The US focus on Russia is taking the attention away from China, and that suits Xi Jinping
The US focus on Russia is taking the attention away from China, and that suits Xi Jinping

The US focus on Russia is taking the attention away from China, and that suits Xi Jinping

The war in Ukraine has brought Russia back to the center of US foreign policy. For the Biden administration, Russia has replaced China as the United States’ main opponent so far. The all-encompassing sanctions imposed on Russia for its violations in Ukraine indicate how long Washington will go to punish Moscow.

When Joe Biden took office last year, China was at the top of the administration’s agenda. After following his predecessor, Donald Trump, Biden also spent time and energy on how to matte China’s unchecked growth. Obama’s focus on Asia was part of a long-term plan to increase US positioning in Pacific waters. But it was Trump who made it a public issue during his election campaign. As president, he continued to target China and began his theft of collective bargaining, accusing Beijing of manipulating the financial system and of stealing ideas from American companies. By the end of his term, Trump had succeeded in making the world aware of the dangers of China’s progress and its ambitious plans to take up the fight against the United States. During the PLA’s incursion into Ladakh, his foreign minister Mike Pompeo was loud in his criticism of China’s actions. The Biden team followed Trump’s aggressive China policy, but without publicly scolding China or getting into a snake fight with Beijing.

One of Joe Biden’s first major foreign interactions was a virtual summit for quad leaders. This was the first quad meeting at the highest political level. The group USA, India, Australia and Japan are an attempt to limit China’s dominance of the Indo-Pacific. This was later followed by the announcement on AUUKUS, which aimed to supply Australia with the latest technology for nuclear-powered submarines. Australia could then be a force in guarding the waterways of the Indo-Pacific, where the PLA fleet continues its warfare.

But Vladimir Putin’s action against Ukraine on February 24 has turned the clock back to the Cold War era. Helping Ukraine and countering Russia is now consuming all of America’s energy. In a way, it’s easy for the Biden administration to slip back to the time when Russia and the United States fought proxy wars across Asia and Africa and planned moves and counterattacks around the world. Generations of Western liberals have grown up with the belief that Russia is the enemy. The fact that the war is not in Asia or Africa, but in the heart of Europe, has been an important factor in bringing the suffering of Ukrainians to the consciousness of the West. After all, prominent journalists have referred to them as one of us, Western and middle class, as opposed to Afghan or Syrian refugees.

President Biden has received support from Europe, Australia and Japan to support him in punishing Putin for his misdeeds. To pull Russia out of the international SWIFT payment system and essentially hope to stop Russian oil and gas sales and cut off access to trade with the West.

Biden’s boasting of slapping Russia with the “widest sanctions in history” may help strengthen his image as a tough leader, but in doing so, he is giving China an economic surplus. It will help China gradually build an alternative to the Western financial system. President Xi Jinping has talked about the Chinese way of doing things. Russia’s economic sanctions will finally benefit China by having its own financial arrangement. Biden is helping China move forward with its ambitions to offer an alternative to the Western-dominated financial system.

China’s massive energy needs can now be met by neighboring Russia. This does not have to come through the sea, but over land and certainly at a cheaper price, as Russian oil and gas markets are drying up due to sanctions. With the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline now almost stopped, Russia will not be able to negotiate with. Russia and China had signed a $ 117.5 billion deal on new oil and gas imports during Putin’s visit to China to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Russia will be able to trade with China with the Chinese version of the SWIFT payment system called Cross-Border Interbank Payment (CIPS). China has long tried to experiment with a financial system to circumvent the Western payment method.

The bite is a product of the Cold War era. Putin took over the reins of Moscow in 2000, bringing a hint of stability back to a country that was a shadow of its former self. Putin has built on that and managed to get Russia to beat far beyond its weight, whether it is in Syria or Iran. Ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin has been a hate figure in the United States. Russia has been accused of meddling in the US election, and supporting China was not seen as an opponent for decades.

The United States has never shown that kind of hostility towards China, although it is well known that the biggest threat to US dominance in the coming years is Beijing, which has both the political, diplomatic and economic influence to challenge the United States’ dominant position in the world. Yes, the bells will start ringing if China tries to unite Taiwan by force, but so far not much can be done other than selling weapons to Taiwan and symbolic gestures such as visits by US congressmen and officials to Taipei. China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and the detention of nearly one million in “re-education camps”, but there have been no severe sanctions against China for this.

The Biden administration has also not made any public comments on China’s intervention across the LAC in Ladakh, although Washington says New Delhi did not want the United States to weigh in on the issue. India wants the Ukraine issue to be resolved through negotiations and quickly so that the US can shift focus back to Asia. A protracted war of attrition in Ukraine will keep the United States and Western powers engaged in Europe and give China the leeway it needs to become more powerful.

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