In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Tufts University political science professor Michael Beckley argues that fear of China is forging a new world order that can be based on collective action by the world’s democracies, but only if those nations eschew nationalism, populism, and opposition to globalism. The healthy fear of China, he writes, needs to be combined with a “renewed commitment to democratic values” in order to prevent China from shaping the future world order. It is this competition with a rising China, he writes, that is “forging a new international order.” There is, however, one piece missing from Beckley’s geopolitical analysis: Russia.
Beckley makes no mention of the growing partnership between Eurasia’s two military and political giants.
The only mentions of Russia in Beckley’s article relate to the Soviet period during the Cold War. When Beckley examines the current geopolitical landscape, Russia is missing. This is so, despite the recent Sino-Soviet summit in Beijing where the leaders of China and Russia bragged about their growing strategic alliance. To be sure, Beckley is not sanguine about the threat posed by China. “There has never been any doubt about what China wants,” he writes, “because Chinese leaders have declared the same objectives for decades: to keep the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in power, reabsorb Taiwan, control the East China and South China Seas, and return China to its rightful place as the dominant power in Asia and the most powerful country in the world.” If only that were true. For decades after the end of the Cold War, Western business and political elites viewed China as a responsible member of the liberal world order and suggested that the CCP’s semi-market reforms would lead to political reform.
But Beckley does not assign Russia any role in China’s geopolitical threat. It is as if Russia does not exist as a geopolitical consideration in the shaping of the future world order. Beckley mentions China’s “wolf-warrior diplomacy,” its extensive military build-up (especially the PLA Navy), its creations of military outposts in the South China Sea, its incursions into Taiwan’s defense zone, and its political/economic offensive via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). He also writes that China has become a “potent antidemocratic force,” selling surveillance technologies to dictators around the world. But there is no mention of the growing partnership between Eurasia’s two military and political giants.
Beckley argues that China’s aggressive actions and diplomacy have produced “anti-Chinese sentiment” among and more cooperation between its Asian neighbors, including South Korea, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, and India. And he claims that the United States and its allies “have awoken to the danger” and “are trying to build a new order that excludes China by making democracy a requirement for full membership.” The democracies, he writes, are taking steps to “avoid becoming a cog in a Chinese economic empire” by “forming exclusive trade and investment networks,” “developing alternatives to Chinese products and funding,” and “constraining China’s access to advanced technologies.”
Beckley also notes that China’s Asian neighbors are working with the United States to help contain China’s ambitions in the East and South China Seas. He calls all of this anti-Chinese reaction a “positive vision for a democratic order.” What he is describing is effectively an end to “engagement,” a policy approach practiced by every post–Cold War U.S. administration, except during the last two years of the Trump administration (though Beckley, of course, refuses to give Trump credit for anything, instead ludicrously crediting the Biden administration for awakening to the Chinese geopolitical threat).
Beckley envisions a new world order of “collective action” uninhibited by “nationalism, populism, and opposition to globalism” that will enable the democracies to enforce the “law of the sea,” to better confront climate change, and to combat future pandemics. But perhaps he should consider the fact that it is nationalism and opposition to global governance that produces the very anti-Chinese reaction that is causing China’s neighbors to look to the United States to balance Chinese ambitions. Perhaps Beckley should consider that nations act in their own self-interest, not some abstract notion of a global interest, and that the “collective” action he supports depends on nations deciding that it is in their national interest to participate in collective security arrangements. (READ MORE from Francis P. Sempa: The Sino-Russian Bloc: It’s Now Official)
But the principal questions that Beckley fails to address, let alone answer, are these: Where does Russia fit into his new world order? And what does the emergence of a Sino-Russian bloc that combines enormous human and natural resources, strong military power, and pivotal geographic location on the Eurasian landmass mean for the competition with China and his vision of a new world order? The answer to those questions are far more important than Beckley’s quest for global governance and his promotion of democratic ideals. As the great British geopolitical thinker Halford Mackinder wrote many years ago, we must “adjust our ideals of freedom to [the] lasting realities of our earthly home.”