Rampant inflation, a damaged dollar, and the threat of wider conflict are among the perils awaiting the world
By GEORGE KOO
As the war in Ukraine rolls into its second month, the fog (of war) is beginning to lift and certain troubling conclusions emerge into view. Ominously, some are consequential threats to the future existence of the world as we know it.
It’s increasingly obvious that the war was provoked by the US and that the US has a vested interest in keeping the conflict going. No members of President Joe Biden’s administration talk about ending the war, only about providing more arms for the Ukrainians to keep fighting, and to impose more sanctions on Russia.
Biden has declared that the purpose of levying sanctions on top of sanctions on Russia was to inflict pain on the country to the point that the Russian people will revolt and overthrow President Vladimir Putin from power.
As the world has learned from previous experiences of countries that faced the full fury of American wrath, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela to mention a few, sanctions represent a blunt and non-discriminating instrument of torture. The elites of the target nation might feel some pain but innocent civilians, especially women and children, suffer the most from the deprivations resulting from the sanctions.
Rather than turning the people against their leaders, the external cause of pain can become a rallying focus for their leader and turn the resentment toward the perpetrator. Over time, the victimized people learn to make do with less and stiffen their resolve to stand up to the external bully.
Also, in order for any sanction to become a potent weapon, it needs virtually universal support from the community of nations. Thus US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior officials have been scurrying around to hector friend and foe alike into joining the sanctions on Russia.
Most not buying the American sanctions
The response has been a great disappointment to Washington. Brazil, India and South Africa have elected to stand by Russia as fellow members of BRICS. Even Mexico has demurred and not joined the American-led sanctions.
A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, was tactless enough to point out that 140 members of the United Nations have not signed on. In other words, more than half of the world’s population is not joining the sanctions on Russia.
Along with oil and natural gas, Russia is a major supplier of wheat and other agricultural products and fertilizers. Prohibition of Russia from participating in the world market will create shortages and inflationary prices.
Not only does Biden expect his American public willingly to bear the economic pain caused by the collateral impact of his sanctions, he also expects the Europeans to go along, notwithstanding that their cost of living will go through the roof.
The European Union depends on Russia for 40% of its natural gas and 27% of its oil. Germany is especially dependent on Russia as its major supplier of energy. One has to wonder how long the EU will squirm under US unilateral foreign policy.
Rampant inflation will lead to civil unrest and tear the European alliance apart. A weakened Europe unable to get along with Russia would minimize the EU’s claim as one of the poles in a multipolar world. Eliminating the EU as a rival happens to fit the White House design to regain world domination.
Even though Biden admits that sanctions do not deter, he freezes Russia’s international reserves. Then he chooses to accentuate the pressure on Putin by ordering the seizure of private property, such as US$100 million yachts, from selected Russian oligarchs, and removing Russia from the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) international financial transfer system, in effect removing Russia from global commerce.
After Biden’s announcement, the value of the ruble plummeted through the floor and the US and its allies crowed in delight. Then Putin declared that he would accept payment only in rubles for the sale of Russian natural gas and oil to “unfriendly” countries. Later, he broadened that to include accepting gold for payment at the exchange rate of 5,000 rubles to one gram of gold.
Trust in the dollar eroding
With the linking of the Russian currency to real assets, the world has a choice on whether to trust the ruble or the full faith and backing of the US government on the value of the dollar. Apparently, confidence in the ruble was quickly restored, as the exchange rate against the dollar bounced back to near pre-war level.
The unilateral and arbitrary actions of the Biden administration are raising doubts about the reliability of commitments from the US. India is one example. Not even Japan’s offer (as a proxy for the US) of a $43 billion investment over a five-year period can tempt Prime Minister Narendra Modi into joining the sanctions. Instead, Modi is negotiating a rupees-for-rubles deal for Russian oil.
Even before the war in Ukraine, Russia had struck a deal to supply natural gas and oil to China based on the renminbi. Saudi Arabia has also hedged and agreed to sell oil to China on payment of the yuan instead of the dollar.
Biden’s sanctions on Russia clearly drive home the lesson that no sovereign foreign reserve is safe in the hands of banks in the US or the UK, but is subject to seizure at the whim of the those governments.
The American public may not yet fully appreciate that the one consequential blowback of this is a worldwide loss of confidence in the dollar, a currency not pegged to gold or any real asset and the belief that the US remains a safe place to leave one’s money.
If and when the US is no longer perceived to be a safe place to park a country’s foreign reserve or a tycoon’s private wealth, the dollar will cease to be a reserve currency of any value. The dollar not being worth the paper it is printed on will lead to the collapse of the US economy, which can be directly blamed on Biden’s folly.
China works on negotiation to peace
While the mainstream media in the West focused on Putin’s naked incursion into Ukraine, there were some that documented the step-by-step aggression of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that led to war. The alleged motive for the aggression was to provoke Russia into a war. The war was to bleed and weaken Russia into a pushover state for the US.
Small wonder then that when Blinken asked China to join the sanctions on Russia, he got a polite but blank stare. He must have assumed the Chinese were too stupid to understand that after the collapse of Russia, China would be next in Uncle Sam’s gunsight.
In contrast with Biden’s foreign policy, Chinese President Xi Jinping contacted Putin on the day after the Russian incursion into Ukraine to propose commencing negotiations with Ukraine for a peaceful settlement.
Distinct from the US, the UK and NATO, China has been quietly working with France and Germany to promote a negotiation process that would lead to peace. The most recent meeting held in Istanbul was the fourth in a series of parleys to discuss a ceasefire. As host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been following and reporting on the progress of the negotiations.
Despite Western media accusations of genocide and war atrocities, Putin has apparently been careful to limit civilian casualties. As former ambassador and US official Chas Freeman has pointed out, the ratio of civilian casualties from the Ukraine conflict to military casualties has been one-tenth of that normally found in a typical war.
Newsweek reported a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst as saying, “I know that the news keeps repeating that Putin is targeting civilians, but there is no evidence that Russia is intentionally doing so. In fact, I’d say that Russian could be killing thousands more civilians if it wanted to.”
Yet Blinken had the temerity of wanting to charge Putin with war crimes without any sense of irony. So far, no one has accused Putin of indiscriminate carpet-bombing, drone strikes on wedding parties or waterboarding of prisoners of war. All are war crimes that Americans could have been charged with but have not.
Another indicator that Putin’s objective in Ukraine was to reach a negotiated settlement was the report that the Russian military had agreed to release the mayor of the occupied Ukrainian city of Slavutych in exchange for removing arms within the city and for the Russian soldiers to leave. Hardly the action of anyone planning on a long-term occupation.
One media source reported that prior to the breakout of hostilities, Moscow had submitted a draft proposal for a new mutual security treaty between Russia and NATO, with nine articles to be negotiated. But the Biden administration brushed off Russia’s entire proposal as a non-starter, not even a basis for negotiations.
Given the Biden administration’s attitude about extending the conflict for as long as possible, it would be reasonable to speculate, as the two parties approach a peaceful settlement, whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could run the risk of assassination by either a radical Nazi hit squad from within or by an outside CIA sniper.
Kinzhal the dagger
To show Russia is no mere paper tiger, it fired a hypersonic missile, which it calls Kinzhal, from the Black Sea across Ukraine that penetrated and exploded in an underground arms and munition depot in Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine. This depot was supposed to be hardened to resist a direct hit by a nuclear blast.
The Kinzhal, Russian for “dagger,” is an air-to-surface missile that the Russian military claims can travel at more than 10 times the speed of sound and has a range of 1,930 kilometers. One reason for firing the missile was to tell the Pentagon that it had greatly underestimated Russia’s capability.
As the publishers of Asia Times have written (Biden’s living a dangerous fantasy), Putin has repeatedly warned the US that the Russian bear will not be cattle-prodded into a corner but will pre-emptively launch the first nuclear strike if baited.
Apparently, the Biden administration is not ready to back down and lose face. Thus the second consequential blowback from Ukraine is America’s evident willingness to collide with Russia at full tilt, even risking a worldwide nuclear holocaust.
If the US does not succeed in knocking Russia back to the Stone Age, then what will Biden do with China?
First, the US can continue to pressure China with the threat of sanctions. However, if sanctions will not cause Russia to bend to America’s will, China is even less likely to feel intimidated.
After the financial crisis of 2008, China could see the shakiness of the dollar – a currency that depended on quantitative easing, that is, on the US Federal Reserve’s printing press running wild – and began to enter currency swap agreements with other countries. A swap agreement allows two trading partners to pay each other in their own currency and not have to settle in dollars. At last count, 40 countries have such agreements in place with China.
Since China has become the leading trading partner of virtually every nation in the world, the US is even less likely to find many interested in joining any American boycott of doing business with China, were the US foolish enough to try.
China counters US sanctions on Xinjiang
But sure enough, the Biden administration has tried, by banning the import of cotton from Xinjiang. In response, China has mandated that all face masks for export must be made with cotton from Xinjiang.
Biden has also forbidden the import of any products made in Xinjiang. In response, China has consolidated all its rare-earth mining companies into one holding company and registered it in Xinjiang.
The US can probably get along without masks from China but will find it a real challenge without rare-earth metals and minerals. There’s a Chinese saying: “For every ploy, there is (always) a counter.”
Second, the skill level of Biden’s team of diplomats is no match for China. When Blinken and company come calling, their message has been a consistent one: Follow our lead or else we will subject you to sanctions beyond your imagination. Nothing subtle or nuanced in their message, nor any offer of incentive to go along, just arrogance.
Chinese diplomats do not go around threatening military action or sanctions. They offer collaboration in the spirit of their Belt and Road Initiative. China’s recent interaction with India comes to mind.
On the eve of a scheduled visit to India by a UK delegation led by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also came calling. The UK group intended to lecture their former colony on the need to join the sanctions against Russia. Instead, the Indian government abruptly canceled the UK visit, but welcomed the visit by Wang.
Wang went to India to indicate that the two nations’ border dispute can be resolved amicably and pale in importance compared with the need to unite and stand up to the hegemony of US/UK/NATO. India, having had a full dose of the Pentagon’s insulting arrogance, listened.
Both Russia and India have tried to integrate with the West and failed. Now it’s time to look east and align with East and Central Asia.
If the threat of sanctions against Beijing rings hollow, could the Biden administration replace Ukraine with Taiwan to push China into war over the island?
Many in the mainstream media have suggested that pushing Russia to invade Ukraine was a dress rehearsal for doing the same with China, namely getting China to invade Taiwan.
Is Taiwan China’s Ukraine?
Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and others have suggested that the sure way to provoke China into war was officially to declare recognition of Taiwan as an independent and sovereign nation.
Such a declaration would be to ignore the one-China principle that Taiwan is part of China and would violate China’s sovereignty and international rule and order. Of course, trampling on established international order has never bothered the US. The only order that the US respects is the set of rules set by the US.
For certain, such open support for Taiwan’s independence would raise the tension between the US and China by orders of magnitude. But to light the spark of conflict, Washington would have to persuade Taipei to initiate military hostility.
According to a poll taken in Taiwan recently, after witnessing how the US provoked the Russian incursion into Ukraine and then watched the war on the sidelines, only one-third of Taiwanese are confident they will receive direct US military support in the event of a Chinese invasion. One in six fears they will have to fight alone. This represents a sharp decline by almost half from a survey taken six months earlier.
Hard to imagine that the people in Taiwan would want to see their island turn into another Ukraine.
China also claims to own hypersonic weapons, but we have not seen a demonstration of the capability of its version of a “Chinese dagger.” But we do know that China is developing carriers on high-speed rail to keep its nuclear missiles on the move.
The idea of moving the nukes on China’s high-speed rail network is similar to putting nukes in submarines. Namely, keep them moving to raise the likelihood of surviving a surprise attack and retain the ability to strike back. Unlike Putin, China is not ready to depart from its long-standing policy on “no first use” but will endeavor to keeping its sting potent.
The American public must wake up to full realization that the third consequential blowback is the willingness of the political leaders in Washington to risk nuclear war in order to assert hegemonic superiority over China and the world.
The Chinese have a saying, hui tou shi an (回头是岸), meaning “turn your head to see the shore.” In order to turn America back to the direction of peace, the American voters must be alert to the danger the world is confronting and exercise their rights to vote the rascals out. That means all of them, regardless of their party affiliation, so long as they yearn for war.
We stand at a dangerous junction in history. Let us hope the world will live to see a brighter tomorrow.
George Koo retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield’s, a novel green building platform.