Prolegomenon for all of foreign affairs for the next decade or two

I get accused of writing excessively long posts. Mea culpa. This one is long, but not my writing. I include in full four articles, all coming to me within the last couple of days. Together, they lay out a Chinese plan for the decades, a Sino-Russian plan for the decades, point to the shallowness of American hegemony, and lessons to be learned for America and allies going forward. Yeah, I know, long and a little boring. Altogether, an interesting take on the future most of us will not see. You don’t have to read them all at one sitting.  Enjoy.

One -The Secret Speech of China Defense Minister General Chi Haotian from 2002 or 2003.

From Epoch Times, posted in 2005 and posted in 2019 at Jeff Nyquist’s blog at  Nyquist is the author of Origins of the Fourth World War, The New Tactics of Global War and The Fool and His Enemy.

This speech lays out a perspective for defeating America to become world hegemon. Old, over the top, but fundamentally still the preferred direction, I think. Edited for length, still a little long.

Pertinent quote - The fact is, our “development” refers to the great revitalization of the Chinese nation, which, of course, is not limited to the land we have now but also includes the whole world.



Two - What’s Really Going on Between Russia and China - Behind the Scenes, They Are Deepening Their Defense Partnership By Alexander Gabuev.

From Foreign Affairs at

Alexander Gabuev is Director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

Pertinent quote - The participation of the heads of some of the biggest Russian commodity producers indicates that Xi and Putin also discussed expanding the sale of Russian natural resources to China.   Translating, this means Siberia. And Russia has access to the Arctic, which China covets.


Three - The Rise of China (and the Fall of the U.S.?) - Tectonic Eruptions in Eurasia Erode America's Global Power by Alfred McCoy.

From TomDispatch at

McCoy is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. I would challenge some facts and I think he is a little over the top here, but the perspective is interesting. TomDispatch has been publishing since 2001 as a “regular antidote” to the mainstream media.  

Pertinent quote - In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski offered the first serious American study of geopolitics in more than half a century. In the process, he warned that the depth of U.S. global hegemony, even at this peak of unipolar power, was inherently “shallow.”

For the United States and, he added, every major power of the past 500 years, Eurasia, home to 75% of the world’s population and productivity, was always “the chief geopolitical prize.” To perpetuate its “preponderance on the Eurasian continent” and so preserve its global power, Washington would, he warned, have to counter three threats: “the expulsion of America from its offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral; ejection from its “perch on the western periphery” of the continent provided by NATO; and finally, the formation of “an assertive single entity” in the sprawling center of Eurasia.



Four - What the Bush-Obama China Memos Reveal - Newly declassified documents contain important lessons for U.S. China policy. By Michael J. Green, the CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and Paul Haenle, the director of Carnegie China.

From a recent Foreign Policy at

Pertinent quote - What are the lessons from Hand-Off going forward? The most important lesson is one the Biden administration already has right: Invest in allies and partners to maintain that “balance of power that favors freedom” …. More responsible U.S. allies like Japan and Australia are signing on to deeper military and intelligence cooperation with the United States. But none of them have any clarity about Washington’s longer-term vision for the relationship with China. Xi’s constant attacks on the United States, democracy, and U.S. allies make it difficult to imagine a happy place in U.S.-China relations. But other than blunting Chinese aggression and coercion, what is this alignment between allies for? What kind of relationship or strategic equilibrium with China is the United States aiming to achieve?


Here goes -





The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian  September 11, 2019

In 2005, The Epoch Times acquired a secret speech given by Defense Minister Chi Haotian to high-level Communist Party Cadres sometime before his retirement in 2003. Details given in Chi’s speech coincide with previously unpublished defector testimony on Sino-Russian military plans.

The speech follows:


I’m very excited today, because the large-scale online survey that was done for us showed that our next generation is quite promising and our party’s cause will be carried on. In answering the question, “Will you shoot at women, children and prisoners of war,” more than 80 percent of the respondents answered in the affirmative, exceeding by far our expectations.

My speech today is a sequel to my speech last time, during which I started with a discussion of the issue of the three islands, [where I] mentioned that 20 years of the idyllic theme of “peace and development” had come to an end, and concluded that modernization under the saber is the only option for China’s next phase.

The central issue of this survey appears to be whether one should shoot at women, children and prisoners of war, but its real significance goes far beyond that. Ostensibly, our intention is mainly to figure out what the Chinese people’s attitude toward war is: If these future soldiers do not hesitate to kill even non-combatants, they’ll naturally be doubly ready and ruthless in killing combatants. Therefore, the responses to the survey questions may reflect the general attitude people have towards war.

Actually, however, this is not our genuine intention. The purpose of the CCP Central Committee in conducting this survey is to probe people’s minds. We wanted to know: If China’s global development will necessitate massive deaths in enemy countries, will our people endorse that scenario? Will they be for or against it?

The fact is, our “development” refers to the great revitalization of the Chinese nation, which, of course, is not limited to the land we have now but also includes the whole world.

In discussing this issue, let us start from the beginning.

As everybody knows, according to the views propagated by Western scholars, humanity as a whole originated from one single mother in Africa. Therefore, no race can claim racial superiority. However, according to the research conducted by most Chinese scholars, the Chinese are different from other races on earth. We did not originate in Africa. Instead, we originated independently in the land of China. But now, many experts engaged in research in varied fields including archeology, ethnic cultures, and regional cultures have reached consensus that the new discoveries such as the Hongshan Culture in the northeast, the Liangahn Cutlure in Zhejiang province, the Jinsha Ruins in Sichuan province, and the Yongzhou Shun Emperor Cultural Site in Hunan province are all compelling evidence of the exitence of China’s early civilizations, and they prove that China’s rice-growing agricultural history alone can be traced back as far as 8,000 to 10,000 years. This refutes the concept of “five thousand years of Chinese civilization.”

Therefore, we can assert that we are the product of cultural roots of more than a million years, and a single Chinese entity of two thousand years. This is the Chinese entity of two thousand years. This is the Chinese nation that calls itself, “descendants of Yan and Huang,” the Chinese nation that we are so proud of. Hitler’s Germany had once bragged that the German race was the most superior race on earth, but the fact is, our nation is far superior to the Germans.

We all know that on account of our national superiority, during the thriving and prosperous Tang Dynasty our civilization was at the peak of the world. We were the center of the world civilization, and no other civilization in the world was comparable to ours. Later on, because of our complacency, narrow-mindedness, and the self-enclosure of our own country, we were surpassed by Western civilization, and the center of the world shifted to the West.

In reviewing history, one may ask: Will the center of the world civilization shift back to China?

Comrade He Xin put it in his report to the Central Committee in 1988: If the fact is that the center of leadership of the world was located in Europe as of the 18th Century, and later shifted to the United States in the mid-20th century the center of leadership of the world will shift to the East of our planet. And, “the East” of course mainly refers to China.

Actually, Comrade Lui Huaquing made similar points in the 1980s. Based on an historical analysis, he pointed out that the center of world civilization is shifting. It shifted from the East to Western Europe and later to the United States; now it is shifting back to the East. Therefore, if we refer to the 19th century as the British century, and the 20th century as the American century, then the 21st century will be the Chinese century.

We must greet the arrival of the Chinese Century by raising high the banner of national revitalization. How should we fight for the realization of the Chinese Century? We must borrow the precious experiences in human history by taking advantage of the outstanding fruition of human civilization and drawing lessons from what happened to other ethnic groups.

Today I’d like to talk about the lessons of Germany and Japan.

As we all know, Nazi Germany also placed much emphasis on the education of the people, especially the younger generation. The Nazi Party and government organized and established various propaganda and educational institutions such as the “Guiding Bureau of National Propaganda,” “Department of National Education and Propaganda,” “Supervising Bureau of Worldview Study and Education,” and “Information Office,” all aimed at instilling into the people’s minds, from elementary schools to colleges, the idea that German people are superior, and convincing people that the historical mission of the Aryan people is to become the “lords of the earth” whose right it is to “rule over the world.” Back then the German people were much more united than we are today.

Nonetheless, Germany was defeated in utter shame, along with its ally, Japan. Why?

Specifically, the following are the fundamental causes for their defeat: First, they had too many enemies all at once, as they did not adhere to the principle of eliminating enemies one at a time; second, they were too impetuous, lacking the patience and perseverance required for great accomplishments; third, when the time came for them to be ruthless, they turned out to be too soft, therefore leaving troubles that resurfaced later on.

So, the fundamental reason for the defeats of Germany and Japan is that history did not arrange them to be the “lords of the earth,” for they are, after all, not the most superior race.

Ostensibly, in comparison, today’s China is alarmingly similar to Germany back then. Both of them regard themselves as the most superior races; both of them have a history of being exploited by foreign powers and are therefore vindictive; both of them have the tradition of worshipping their own authorities; both of them feel that they have seriously insufficient living space; both of them raise high the two banners of nationalism and socialism and label themselves as “national socialism”; both of them worship “one state, one party, one leader, and one doctrine.”

Our theory of the shifting center of civilization is of course more profound than Hitler’s theory of “the lords of the earth.” Our civilization is profound and broad, which has determined that we are so much wiser than they were.

Our Chinese people are wiser than the Germans because, fundamentally, our race is superior to theirs. As a result, we have a longer history, more people, and larger land area. On this basis our ancestors left us with the two most essential heritages, which are atheism and great unity. It was Confucius, the founder of our Chinese culture, who gave us these heritages.

This heritage determined that we have a stronger ability to survive than the West. That is why the Chinese race has been able to prosper for so long. We are destined “not to be buried by either heaven or earth” no matter how severe the natural, man-made, and national disasters. This is our advantage.

What makes us different from Germany is that we are complete atheists, while Germany was primarily a Catholic and Protestant country. Hitler was only half atheist. Although Hitler also believed that ordinary citizens had low intelligence, and that leaders should therefore make decisions, and although German people worshipped Hitler back then, Germany did not have the tradition of worshipping sages on a broad basis. Our Chinese society has always worshipped sages, and that is because we don’t worship any God. Once you worship a god, you can’t worship a person at the same time, unless you recognize the person as the god’s representative like they do in Middle Eastern countries. On the other hand, once you recognize a person as a sage, of course you will want him to be your leader…. This is the foundation of our democratic centralism.

The bottom line is, only China is a reliable force in resisting the Western parliament-based democratic system. Hitler’s dictatorship in Germany was perhaps but a momentary mistake in history.

Maybe you have now come to understand why we recently decided to further promulgate atheism. If we let theology from the West into China and empty us from the inside, if we let all Chinese people listen to God and follow God, who will obediently listen to us and follow us? If the common people don’t believe Comrade Hu Jintao is a qualified leader, question his authority, and want to monitor him, if the religious followers in our society question why we are leaving God in churches, can our Party continue to rule China?

The three lessons are: Firmly grasp the country’s living space; firmly grasp the Party’s control over the nation; and firmly grasp the general direction toward becoming the “lord of the earth.”

Next, I’d like to address these three issues.

The first issue is living space.

Anybody who has been to Western countries knows that their living space is much better than ours. They have forests alongside the highways, while we hardly have any trees by our streets. Their sky is often blue with white clouds, while our sky is covered by a layer of dark haze. Their tap water is clean enough for drinking, while even our ground water is so polluted that it can’t be drunk without filtering. They have few people in the streets, and two or three people can occupy a small residential building; in contrast, our streets are always crawling with people, and several people have to share one room.

Many years ago, there was a book titled Yellow Catastrophes. It said that, due to our following the American style of consumption, our limited resources would not long support the population and society would collapse, once our population reaches 1.3 billion. Now our population has already exceeded this limit, and we are now relying on imports to sustain our nation. It’s not that we haven’t paid attention to this issue. The Ministry of Land Resources is specialized in this issue.

But the term ‘living space’ (lebensraum) is too closely related to Nazi Germany. The reason we don’t want to discuss this too openly is to avoid the West’s association of us with Nazi Germany, which could in turn reinforce the view that China is a threat. Therefore, in our emphasis on He Xin’s new theory, “Human rights are just living rights,” we only talk about “living,” but not “space,” so as to avoid using the term “living space.” From the perspective of history, the reason that China is faced with the issue of living space is because Western countries established colonies ahead of Eastern countries. Western countries established colonies all around the world, therefore giving themselves an advantage on the issue of living space. To solve this problem, we must lead the Chinese people outside of China, so that they could develop outside of China.

The second issue is our focus on the leadership capacity of the ruling party. We’ve done better on this than their party. Although the Nazis spread their power to every aspect of the German national government, they did not stress their absolute leadership position like we have.

We have to focus on two points to fortify our leadership position and improve our leadership capacity.

The first is to promote the “Three Represents” theory, stressing that our Party is the pioneer of the Chinese race, in addition to being the pioneer of the proletariat. Many citizens say in private, “We never voted for you, the Communist Party, to represent us. How can you claim to be our representatives?”

There’s no need to worry about this issue. Comrade Mao Zedong said that if we could lead the Chinese people outside of China, resolving the lack of living space in China, the Chinese people will support us. At that time, we don’t’ have to worry about the labels of “totalitarianism” or “dictatorship.” Whether we can forever represent the Chinese people depends on whether we can succeed in leading the Chinese people out of China.

The second point, whether we can lead the Chinese people out of China, is the most important determinant of the CCP’s leadership position.

Why do I say this?

Everyone knows that without the leadership of our Party, China would not exist today. Therefore, our highest principle is to forever protect our Party’s leadership position.

The June 4 riot almost succeeded in bringing a peaceful transition; if it were not for the fact that a large number of veteran comrades were still alive and at a crucial moment they removed Zhao Ziyang and his followers, then we all would have been put in prison. After death we would have been too ashamed to report to Marx.

After the June 4 riot was suppressed, we have been thinking about how to prevent China from peaceful evolution and how to maintain the Communist Party’s leadership. We thought it over and over but did not come up with any good ideas. If we do not have good ideas, China will inevitably change peacefully, and we will all become criminals in history. After some deep pondering, we finally come to this conclusion: Only by turning our developed national strength into the force of a first striking outward – only by leading people to go out – can we win forever the Chinese people’s support and love for the Communist Party. Our party will then stand on invincible ground, and the Chinese people will have to depend on the Communist Party. They will forever follow the Communist Party with their hearts and minds, as was written in a couplet frequently seen in the countryside some years ago: “Listen to Chairman Mao, follow the Communist Party!” Therefore, the June 4 riot made us realize that we must combine economic development with preparation for war and leading the people to go out! Therefore, since then, our national defence policy has taken a 180 degree turn and we have since emphasized more and more “combining peace and war.” Our economic development is all about preparing for the needs of war! Publicly we still emphasize economic development as our center, but in reality, economic development has war as its center! In my view, there is another kind of bondage, and that is, the fate of our Party is tied up with that of the whole world. If we, the CCP, are finished, China will be finished, and the world will be finished.

Our Party’s historical mission is to lead the Chinese people to go out.

What is the third issue we should clinch firmly in order to accomplish our historical mission of national renaissance? It is to hold firmly onto the big “issue of America.”

Comrade He Xin put forward a very fundamental judgment that is very reasonable. He asserted in his report to the Party Central Committee: The renaissance of China is in fundamental conflict with the Western strategic interest, and therefore will inevitably be obstructed by the western countries doing everything they can. So, Only by breaking the blockade formed by the western countries headed by the United States can China grow and move toward the world!

Would the United States allow us to go out to gain new living space? First, if the United States is firm in blocking us, it is hard for us to do anything significant to Taiwan, Vietnam, India, or even Japan, [so] how much more living space can we get? Very trivial! Only countries like the United States, Canada and Australia have the vast land to serve our need for mass colonization.

Therefore, solving the “issue of America” is the key to solving all other issues. First, this makes it possible for us to have many people migrate there and even establish another China under the same leadership of the CCP. America was originally discovered by the ancestors of the yellow race, but Columbus gave credit to the white race. We the descendants of the Chinese nation are entitled to the possession of the land! It is said that the residents of the yellow race have a very low social status in the United States. We need to liberate them. Second, after solving the “issue of America,” the western countries of Europe would bow to us, not to mention Taiwan, Japan and other small countries. Therefore, solving the “issue of America” is the mission assigned to the CCP members by history.

In the long run, the relationship of China and the United States is one of a life-and-death struggle.

Of course, right now it is not the time to openly break up with them yet. Our reform and opening to the outside world still rely on their capital and technology, we still need America. Therefore, we must do everything we can to promote our relationship with America, learn from America in all aspects and use America as an example to reconstruct our country.

We also must never forget what Comrade Xiaoping emphasized: “Refrain from revealing ambitions and put others off the track.” Thus we will understand why we constantly talk loudly about the “Taiwan issue” but not the “American issue.” We all know the principle of “doing one thing under the cover of another.” If ordinary people can only see the small island of Taiwan in their eyes, then you as the elite of our country should be able to see the whole picture of our cause. Over these years, according to Comrade Xiaoping’s arrangement, a large piece of our territory in the North has been given up to Russia; do you really think our Party Committee is a fool?

Only by using special means to “clean up” America will we be able to lead the Chinese people there. This is the only choice left for us. This is not a matter of whether we are willing to do it or not. What kind of special means is there available for us to “clean up America”?

Conventional weapons such as fighters, canons, missiles and battleships won’t do; neither will highly destructive weapons such as nuclear weapons. We are not as foolish as to want to perish together with America by using nuclear weapons, despite the fact that we have been exclaiming that we will have the Taiwan issue resolved at whatever cost. Only by using non-destructive weapons that can kill many people will we be able to reserve America for ourselves. There has been rapid development of modern biological technology, and new bio-weapons have been invented one after another. Of course, we have not been idle, in the past years we have seized the opportunity to master weapons of this kind. We are capable of achieving our purpose of “cleaning up” America all of a sudden. When Comrade Xiaoping was still with us, the Party Central Committee had the perspicacity to make the right decision not to develop aircraft carrier groups and focus instead on developing lethal weapons that can eliminate mass populations of the enemy country.

From a humanitarian perspective, we should issue a warning to the American people and persuade them to leave America and leave the land they have lived in to the Chinese people. Or at least they should leave half of the United States to be China’s colony, because America was first discovered by the Chinese. But would this work? If this strategy does not work, then there is only one choice left to us. That is, use decisive means to “clean up” America and reserve America for our use in a moment. Our historical experience has proven that as long as we make it happen, nobody in the world can do anything about us. Furthermore, if the United States as the leader is gone, then other enemies have to surrender to us.

Biological weapons are unprecedented in their ruthlessness, but if the Americans do not die then the Chinese have to die. If the Chinese people are strapped to the present land, a total societal collapse is bound to take place. According to the computation of the author of Yellow Peril, more than half of the Chinese will die, and that figure would be more than 800 million people! Just after the liberation, our yellow land supported nearly 500 million people, while today the official figure of the population is more than 1.3 billion. This yellow land has reached the limit of its capacity. One day, who knows how soon it will come, the great collapse will occur any time and more than half the population will have to go.

In Chinese history, in the replacement of dynasties, the ruthless have always won and the benevolent have always failed. The most typical example involved Xiang Yu the King of Chu, who, after defeating Liu Bang, failed to continue to chase after him and eliminate his forces, and his leniency resulted in Xiang Yu’s death and Liu’s victory …. Therefore, we must emphasize the importance of adopting resolute measures. In the future, the two rivals, China and the United States, will eventually meet each other in a narrow road, and our leniency to the Americans will mean cruelty toward the Chinese people. Here some people may want to ask me: What about the several millions of our compatriots in the United States? They may ask: aren’t we against Chinese killing other Chinese?

These comrades are too pedantic; they are not pragmatic enough. If we had insisted on the principle that the Chinese should not kill other Chinese, would we have liberated China? As for the several million Chinese living in the United States, this is of course a big issue. Therefore, in recent years, we have been conducting research on genetic weapons, i.e., those weapons that do not kill yellow people. But producing a result with this kind of research is extremely difficult.

Therefore, we have to give up our expectations about genetic weapons. Of course, from another perspective, the majority of those Chinese living in the United States have become our burden, because they have been corrupted by the bourgeois liberal values for a long time and it would be difficult for them to accept our Party’s leadership. If they survived the war, we would have to launch campaigns in the future to deal with them, to reform them. Do you still remember that when we had just defeated the Koumintang (KMT) and liberated Mainland China, so many people from the bourgeois class and intellectuals welcomed us so very warmly, but later we had to launch campaigns such as the “suppression of the reactionaries” and “Anti-Rightist Movement” to clean them up and reform them? Some of them were in hiding for a long time and were not exposed until the Cultural Revolution. History has proved that any social turmoil is likely to involve many deaths.

Maybe we can put it this way: death is the engine that moves history forward.

It is indeed brutal to kill one or two hundred million Americans. But that is the only path that will secure a Chinese century in which the CCP leads the world. We, as revolutionary humanitarians, do not want deaths. But if history confronts us with a choice between deaths of Chinese and those of Americans, we’d have to pick the latter, as, for us, it is more important to safeguard the lives of the Chinese people and the life of our Party. That is because, after all, we are Chinese and members of the CCP. Since the day we joined the CCP, the Party, life has always been above all else! History will prove that we made the right choice.

Why didn’t we conduct the survey through administrative means instead of through the web? We did what we did for a good reason.

First of all, we did it to reduce artificial inference and to make sure that we got the true thoughts of the people. In addition, it is more confidential and won’t reveal the true purpose of our survey. But what is most important is the fact that most of the people who are able to respond to the questions online are from social groups that are relatively well-educated and intelligent. They are the hard-core and leading groups that play a decisive role among our people. If they support us, then the people as a whole will follow us. If they oppose us, they will play the dangerous role of inciting people and creating social disturbance.

Of course, a few people under western influence have objected to shooting at prisoners of war and women and children. Is everybody crazy? Some others said, “The Chinese love to label themselves as a peace-loving people, but actually they are the most ruthless people. The comments are resonant of killing and murdering, sending chills to my heart.”

The last problem I want to talk about is of firmly seizing the preparations for military battle.

Currently, we are at the crossroad of moving forward or backward. Some comrades saw problems flooding everywhere in our country – the corruption problem, the state-owned enterprise problem, the bank’s bad accounts problem, environmental problems, society security problems, education problems, the AIDS problem, various appeals problems, even the riots problem. These comrades vacillated in the determination to prepare for military battles. They thought: they should first grab the political reform problem, that is, our own political reform comes first. After resolving the domestic problems, we can then deal with the foreign military battle problem.

Now, it seems like we are in the same critical period as the “horses were drinking water” in the Yangtze River days in the revolutionary era, as long as we resolve the United States problem at one blow, our domestic problems will all be readily solved. Therefore, our military battle preparation appears to aim at Taiwan but in fact is aimed at the United States, and the preparation is far beyond the scope of attacking aircraft carriers or satellites.

Marxism pointed out that violence is the midwife for the birth of China’s century. As war approaches, I am full of hope for our next generation.




What’s Really Going on Between Russia and China - Behind the Scenes, They Are Deepening Their Defense Partnership

By Alexander Gabuev

April 12, 2023


“There are changes happening, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said to Russian President Vladimir Putin last month at the end of a state visit to Russia. “Let’s drive those changes together.” To this, the Russian leader responded, “I agree.”

This seemingly improvised yet carefully choreographed scene captured the outcome of Xi’s trip to Russia and the trajectory on which he and Putin have set Sino-Russian relations. Xi’s visit last month was first and foremost a demonstration of public support for the embattled Russian leader. But the truly significant developments took place during closed-door, in-person discussions, at which Xi and Putin made a number of important decisions about the future of Chinese-Russian defense cooperation and likely came to terms on arms deals that they may or may not make public.

The war in Ukraine and ensuing Western sanctions on Russia are reducing the Kremlin’s options and pushing Russia’s economic and technological dependence on China to unprecedented levels. These changes give China a growing amount of leverage over Russia. At the same time, China’s fraying relationship with the United States makes Moscow an indispensable junior partner to Beijing in pushing back against the United States and its allies. China has no other friend that brings as much to the table. And as Xi prepares China for a period of prolonged confrontation with the most powerful country on the planet, he needs all the help he can get.

Senior figures in the Chinese Communist Party have openly discussed the need for a closer partnership with Russia because of what they perceive as an increasingly hostile U.S. policy aimed at containing China’s rise. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang told Chinese state media after the trip that the partnership with Russia is very important at a time when some forces are advocating “hegemonism, unilateralism, and protectionism” and are driven by a “Cold War mentality”—all CCP code words for U.S. policy toward China. Putting this reason front and center is revealing, and it explains why Xi decided to go to see Putin in person, despite the unfavorable optics of visiting just after the International Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader. The message of Xi’s trip was clear: China sees many benefits in its relationship with Russia, it will continue to maintain those ties at the highest level, and it will not be deterred by Western critics.

To deflect growing U.S. and European criticism of China’s support of Russia, Beijing came up with an elaborate diplomatic scheme, presenting a position paper on the Ukrainian crisis on February 24, the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The paper is a laundry list of talking points that Beijing has voiced throughout the war, including respect for the territorial integrity of states and opposition to unilateral sanctions. The proposal’s lack of specific details on crucial issues, such as borders and accountability for war crimes, is a feature, not a bug. Beijing is perfectly aware that neither Kyiv nor Moscow has much interest in talking at the moment, since both want to keep fighting to increase their leverage whenever they do sit down at the negotiating table. The Chinese proposal was little more than window dressing for Xi’s visit. The real action took place behind the scenes, in private negotiations between Putin and Xi.

More Than Meets The Eye

At the conclusion of the trip, the Kremlin published a list of 14 documents signed by both China and Russia, including two statements by Xi and Putin. At first glance, these were largely insignificant memorandums between ministries; no major new agreements were announced. Yet a closer look reveals a very different picture, one that Beijing and Moscow have reason to conceal from the outside world.

In a departure from its usual practice, the Kremlin did not publish the list of officials and senior business leaders present at the talks. Their names can be discerned only by going through footage and photos from the summit and by reading into comments made to the Kremlin press corps by Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy aide. A close look reveals that more than half of Putin’s team participating in the first round of formal talks with Xi were officials directly involved in Russia’s weapons and space programs. That list includes former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is now Putin’s deputy in the presidential commission on the military-industrial complex; Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister; Dmitry Shugaev, who heads the federal service for military-technical cooperation; Yury Borisov, who runs the Russian space agency and who until 2020 had spent a decade in charge of the Russian weapons industry as deputy defense minister and deputy prime minister; and Dmitry Chernyshenko, a deputy prime minister who chairs a bilateral Chinese-Russian intergovernmental commission and is in charge of science and technology in the Russian cabinet. This group of officials was likely assembled to pursue one main goal: deepening defense cooperation with China.

Although China wields great influence in the Kremlin, it does not exert control.

Even though Beijing and Moscow have not made any new deals public, there is every reason to believe that Xi’s and Putin’s teams used the March meeting to come to terms on new defense agreements. After prior Xi-Putin summits, the leaders have privately signed documents related to arms deals and only later informed the world. In September 2014, for example, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin sold its S-400 surface-to-air missile system to China, making Beijing the first overseas buyer of Russia’s most advanced air-defense equipment. The deal was not revealed until eight months later, however, in a Kommersant interview with Anatoly Isaykin, the CEO of Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms manufacturer.

After the U.S. Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act in 2017, Moscow and Beijing stopped disclosing their military contracts altogether. This U.S. law led to the sanctioning of the Chinese army’s armaments department and its head, General Li Shangfu (who was appointed China’s defense minister in March). Nevertheless, on rare occasions, Putin boasts about new deals, such as in 2019, when he announced that Moscow was helping develop a Chinese missile early-warning system, and in 2021, when he revealed that Russia and China were jointly developing high-tech weapons.

Arms Linked

China has relied on Russian military hardware since the 1990s, and Moscow was its only source of modern foreign weapons following the arms embargo imposed by the EU and the United States after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Over time, as China’s own military industry progressed, its reliance on others decreased. Beijing can now produce modern weapons on its own and has a clear lead over Russia in many areas of modern military technology, including drones. But to boost its own research and development and production, Beijing still covets access to Russian technology to use in surface-to-air missiles, engines for fighter jets, and underwater warfare equipment such as submarines and submersible drones.

A decade ago, the Kremlin was reluctant to sell cutting-edge military technology to China. Moscow worried that the Chinese might reverse engineer the technology and figure out how to produce it themselves. Russia also had broader concerns about arming a powerful country that borders the sparsely populated and resource-rich Russian regions of Siberia and the Far East. But the deepening schism between Russia and the West following the 2014 annexation of Crimea changed that calculus. And after launching a full-scale war in Ukraine and prompting the complete breakdown of ties with the West, Moscow has little choice but to sell China its most advanced and precious technologies.

Even before the war, some Russian analysts of China’s defense industry had advocated entering into joint projects, sharing technology, and carving out a place in the Chinese military’s supply chain. Doing so, they argued, offered the best way for the Russian military industry to modernize—and without that progress, the rapid pace of China’s own R & D would soon render Russian technology obsolete. Today, such views have become conventional wisdom in Moscow. Russia has also started opening up its universities and science institutes to Chinese partners and integrating its research facilities with Chinese counterparts. Huawei, for example, has tripled its research staff in Russia in the wake of a Washington-led campaign to limit the Chinese tech giant’s global reach.

Junior Partner

Neither Beijing nor Moscow has any interest in disclosing the details of any of the private discussions held during the Xi-Putin summit. The same goes for details on how Russian companies could gain better access to the Chinese financial system—which was the reason why Elvira Nabiullina, chair of Russia’s central bank, was a significant participant at the bilateral talks. That access has become critical for the Kremlin, since Russia is rapidly becoming more dependent on China as its main export destination and as a major source of technological imports, and as the yuan is becoming Russia’s preferred currency for trade settlement, savings, and investments.

The participation of the heads of some of the biggest Russian commodity producers indicates that Xi and Putin also discussed expanding the sale of Russian natural resources to China. Right now, however, Beijing has no interest in drawing attention to such deals, in order to avoid criticism for providing cash for Putin’s war chest. In any case, Beijing can afford to bide its time, since China’s leverage in these quiet discussions is only growing: Beijing has many potential sellers, including its traditional partners in the Middle East and elsewhere, whereas Russia has few potential buyers.

Eventually, the Kremlin may want at least some of the deals reached in March to become public to demonstrate that it has found a way to compensate for the losses it suffered when Europe stopped importing Russian oil and reduced its imports of Russian gas. But China will decide when and how any new resource deals are signed and announced. Russia has no choice but to patiently wait and defer to the preferences of its more powerful neighbor.

Who’s The Boss?

The Chinese-Russian relationship has become highly asymmetrical, but it is not one-sided. Beijing still needs Moscow, and the Kremlin can provide certain unique assets in this era of strategic competition between China and the United States. Purchases of the most advanced Russian weapons and military technology, freer access to Russian scientific talent, and the rich endowment of Russia’s natural resources—which can be supplied across a secure land border—make Russia an indispensable partner for China. Russia also remains an anti-American great power with a permanent seat on the UN Security council—a convenient friend to have in a world where the United States enjoys closer ties with dozens of countries in Europe and the Indo-Pacific and where China has few, if any, real friends. China’s connections are more overtly transactional than the deeper alliances Washington maintains.

That means that although China wields great influence in the Kremlin, it does not exert control. A somewhat similar relationship exists between China and North Korea. Despite the enormous extent of Pyongyang’s dependence on Beijing and shared animosity toward the United States, China cannot fully control Kim Jong Un’s regime and needs to tread carefully to keep North Korea close. Russia is familiar with this kind of relationship since it maintains a parallel one with Belarus, in which Moscow is the senior partner that can pressure, cajole, and coerce Minsk—but cannot dictate Belarusian policy across the board.

Russia’s size and power may give the Kremlin a false sense of security as it locks itself into an asymmetrical relationship with Beijing. But the durability of this relationship, absent major unforeseeable disruptions, will depend on China’s ability to manage a weakening Russia. In the years to come, Putin’s regime will have to learn the skill that junior partners the world over depend on for survival: how to manage upward.



The Rise of China (and the Fall of the U.S.?) - Tectonic Eruptions in Eurasia Erode America's Global Power

By Alfred McCoy

From the ashes of a world war that killed 80 million people and reduced great cities to smoking rubble, America rose like a Titan of Greek legend, unharmed and armed with extraordinary military and economic power, to govern the globe. During four years of combat against the Axis leaders in Berlin and Tokyo that raged across the planet, America’s wartime commanders — George Marshall in Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe, and Chester Nimitz in the Pacific — knew that their main strategic objective was to gain control over the vast Eurasian landmass. Whether you’re talking about desert warfare in North Africa, the D-Day landing at Normandy, bloody battles on the Burma-India border, or the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific, the Allied strategy in World War II involved constricting the reach of the Axis powers globally and then wresting that very continent from their grasp.

That past, though seemingly distant, is still shaping the world we live in. Those legendary generals and admirals are, of course, long gone, but the geopolitics they practiced at such a cost still has profound implications. For just as Washington encircled Eurasia to win a great war and global hegemony, so Beijing is now involved in a far less militarized reprise of that reach for global power.

And to be blunt, these days, China’s gain is America’s loss. Every step Beijing takes to consolidate its control over Eurasia simultaneously weakens Washington’s presence on that strategic continent and so erodes its once formidable global power.

A Cold War Strategy

After four embattled years imbibing lessons about geopolitics with their morning coffee and bourbon nightcaps, America’s wartime generation of generals and admirals understood, intuitively, how to respond to the future alliance of the two great communist powers in Moscow and Beijing.

In 1948, following his move from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, Secretary of State George Marshall launched the $13 billion Marshall Plan to rebuild a war-torn Western Europe, laying the economic foundations for the formation of the NATO alliance just a year later. After a similar move from the wartime Allied headquarters in London to the White House in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower helped complete a chain of military bastions along Eurasia’s Pacific littoral by signing a series of mutual-security pacts — with South Korea in 1953, Taiwan in 1954, and Japan in 1960. For the next 70 years, that island chain would serve as the strategic hinge on Washington’s global power, critical for both the defense of North America and dominance over Eurasia.

After fighting to conquer much of that vast continent during World War II, America’s postwar leaders certainly knew how to defend their gains. For more than 40 years, their unrelenting efforts to dominate Eurasia assured Washington of an upper hand and, in the end, victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. To constrain the communist powers inside that continent, the U.S. ringed its 6,000 miles with 800 military bases, thousands of jet fighters, and three massive naval armadas — the 6th Fleet in the Atlantic, the 7th Fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and, somewhat later, the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

Thanks to diplomat George Kennan, that strategy gained the name “containment” and, with it, Washington could, in effect, sit back and wait while the Sino-Soviet bloc imploded through diplomatic blunder and military misadventure. After the Beijing-Moscow split of 1962 and China’s subsequent collapse into the chaos of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, the Soviet Union tried repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, to break out of its geopolitical isolation — in the Congo, Cuba, Laos, Egypt, Ethiopia, Angola, and Afghanistan. In the last and most disastrous of those interventions, which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to term “the bleeding wound,” the Red Army deployed 110,000 soldiers for nine years of brutal Afghan combat, hemorrhaging money and manpower in ways that would contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In that heady moment of seeming victory as the sole superpower left on planet Earth, a younger generation of Washington foreign-policy leaders, trained not on battlefields but in think tanks, took little more than a decade to let that unprecedented global power start to slip away. Toward the close of the Cold War era in 1989, Francis Fukuyama, an academic working in the State Department’s policy planning unit, won instant fame among Washington insiders with his seductive phrase “the end of history.” He argued that America’s liberal world order would soon sweep up all of humanity on an endless tide of capitalist democracy. As he put it in a much-cited essay: “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident… in the total exhaustion of viable systemic alternatives to Western liberalism… seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture.”

The Invisible Power of Geopolitics

Amid such triumphalist rhetoric, Zbigniew Brzezinski, another academic sobered by more worldly experience, reflected on what he had learned about geopolitics during the Cold War as an adviser to two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski offered the first serious American study of geopolitics in more than half a century. In the process, he warned that the depth of U.S. global hegemony, even at this peak of unipolar power, was inherently “shallow.”

For the United States and, he added, every major power of the past 500 years, Eurasia, home to 75% of the world’s population and productivity, was always “the chief geopolitical prize.” To perpetuate its “preponderance on the Eurasian continent” and so preserve its global power, Washington would, he warned, have to counter three threats: “the expulsion of America from its offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral; ejection from its “perch on the western periphery” of the continent provided by NATO; and finally, the formation of “an assertive single entity” in the sprawling center of Eurasia.

Arguing for Eurasia’s continued post-Cold War centrality, Brzezinski drew heavily on the work of a long-forgotten British academic, Sir Halford Mackinder. In a 1904 essay that sparked the modern study of geopolitics, Mackinder observed that, for the past 500 years, European imperial powers had dominated Eurasia from the sea, but the construction of trans-continental railroads was shifting the locus of control to its vast interior “heartland.” In 1919, in the wake of World War I, he also argued that Eurasia, along with Africa, formed a massive “world island” and offered this bold geopolitical formula: “Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” Clearly, Mackinder was about 100 years premature in his predictions.

But today, by combining Mackinder’s geopolitical theory with Brzezinski’s gloss on global politics, it’s possible to discern, in the confusion of this moment, some potential long-term trends. Imagine Mackinder-style geopolitics as a deep substrate that shapes more ephemeral political events, much the way the slow grinding of the planet’s tectonic plates becomes visible when volcanic eruptions break through the earth’s surface. Now, let’s try to imagine what all this means in terms of international geopolitics today.

China’s Geopolitical Gambit

In the decades since the Cold War’s close, China’s increasing control over Eurasia clearly represents a fundamental change in that continent’s geopolitics. Convinced that Beijing would play the global game by U.S. rules, Washington’s foreign policy establishment made a major strategic miscalculation in 2001 by admitting it to the World Trade Organization (WTO). “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” confessed two former members of the Obama administration, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.” In little more than a decade after it joined the WTO, Beijing’s annual exports to the U.S. grew nearly five-fold and its foreign currency reserves soared from just $200 billion to an unprecedented $4 trillion by 2013.

In 2013, drawing on those vast cash reserves, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, launched a trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative to transform Eurasia into a unified market. As a steel grid of rails and petroleum pipelines began crisscrossing the continent, China ringed the tri-continental world island with a chain of 40 commercial ports — from Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, around Africa’s coast, to Europe from Piraeus, Greece, to Hamburg, Germany. In launching what soon became history’s largest development project, 10 times the size of the Marshall Plan, Xi is consolidating Beijing’s geopolitical dominance over Eurasia, while fulfilling Brzezinski’s fear of the rise of “an assertive single entity” in Central Asia.

Unlike the U.S., China hasn’t spent significant effort establishing military bases. While Washington still maintains some 750 of them in 80 nations, Beijing has just one military base in Djibouti on the east African coast, a signals intercept post on Myanmar’s Coco Islands in the Bay of Bengal, a compact installation in eastern Tajikistan, and half a dozen small outposts in the South China Sea.

Moreover, while Beijing was focused on building Eurasian infrastructure, Washington was fighting two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a strategically inept bid to dominate the Middle East and its oil reserves (just as the world was beginning to transition away from petroleum to renewable energy). In contrast, Beijing has concentrated on the slow, stealthy accretion of investments and influence across Eurasia from the South China Sea to the North Sea. By changing the continent’s underlying geopolitics through this commercial integration, it’s winning a level of control not seen in the last thousand years, while unleashing powerful forces for political change.

Tectonic Shifts Shake U.S. Power

After a decade of Beijing’s relentless economic expansion across Eurasia, the tectonic shifts in that continent’s geopolitical substrate have begun to manifest themselves in a series of diplomatic eruptions, each erasing another aspect of U.S. influence. Four of the more recent ones might seem, at first glance, unrelated but are all driven by the relentless force of geopolitical change.

First came the sudden, unexpected collapse of the U.S. position in Afghanistan, forcing Washington to end its 20-year occupation in August 2021 with a humiliating withdrawal. In a slow, stealthy geopolitical squeeze play, Beijing had signed massive development deals with all the surrounding Central Asian nations, leaving American troops isolated there. To provide critical air support for its infantry, U.S. jet fighters were often forced to fly 2,000 miles from their nearest base in the Persian Gulf — an unsustainable long-term situation and unsafe for troops on the ground. As the U.S.-trained Afghan Army collapsed and Taliban guerrillas drove into Kabul atop captured Humvees, the chaotic U.S. retreat in defeat became unavoidable.

Just six months later in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin massed an armada of armored vehicles loaded with 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. If Putin is to be believed, his “special military operation” was to be a bid to undermine NATO’s influence and weaken the Western alliance — one of Brzezinski’s conditions for the U.S. eviction from Eurasia.

But first Putin visited Beijing to court President Xi’s support, a seemingly tall order given China’s decades of lucrative trade with the United States, worth a mind-boggling $500 billion in 2021. Yet Putin scored a joint declaration that the two nations’ relations were “superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era” and a denunciation of “the further expansion of NATO.”

As it happened, Putin did so at a perilous price. Instead of attacking Ukraine in frozen February when his tanks could have maneuvered off-road on their way to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, he had to wait out Beijing’s Winter Olympics. So, Russian troops invaded instead in muddy March, leaving his armored vehicles stuck in a 40-mile traffic jam on a single highway where the Ukrainians readily destroyed more than 1,000 tanks. Facing diplomatic isolation and European trade embargos as his defeated invasion degenerated into a set of vengeful massacres, Moscow shifted much of its exports to China. That quickly raised bilateral trade by 30% to an all-time high, while reducing Russia to but another piece on Beijing’s geopolitical chessboard.

Then, just last month, Washington found itself diplomatically marginalized by an utterly unexpected resolution of the sectarian divide that had long defined the politics of the Middle East. After signing a $400-billion infrastructure deal with Iran and making Saudi Arabia its top oil supplier, Beijing was well positioned to broker a major diplomatic rapprochement between those bitter regional rivals, Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Within weeks, the foreign ministers of the two nations sealed the deal with a deeply symbolic voyage to Beijing — a bittersweet reminder of the days not long ago when Arab diplomats paid court in Washington.

Finally, the Biden administration was stunned this month when Europe’s preeminent leader, Emmanuel Macron of France, visited Beijing for a series of intimate tête-à-tête chats with China’s President Xi. At the close of that extraordinary journey, which won French companies billions in lucrative contracts, Macron announced “a global strategic partnership with China” and promised he would not “take our cue from the U.S. agenda” over Taiwan. A spokesman for the Élysée Palace quickly released a pro forma clarification that “the United States is our ally, with shared values.” Even so, Macron’s Beijing declaration reflected both his own long-term vision of the European Union as an independent strategic player and that bloc’s ever-closer economic ties to China

The Future of Geopolitical Power

Projecting such political trends a decade into the future, Taiwan’s fate would seem, at best, uncertain. Instead of the “shock and awe” of aerial bombardments, Washington’s default mode of diplomatic discourse in this century, Beijing prefers stealthy, sedulous geopolitical pressure. In building its island bases in the South China Sea, for example, it inched forward incrementally — first dredging, then building structures, next runways, and finally emplacing anti-aircraft missiles — in the process avoiding any confrontation over its functional capture of an entire sea.

Lest we forget, Beijing has built its formidable economic-political-military power in little more than a decade. If its strength continues to increase inside Eurasia’s geopolitical substrate at even a fraction of that head-spinning pace for another decade, it may be able to execute a deft geopolitical squeeze-play on Taiwan like the one that drove the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Whether from a customs embargo, incessant naval patrols, or some other form of pressure, Taiwan might just fall quietly into Beijing’s grasp.

Should such a geopolitical gambit prevail, the U.S. strategic frontier along the Pacific littoral would be broken, possibly pushing its Navy back to a “second island chain” from Japan to Guam — the last of Brzezinski’s criteria for the true waning of U.S. global power. In that event, Washington’s leaders could once again find themselves sitting on the proverbial diplomatic and economic sidelines, wondering how it all happened.



What the Bush-Obama China Memos Reveal - Newly declassified documents contain important lessons for U.S. China policy.

April 29, 2023

By Michael J. Green, the CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and Paul Haenle, the director of Carnegie China.


As U.S.-China relations transition from an era of engagement to one of strategic competition, some in the Biden and former Trump administrations have claimed to be abandoning four decades of naive American assumptions about Beijing. Past U.S. policy, they say, was based on a futile view that engagement would lead to a democratic and cooperative China. This, however, is not only a misreading of past U.S. policies but also dangerous analytical ground upon which to build a new national security strategy.

The fact is that no administration since that of Richard Nixon has made U.S. security dependent on Chinese democratization. Every administration has combined engagement with strategies to counterbalance China through alliances, trade agreements, and U.S. military power. Throwing out all previous U.S. approaches to China would mean throwing out some of the most important tools the current administration relies on to compete with China. And the Biden administration will not get its China strategy right until it is clear about what has worked in the past.

Perhaps the most valuable peek inside what previous U.S. administrations really thought is the newly declassified set of transition memoranda prepared by the outgoing George W. Bush administration for the incoming Obama administration in late 2008 and early 2009. Recently declassified by former President Bush and edited by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, the collected analysis of the world as seen by the Bush National Security Council is available to the public from the Brookings Institution Press in Hand-Off: The Foreign Policy George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama. (Note: We both served in the National Security Council during the Bush administration and co-wrote one of the chapters in the book.)

The transition memoranda on China and Asia knock down the assertion that Bush had a naive set of assumptions about China. Even at a time when China was materially weaker than the United States or even Japan, the White House was actively preparing the toolkit that might be needed should China turn in a more aggressive direction. The administration had already seen this possibility with the crisis caused by a Chinese Air Force collision with an EP-3 U.S. surveillance aircraft within the first months of the new Bush team’s arrival. To be sure, there was less urgency to the China challenge than today. In the early 2000s, China still had a smaller economy and navy than Japan, whereas today, the Chinese economy and military power have eclipsed those of Japan and are challenging the United States. Nor were Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao anywhere near as aggressive as current leader Xi Jinping.

But the question of how China would use its growing power was still open to shaping, and not just because China had less material power at the time. Chinese leaders Jiang and Hu did not rebuff Bush’s entreaties on human rights, religious freedom, or trade the way Xi and his officials do today. When Washington urged the release of political dissidents at summits in the early 2000s, Beijing often complied. When Bush spoke to Jiang or Hu about religious freedom, they listened and engaged, even if they did not agree. When the United States called for improvements in enforcing intellectual property rights or transparency about the SARS epidemic, there were small but positive changes. And Bush pulled no punches: He told Jiang and Hu that the United States would pursue a comprehensive, constructive, and candid dialogue, accompanied by regular meetings with the Dalai Lama, engagement with Chinese political dissidents, and frequent public references to the priority the United States gave to its democratic allies and its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act. Chinese leaders would have preferred the more accommodating “strategic partnership” they had pursued with the Clinton administration, but that was no longer on offer.

Instead, the strategic partnerships that mattered to Bush administration were the same ones that form the basis of the Biden administration’s approach to China today. Bush elevated Japan’s standing in U.S. diplomacy to a level it had not enjoyed since the Reagan presidency, with Bush counting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi among his closest international confidants and friends. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, joining Australia, India, Japan, and the United States was launched in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. And the Bush administration went through the painstaking bureaucratic work of clearing obstacles—mainly having to do with nuclear nonproliferation—to a new strategic partnership with India. All of these were part of what Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called “a balance of power that favors freedom.” While the engagement side of U.S. policy is in disrepute today, Bush-era investments in alliances and new strategic partnerships like India have paid off for the Biden administration as it faces a more menacing China.

Economic statecraft backed the geopolitics. Progress with Beijing on China’s predatory trade practices was modest, and the Bush administration and its allies knew that real progress would require the full leverage of the most powerful economies in the world. It was against this backdrop that the administration negotiated bilateral trade agreements with Australia, Singapore, and South Korea and began negotiations on what became the Trans-Pacific Partnership and discussions on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These agreements combined would have brought the weight of almost two-thirds of the world economy to the table in demanding reciprocal agreements from China. Significant actors within the Chinese economy were ready to use that pressure to move away from an economic model dominated by state-owned enterprise to create dynamism that would benefit Chinese consumers and the private sector at home and abroad based on rules shaped by the United States and its major allies.

That obviously did not happen. One reason was the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, which Beijing wrongly interpreted as proof that the West was declining and the East is rising, as China’s propagandists now put it. Perhaps more significant was the emergence of Xi, whose own penchant for autocratic rule, ideological struggle, and Chinese coercive dominance of the region signaled a shift that was not predicted even by China’s own leading experts, many of whom are now living in fear of his rule. The global financial crisis also broke the political formula in Washington that had allowed successful trade agreements to underpin U.S. grand strategy. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the TPP in 2017, and his successor, President Joe Biden, has made it clear he will never return.

The transition memos in Hand-Off did not predict any of these developments within China—nobody did—but the memos did lay out a strategic framework for minimizing risk and maximizing the opportunities for peace and stability in what we now call the Indo-Pacific. To say this was naive would be to argue for a strategy of strangling China at a time in its development when engagement still had some traction and when, more importantly, U.S. allies and the American public, both of whom mainly saw China as a partner, would not have supported containment and decoupling.

What are the lessons from Hand-Off going forward?

The most important lesson is one the Biden administration already has right: Invest in allies and partners to maintain that “balance of power that favors freedom.” Biden has elevated the Quad meetings to a regular summit, and he graciously credited Bush for starting the Quad when the leaders first assembled in 2022. The Biden administration has also launched one of the most ambitious security partnerships of the past few decades with the Australia-United Kingdom-United States agreement (AUKUS) to help Australia deploy and build nuclear-powered submarines. The pact also aims to develop advanced technological capabilities by pooling resources and integrating supply chains for defense-related science, industry, and supply chains.

Second, the administration needs to reconstruct some form of the economic statecraft that underpinned U.S. strategies toward China in the past. Far from helping China compete, agreements like TPP were designed to force Beijing to play by the rules or lose hundreds of billions of dollars in trade as tariffs and market barriers among the rule-abiding economies went down. Now, sadly, it is the United States that is outside the TPP and suffering from lost access, while Beijing aggressively lobbies the signatories to let the Chinese economy into the agreement. The Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is something of a placeholder to show Washington cares, but it lacks market access or binding rules that would influence business behavior and get Beijing’s attention. Multilateral organizations like the World Trade Organization also matter in this context. The Bush administration probably could have done more within the WTO to address China’s cheating on its commitments, but the Trump and Biden administrations have gone too far in allowing the dispute resolution mechanism of the WTO to wither at a time when U.S. allies still see it as an important tool to hold China to account.

Third, the Biden administration has left the world wondering how this all ends with China. French President Emmanuel Macron’s craven comments on Taiwan after his visit to Beijing were short-sighted and very damaging to regional security. More responsible U.S. allies like Japan and Australia are signing on to deeper military and intelligence cooperation with the United States. But none of them have any clarity about Washington’s longer-term vision for the relationship with China. Xi’s constant attacks on the United States, democracy, and U.S. allies make it difficult to imagine a happy place in U.S.-China relations. But other than blunting Chinese aggression and coercion, what is this alignment between allies for? What kind of relationship or strategic equilibrium with China is the United States aiming to achieve? The Bush administration could answer that question to an extent that helped rally allies. Biden would do well to engage with U.S. allies on the proper answer in the current geopolitical environment.

Fourth, resources matter. Some blame the Global War on Terror for convincing the Bush administration it had to get along with China. The authors never heard those arguments in our time in the White House, nor is that alleged tradeoff even hinted at in the declassified memos in Hand-Off. The fundamentals of the Bush administration’s China strategy did not change because of 9/11. What did change was the availability of resources. Even after the Obama administration pledged to pivot to Asia in 2011, resources did not flow into military and diplomatic efforts the way they should have. Continuing struggles in the Middle East, federal budget sequestration, and now Russia’s war on Ukraine have all slowed the long anticipated rebalance of forces to deal with China. Biden and the U.S. Congress need to resource their strategy of competition, and finally make the pivot from the Bush administration’s war on terror real.



 No comments from me on this. Obviously there are many other views. But I think all four give us a good sense of realism that moves us away from being the world's policeman even as we necessarily focus more on moral values and moral freedoms at home. Who are we, and what do we want?