Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose insights into China have caused me to comment before, writes, in an article in Foreign Affairs, that “despite the best efforts of ideological warriors in Beijing and Washington, the uncomfortable truth is that China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this [global pandemic] crisis significantly diminished. Neither a new Pax Sinica nor a renewed Pax Americana will rise from the ruins. Rather, both powers will be weakened, at home and abroad. And the result will be a continued slow but steady drift toward international anarchy across everything from international security to trade to pandemic management. With nobody directing traffic, various forms of rampant nationalism are taking the place of order and cooperation. The chaotic nature of national and global responses to the pandemic thus stands as a warning of what could come on an even broader scale.“
“As with other historical inflection points,” Kevin Rudd explains, “three factors will shape the future of the global order: changes in the relative military and economic strength of the great powers, how those changes are perceived around the world, and what strategies the great powers deploy. Based on all three factors, China and the United States have reason to worry about their global influence in the post-pandemic world.“
He goes on to assert that “Contrary to the common trope, China’s national power has taken a hit from this crisis on multiple levels …[and] … The outbreak has opened up significant political dissension within the Chinese Communist Party, even prompting thinly veiled criticism of President Xi Jinping’s highly centralized leadership style. This has been reflected in a number of semiofficial commentaries that have mysteriously found their way into the public domain during April. Xi’s draconian lockdown of half the country for months to suppress the virus has been widely hailed, but he has not emerged unscathed,” says Mr Rudd who is both a politician and a scholar who both reads and speaks Chinese. He tells us that “Internal debate rages on the precise number of the dead and the infected, on the risks of second-wave effects as the country slowly reopens, and on the future direction of economic and foreign policy.” He also says that “The economic damage has been massive. Despite China’s published return-to-work rates, no amount of domestic stimulus in the second half of 2020 will make up for the loss in economic activity in the first and second quarters. Drastic economic retrenchment among China’s principal trading partners will further impede economic recovery plans, given that pre-crisis, the traded sector of the economy represented 38 percent of GDP. Overall, 2020 growth is likely to be around zero—the worst performance since the Cultural Revolution five decades ago. China’s debt-to-GDP ratio already stands at around 310 percent, acting as a drag on other Chinese spending priorities, including education, technology, defense, and foreign aid. And all of this comes on the eve of the party’s centenary celebrations in 2021, by which point the leadership had committed to double China’s GDP over a decade. The pandemic now makes that impossible.“
“As for the United States’ power,” Kevin Rudd opines that “the Trump administration’s chaotic management has left an indelible impression around the world of a country incapable of handling its own crises, let alone anybody else’s. More important, the United States seems set to emerge from this period as a more divided polity rather than a more united one, as would normally be the case following a national crisis of this magnitude; this continued fracturing of the American political establishment adds a further constraint on U.S. global leadership … [and he says that] … conservative estimates see the U.S. economy shrinking by between six and 14 percent in 2020, the largest single contraction since the demobilization at the end of World War II. Washington’s fiscal interventions meant to arrest the slide already amount to ten percent of GDP, pushing the United States’ ratio of public debt to GDP toward 100 percent—near the wartime record of 106 percent. The U.S. dollar’s global reserve currency status enables the government to continue selling U.S. treasuries to fund the deficit. Nonetheless, large-scale debt sooner or later will constrain post-recovery spending, including on the military. And there’s also risk that the current economic crisis will metastasize into a broader financial crisis, although the Federal Reserve, other G-20 central banks, and the International Monetary Fund have so far managed to mitigate that risk.“
So, he says, the economic strength of each superpower has been seriously diminished. It is hard enough to maintain and enhance military power in good times … it becomes harder still when times are tough. People want food, not frigates.
The second factor, Mr Rudd says, is how the world reacts to the changes in power.
China, he tells us, “is now working overtime to repair the enormous damage to its global standing that resulted from the geographical origin of the virus and Beijing’s failure to contain the epidemic in the critical early months. Whatever China’s new generation of “wolf-warrior” diplomats may report back to Beijing, the reality is that China’s standing has taken a huge hit (the irony is that these wolf-warriors are adding to this damage, not ameliorating it). Anti-Chinese reaction over the spread of the virus, often racially charged, has been seen in countries as disparate as India, Indonesia, and Iran. Chinese soft power runs the risk of being shredded.“
“For different reasons,” he says, “the United States does not come out of the crisis much better. The world has watched in horror as an American president acts not as the leader of the free world but as a quack apothecary recommending unproven “treatments.” It has seen what “America First” means in practice: don’t look to the United States for help in a genuine global crisis, because it can’t even look after itself. Once there was the United States of the Berlin airlift. Now there is the image of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crippled by the virus, reports of the administration trying to take exclusive control of a vaccine being developed in Germany, and federal intervention to stop the commercial sale of personal protective equipment to Canada. The world has been turned on its head.“
In short, both Xi Jinping and Donald J Trump have squandered the once sterling reputations their countries had. America was “the indispensable nation” for the better part of a century. China’s rise, from the depths of Mao’s chaos to an economic powerhouse under Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao amazed and impressed the world. Now both lie, damaged, with their feet of clay exposed. Much of the world, especially the (formerly US-led) West, which includes e.g. Japan, Thailand and Malaysia, is reconsidering its relationships with both.
Writing in the Globe and Mail, Andrew Coyne says that “Even before [last] Wednesday’s British Columbia Supreme Court ruling in the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, the government of China was warning of the effect an adverse decision for Ms. Meng would have on relations with Canada. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry demanded her immediate release, to avoid “continuous harm to China-Canada relations.” The rhetoric only escalated afterward … [but] … Strangely, the same anxiety over the state of the relationship could be heard expressed in this country. Relations between the two countries “hang in the balance,” fretted one headline the day before. Another warned a decision allowing the extradition process to continue could “rattle” the relationship. “Our dismal relationship with China just got a whole lot worse,” complained a third, after the event.“
Rubbish, says My Coyne. “There isn’t any relationship to hang, rattle, or worsen,” he writes, because, while “We may have relations, in the formal diplomatic sense of the word. But a relationship – a broader set of undertakings, based on shared values or at least common interests? There is not one now and has not been for some time, even if some in Ottawa seem slow to realize it.“
“What is more,” Andrew Coyne adds, “there cannot be … [because] … We cannot have a relationship, in any meaningful sense of the word, with a country that kidnaps our people to enforce its demands, not least when those demands entail interfering in a judicial process and abrogating our treaty obligations. That is not how relationships work. Those, including Jean Chrétien’s former chief of staff Eddie Goldenberg, pushing for Canada to surrender Ms. Meng to China, ostensibly in return for the release of “the two Michaels” – businessman Michael Spavor and diplomat Michael Kovrig – but really to maintain a profitable “relationship,” are not only craven, but delusional.“
He’s exactly right. I was, along with many others, in agreement with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien when, back in the 1990s and early 2000s, he led several “Team Canada” trade trips to China. I agreed, fully, with him and many analysts that China was ready, willing and able to join the international trading community and I hoped that closer trade ties would make China a more responsible partner in the liberal global order. I was wrong, so was Jean Chrétien. But the fact that M Chrétien and I were wrong and that half of us understand and admit it does not make Donald Trump right. His instinct to press China for America’s advantage is wrong, too. The goal should remain to bring China more fully into the global, liberal socio-economic and political system, not to exclude China nor to allow it to rewrite those rule.
But Xi Jinping changed the old rules and now, Mr Coyne says, and I agree, that “The “relationship,” indeed, seems to consist entirely of China committing one offence after another against international law, human freedom, or common decency, while the government of Canada takes no action and issues only the most perfunctory statements in response. Did China deceive the world about the spread of the novel coronavirus for crucial weeks at the start of the pandemic? Hmmm. There are “real questions” about China’s role, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau muses … [then] … Is China preparing to trample on dissent in Hong Kong, installing the apparatus of its police state in flagrant defiance of the 1997 handover agreement with Britain? Now is the time, Mr. Trudeau advises, for China to engage in “constructive conversations” with the citizens of Hong Kong, to achieve a “de-escalation of tensions” … [and] … Should Canada follow the advice of intelligence experts and at long last join with its allies in blocking Huawei, whose role as an instrument of Chinese espionage is well-documented, from supplying equipment for its 5G wireless network? Gosh. Bear with me, the Prime Minister responds. “We have been taking advice from our security officials … We are working closely with our allies and watching what they do … .” As we have been doing for most of the past two years.” The latter is, as I said a few days ago, utter bollocks. Mr Trudeau has heard every word the “security officials” have said, but the people who pull his strings want him to listen to other voices: to M Chrétien and Mr Goldenberg, for example, who want to the prime minister and cabinet to ignore the advice of the national security experts and, instead, to give in to China’s demands.
Which brings me to this: a story from Agence France-Presse published in the South China Morning Post, which says that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to forge a new international relationship. He “is proposing a “D10” club of democratic partners that would include the G7 nations, Australia, South Korea and India.” Now, that is a useful notion. The article notes that “Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson are Europe’s only current alternative options for supplying 5G equipment such as antennas and relay masts.” American companies have largely left the network domain but Korea’s Samsung is a powerhouse in 5G development.
There is an alternative to Huawei‘s (China’s) 5G. Back in the 1990s, when the third-generation (3G) mobile (radio) phone standards were being developed, the global telecom community was divided. There were, in fact, two parallel 3G development teams: the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and another group of competitors called 3GPP2. The groups were led by rival multi-national groups and, within nations, like Canada and the USA, by rival service providers ~ Bell vs Clearnet (now TELUS) vs Rogers vs Shaw, for example, here. Both standards worked but hardware vendors had to make two sets of equipment and they (and Canada’s NORTEL, right here in Ottawa, was a world leader in this) quickly proposed a long term plan to evolve into the fourth-generation (4G) ~ using LTE. I suspect that Prime Minister Johnson and his advisors think that we, the world, will have an analogous situation with 5G. There will be two standards: the Huawei standard and an Ericsson/Nokia standard. Soon, very soon, work will begin on 6G … at a guess, led by Samsung.
The relationship that Boris Johnson proposes is radical and it goes against my own free-trade instincts. It proposes a trade alliance whose sole aim is to punish one nation: China. I’m not sure that’s the best aim, but China, it seems to me, has painted itself into a corner which allows, ever forces, others to unite against its bullying. In fact, what Boris Johnson proposes is the outcome that Xi Jinping helped to create.
The D-10 is a worthy idea. I somehow doubt that all of the G-7 will go along. I suspect that France and Italy, each for its own (probably not very good) reasons, will back away, but if one was to add, say, Israel ~ a global technological powerhouse ~ and a few others, like Denmark, Finland (home of Nokia), the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden (home of Ericsson) and a few others to the mix then I think he’s on to something. It is supposed to be an alliance of democratic nations ~ so there’s no room for e.g. Saudi Arabia ~ who want to defend themselves (a key point in international trade law) from what many security experts say is a very real threat from China. It could be a relationship that is tailor-made for Canada … or it would be if Canada had a government that wasn’t hell-bent on making Canada into a Chinese colony.
As Andrew Coyne said, “we can at least try. We can at least speak up. In so doing, we can not only preserve our self-respect, but show the Chinese regime we will not be bullied into submission, or implicated by our silence. Maybe we cannot persuade China to give way to us, but we can at least cause them to doubt whether we will give way to them.” That’s why we need a new government, one that will preserve and restore our national self-respect, one that will “at least try” to build international relationships that will act in Canada’s interests.