Despite its recent expansion, the BRICS ‘alliance’ is nothing more than vaporware. Claims of the death of the American-led world order have been greatly exaggerated.
In geopolitical commentary circles, much has been made of the recent expansion of the Global South-centered multilateral association known as BRICS. This grouping of developing world nations is named after its early members – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – and has long been touted as the future pivot of geopolitics, economics, and world organization, displacing the regnant Western-led order. Now that the loose partnership has grown beyond its acronymic members to include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Argentina, the usual skeptics and opponents of the postwar system – isolationists, the horseshoe of far-right and far-left, self-proclaimed ‘anti-imperialists’ (merely anti-American), useful idiots – have gone into overdrive.
Friendly control of Taiwan is a core national security interest for the United States, and not just because of its economic heft. The strategic implications of the former Formosa go back over a century.
China has been massively upping the stakes on Taiwan, including in military exercises in which it encircled the island and simulated strikes. China has sought dominion over Taiwan for centuries and sees it as an indivisible part of its homeland – although the first extended outside interaction with the island formerly known as Formosa came via European traders in the 1500s. The Chinese Communist Party views taking control of Taiwan – a prosperous, liberal, democratic state made up largely of ethnic Chinese – as a paramount security interest. The CCP fears the implications of such a state so close to its borders offering a desirable alternative to its repressive governance, but it also seeks to control Taiwan for other reasons. Economically, it punches far above its weight, hosting major technology manufacturing industries, notably of semiconductors, and achieving a high standard of living for its citizens. But Taiwan’s real value is strategic – and not only for the Chinese. Taiwan is a core strategic interest for the United States as well.
The Biden Administration is getting played by Xi Jinping and flirting with national disaster in its geopolitical handling of China.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden met with China’s dictator Xi Jinping for nearly 3 hours in Bali, Indonesia at the G20 Summit of nations. The meeting has been described by analysts as a boon for future cooperation between the nations and their leaders on major transnational issues and a positive step away from tension and towards engagement. According to the Biden administration, the discussion cemented the idea on both sides of the Pacific that conflict is not coming and that a new Cold War is indeed not in the cards. The Biden administration is touting this as a genuine diplomatic success and a move towards stability in East Asia, and has praised President Biden’s warm personal relationship with Xi. From reading major news reports of this meeting, you’d think that the US and China are on a glide path towards better relations in the short and long term, under the joint leadership of Xi and Biden – a big step towards mutual security after the chaos of the Trump administration.
Unfortunately for us, that framing is inaccurate in the extreme. This meeting makes us no safer, gives us no positive assurances from China, and betrays the Biden administration’s terribly naïve instincts on foreign affairs.
President Biden has a bad habit of deflecting blame and shifting responsibility, something which may come back to haunt his party in November.
“The buck stops here.” This adage, meant to claim ultimate responsibility and declaim ‘passing the buck’, was a fixture of the Harry Truman White House. The President had it emblazoned on a desk sign, putting himself squarely on the top of the decision-making hierarchy and thus taking credit – and blame – for the state of nation at home and abroad. This attitude has been a model for the office ever since, for good and ill. It has (less often than I would like) led to Presidents taking responsibility for the bad choices of their administrations, but it has also helped along a massive expansion of the power of the President to make decrees from the Oval Office. When the two sides of the coin – making executive decisions and claiming responsibility for them – are both present, things can be balanced. When that coin is weighted heavily in the direction of making choices but denying responsibility for them, political disaster tends to ensue. In bad times for the country, that faulty balance becomes even more noticeable, as rhetoric and reality clash. In the current administration, this issue is not just noticeable, but is a siren blaring at full volume.
The South Pacific has once again become a strategic theater for Great Power competition, and the US is falling behind. Still, it is not too late to win the day and cement American primacy in a critical region.
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “South Pacific”? For most, it likely conjures up images of white sandy beaches, lush tropical forests, and incredibly expensive vacations. Others may think of the musical of the same name, or the hard-fought WWII campaign pitting the Americans against the Japanese. For a small number of us, it brings to mind one thing above all else: strategic competition. The region has been a hotbed of imperial rivalry for at least the past 150 years, ebbing and flowing in its importance as various world powers have risen and fallen. Now, its strategic role has returned with a vengeance, as China vies with the United States and its regional allies for local primacy. New developments in the China-US competition over these myriad islands have brought the issue into sharper focus, called to mind important historical parallels, and led to a key question: what should the US do to claim the upper hand in this struggle for power and influence?