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wolf warrior 2Following Wolf Warrior, was the highest-grossing Chinese film shortly after its release in 2017. These grim blockbusters coincided with the new, more seething phase of Chinese diplomacy. Wolf Warrior Diplomacy became his natural nickname.
I thought of those movies this week after China brokered a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a deal that Washington’s foreign policy community rightly lamented would have been beyond the reach of Iran. ‘America. In his statement on the deal, which took almost everyone by surprise – including, apparently, Israel’s Mossad – Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, acknowledged this point while welcoming any move to reduce instability in the Middle East. Although Sullivan spoke the truth, I must commend him for doing so in these times of hyperventilation.
Contrary to the cartoonishly hawkish consensus expressed by the House Select Committee on China, Beijing is not seeking American “submission”. Nor is China’s stated goal to stifle American “basic freedoms”. These are exaggerated conclusions drawn from a selective ransacking of statements by Xi Jinping – and more recently those of Qin Gang, China’s new foreign minister.
Certainly, China wants to make the world safe for autocrats, which primarily means China. It also finds itself in deadly and serious great power competition with the United States. The challenge posed by China demands strategic thinking at the highest levels of America. But China does not have a universalist “autocracy versus democracy” framework that matches America’s. Without a doubt, it makes life easier to invert our view of the world into that of China. But it would be doing a disservice to America’s ability to operate effectively in the world to project ourselves onto them. For an all-too-rare assessment of our tendency to reach the most Manichean conclusions first, and how they threaten to become self-fulfilling, I recommend this excellent article in National Interest by Paul Heer.
Which brings me back to the deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I struggled to find a downside. The background is that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, asked Xi Jinping to broker it during the Chinese leader’s state visit to the kingdom late last year. He did not ask Joe Biden to be the mediator because the United States does not have the capacity to talk to Iran. China, meanwhile, is impartial enough between Riyadh and Tehran to play this role, and is now powerful enough to act as an implicit guarantor. Given that China is heavily dependent on the Middle East for its energy, and America no longer does, it makes sense that it should stop being a free-rider of the Pax Americana. China, in other words, has a greater stake in the security of the Strait of Hormuz than America.
The deal also has its ironies. The basis of US foreign policy is to pivot to the Indo-Pacific just as China expands its reach to every continent. If you see the world one way, it could mean a life-and-death struggle between the United States and China for global primacy. If you want to shape the world in another way, you might see this as a welcome opportunity to share the burden. How we respond to China is a choice that will, in turn, shape China’s behavior. At no time should the United States lower its guard or fall into Beijing’s cheerful talk of “humanity’s shared shared destiny” and “inter-civilizational exchanges” (for a good summary of the formal positions of China read this thread). It would be naive. A rational American position would be to beware and verify, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan. But to interpret China’s every move as that of America’s nihilistic look-alike is to fall prey to a more dangerous form of naivete. Sometimes a wolf warrior can take on the role of a German Shepherd.
As for the movies, their plots are up there with the worst B movies Hollywood has to offer. Long story short, it’s about a renegade PLA Special Forces soldier who ends up killing a comically evil ex-Navy Seal mercenary named Tom Cat. It involves drug gangs and lots of violence. Undoubtedly, the Chinese audience was on their feet. Having undergone many Rambo movies, we can all relate. I won’t hold my breath for the Chinese version of Kid in which a Chinese dog negotiates world peace. But I really hope Mike Gallagher, the chairman of the House China committee, will ditch his cartoon habit and study history a bit. After all, his job takes him to Washington, not Los Angeles.
Brooke, since you’re based in New York, I’m curious if the world of finance and business has a view of China that is significantly different from that of the foreign policy community. Big business America was acting as the “peace faction” in DC. Today, that voice seems conspicuous by its absence – no doubt influenced by China’s policy of forced technology transfers.
My column this week delves into the toxic affinity between Vladimir Putin and the Maga cultural right and argues that next year’s US presidential election may be Putin’s best hope of winning in Ukraine.
The FT’s coverage of the SVB and related bank meltdowns over the past week has been objectively global. There are too many colleagues to mention, so allow me to highlight one outside contributor, Sheila Bair, former FDIC chairwoman, whose op-ed on the bailout was just for the money.
Also watch — or listen to — this Deep State Radio Podcast with my colleague Martin Wolf on his excellent new book, The crisis of democratic capitalism.
Finally, I want to make a clarification to my last full notes on the swamps, “Vladimir Putin is a lot more broke than you think”. On reflection, I was unfairly harsh in accusing the IMF of credulity over the Russian GDP figures, which I now believe are plausible. Apologies for what was an error in judgement. Admit that it does not come naturally!
Brooke Masters responds
Ed, based on my conversations with business leaders, I think they have very mixed feelings about China. Its size and growing middle class make it a market everyone wants to sell to, and the financial services sector in particular has been excited by the recent opening up to foreign suppliers.
But companies fear being caught off guard like they were when the United States imposed sanctions on Russia. Those who suffered supply chain rumbles when China shut down for Covid are especially aware of the dangers. The long-term solution for many companies may be to make China a stand-alone unit, supplying local customers. There are still strong voices in favor of engagement, but most business leaders are keeping their heads down and their options open.
Rana Foroohar will return next week.
And now a word from our Swampians. . .
In response to “Why Biden is wise to cut the deficit”:
“Rana Foroohar’s description of what could cause a monetary insolvency crisis in the United States should be the starting point for a broader debate. Future debt levels relative to debt service repayment capacities should be a central element of future economic policy-making. Either policymakers do it, or global markets will. Overall, US fiscal and monetary policy should be assessed against what might happen in a future stress test, which will surely come. The way to keep dollar-denominated securities at the center of the global monetary reserve system is to keep them somewhat scarce and pay an interest stream of useful value to holders. The second most productive economy in the world won’t cut it. — Paul A. Myers, Corona del Mar, CA
We would love to hear from you. You can email the team at [email protected], contact Ed at [email protected] and Rana at [email protected], and follow them on Twitter at @RanaForoohar And @EdwardGLuce. We could present an extract of your answer in the next newsletter
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