Top Chinese foreign policy official Yang Jiechi in watershed talks today with National Security Adviser Sullivan
https://asiatimes.com-by David P Goldman
US-China competition is entering a new phase. Image: Twitter
NEW YORK – A striking measure of how much the world has changed in two weeks is US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s journey to Rome Monday to meet with China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi.
Washington’s decision to seek China’s engagement in a war 7,000 kilometers away from Beijing gauges the depth of America’s strategic dilemma, as well as the importance of China’s economic power as a factor in world affairs.
The US has to choose a risky escalation of the conflict, including stepped-up weapons deliveries that might draw Russian fire, and a likely Russian victory. China by contrast has strong economic ties to both Ukraine as well as Russia, its trading partner of last resort (“Could China mediate the Ukraine war?”, March 9, 2022).
The US National Security Council released this statement March 13: “On Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and officials from the National Security Council and State Department will be in Rome.
Sullivan will meet with Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi as part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The two sides will discuss ongoing efforts to manage the competition between our two countries and discuss the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security.”
NATO appeared in disarray last week after the United States refused to accept delivery of obsolete MIG-29 fighters that Poland had acquired from the former East Germany, and now proposed to transfer to Ukraine. Poland was afraid to send the planes directly, an action that would have made Poland a combatant, and the United States refused to let the Poles fly the MiG-29’s to the US airbase at Ramstein for the same reason.
On Saturday, Russia warned that weapons convoys entering Ukraine were “legitimate targets” of its armed forces, raising the prospect of a direct engagement between Russian and NATO forces. That puts Washington in a bind. As the MiG-29 affair made clear, Washington does not want a direct fight between Russia and NATO forces, something that might lead to nuclear escalation.
Without resupply of Javelin anti-tank rockets, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and other high-tech US hardware, Ukraine’s chances of standing up to the Russian assault are dim. But the act of resupply itself could lead to a broader war.
In a March 12 interview with the German news site Spiegel, Admiral (Ret.) James Stavridis said that he did not expect Russia to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, but that a “miscalculation” represented a significant risk.
“What I do worry about,” Stavridis said, “is that there could be a miscalculation at some point, in which a Russian missile flies across the Polish border, strikes a U.S. command and control center, the SACEUR responds against Russian forces, and Russia then escalates. This is really the scenario of “2034.” Could that happen? It’s possible. But the reality is that we are already seeing a war, one we are going to call the “Ukraine War” 50 years from now.”
Stavridis drew a parallel to the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962, explaining, “What makes this somewhat similar is that you have two nuclear superpowers with sharp disagreement involving a third country – in this case, Ukraine, in that case, Cuba.”
Another concern for Washington is the knock-on effect of “nuclear” financial sanctions against Russia, which froze most of the country’s $630 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Prominent economists including Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff, the International Monetary Fund’s former chief economist, have warned that an unprecedented seizure of official reserves on this scale might destroy confidence in the US dollar system.
William Pesek (“Russia sanctions threaten to backfire on the buck”) and this writer (“Gold will soar as China seeks US dollar alternatives”) reported on this earlier for Asia Times.
Credit Suisse analyst Zoltan Poszar, one of the most followed money-market observers on Wall Street, warned in a note last week to clients that the backlash against the reserves seizure might destroy the existing monetary framework, “creating a “Bretton Woods III backed by outside money,” (gold and other commodities).
Poszar wrote: “We are witnessing the birth of Bretton Woods III – a new world (monetary) order centered around commodity-based currencies in the East that will likely weaken the Eurodollar system and also contribute to inflationary forces in the West.”
The US has assumed enormous strategic and economic risks to contain Russia. That explains the extraordinary decision of the US National Security Adviser to fly to Rome at the high point of a global crisis, and talk to China at a nadir in Sino-American relations.
A Southeast Asian senior statesman with long experience negotiating with Beijing predicts that China will decline any offer to “mediate” between Ukraine and Russia, but instead offer to “facilitate discussions.” The distinction is important; it allows China to claim the benefit of any success without taking ownership of a negotiating process that might fail.
Whatever emerges from the Rome meeting, a diplomatic revolution will have taken place. After enduring years of diplomatic opprobrium over territorial demands in the South China Sea, the handling of Hong Kong, the treatment of the Uighur minority, and so forth, China will step into the global spotlight as an indispensable participant in the search for a solution to the world’s most dangerous international crisis in a generation.