Blinken, having read out the prepared ‘grievances’ indictment, found that the anti-hero, Yang Jiechi, instead of being chastened, hit back.
A Global Times editorial assessed that the China-U.S. Anchorage talks would come to be seen as “a landmark in history”. For the first time, U.S. hegemony was treated disdainfully; for the first time, the U.S. ‘right’ to claim its values – its ‘style’ of democracy – as universally applicable, was publicly and flatly contradicted. Even the posture of ‘speaking from strength’ was dismissed, and the U.S.’ pressure of an alliance ‘bloc’ system ‘despised’. All spoken with an air of impunity (you need us, more than we need you). Strong stuff; no wonder Blinken looked shell-shocked.
Yet, this was not ‘it’. Anchorage was, in practice, a play of several acts. Well before ‘Opening Night’, a supportive cast was being mobilised as chorus to the play’s anticipated moment of climax: The Quad (U.S., Japan, Australia, and India) were warmed up; NATO activated, and the Europeans co-opted.
Even before the audience could take their seats, a small early drama was enacted in Moscow. It set in place the scenery to the climatic Act that was expected at Anchorage. The EU High Representative who had travelled purposively to read the ‘Riot Act’ to Moscow for its treatment of demonstrators, and of Alexei Navalny himself, was completely nonplussed to find the tables entirely turned – it was the EU that was led to the Moscow dock, chastised for criminalising Catalonian leaders as seditionists, and presented with videos of European police heavy-handedness in dealing with demonstrators. The first crack to the mould appeared.
FM Lavrov later made it unmistakably clear that Moscow was more than a little browned-off with Europe. The EU, he said, had “destroyed” Russia’s ability to have relations with Brussels: “There are no relations with the EU as an organization. The entire infrastructure of these relations has been destroyed by unilateral decisions made from Brussels”.
As the day approached for the main theatrical ‘piece’, even before the curtain rose, one actor (playing Uncle Sam), strolled the forestage to ‘warm up’ the audience with a recitation of the villainy perpetuated by the anti-hero (China). That was the mood-setter – the crux to the pièce de théâtre. A rolled document was in his hand, but not shown to the audience. It was just possible to glimpse its title: The Longer Telegram.
Aahh! The audience took the hint; it made the connection – The Longer Telegram was a ‘play’ on an earlier 1946 work by George Kanaan, excoriating the USSR, and warning that Russia must never be allowed to side with China. The Longer Telegram however, identified China as chief villain, and assailed President Xi and the CCP precisely as fault-lines who should be reviled, and if possible, wedged and broken apart. Though the conclusion to both Telegrams at least remained unchanged: Russia and China must never be allowed to join forces with each other.
What made this work so tantalising was that no one knew who wrote it – his/her identity was concealed by the Atlantic Council. “The author of this work has requested to remain anonymous, and the Atlantic Council has honoured this for reasons we consider legitimate but that will remain confidential. The Council has not taken such a measure before, but it made the decision to do so given the extraordinary significance of the author’s insights and recommendations as the United States confronts the signature geopolitical challenge of the era” [i.e. China – does the phrasing sound familiar?].
Almost certainly, it was thought, a member of the Biden Administration was the author. But might it have been Blinken himself? No one knows, but The Longer Telegram was read in Beijing too.
So, as the night arrived, and the curtain started to rise, the actor-narrator prepared the seated audience for the key dénouement saying that the anticipated clash with the anti-hero Yang, would be a “once-off” climactic duel, rather than the ‘start of something’, adding that the prospective duel also would be opportunity for an “airing of grievances” about China’s terrible behaviour.
But, when it came to the main scene, it all went wrong. Blinken, having duly read out the prepared ‘grievances’ indictment, found that the anti-hero, Yang Jiechi, instead of being chastened and reproved, hit back. (He had read the Theatre promo, and was prepared). It was a disaster. The End of Act. The mould was broken. An editor at the U.S. Spectator surmises: “The United States, said Yang, in one of the most dismissive diplomatic rejoinders I have ever heard, does not have the ‘qualifications’ to address China ‘from a position of strength’. F, my dear Blinken, you”.
Then we come to a further scene, where the play’s two anti-heroes turn out not to be ‘anti-heroes’, but brothers-in-arms. It turns out that the Russian anti-hero’s patron had been earlier impugned as a soulless ‘killer’. Lavrov and Li seal a pact in Beijing after the talks. And China warns any regional actor who sides with Uncle Sam – against either of the brothers-in-arms – ‘would not succeed in standing alone’ against either brother, but to face them jointly would be unimaginable. “Anyone putting their faith in the U.S. would be disappointed. The U.S. is weakening”.
The mould is in pieces – and Russia and China have come together.
Last Act opens (a thunderstorm is heard in the background): The ‘Bloc’ strikes: The U.S., Canada, the UK and EU act in a co-ordinated strike on the ‘brothers’, for infringing Muslin human rights in Xinjiang Province (a fiercely contested claim). Within minutes of the EU sanctions being imposed on party officials in Xinjiang, Beijing retaliates with sanctions on European parliamentarians, the EU Council political and security committee, scholars and the human rights sub-committee. (It is the EU’s turn to be shell-shocked now).
Dismissing the EU’s move “as based on nothing but lies and disinformation”, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “the Chinese side urges the EU side to reflect on itself, face squarely the severity of its mistake and redress it. It must stop lecturing others on human rights and interfering in their internal affairs. It must end the hypocritical practice of double standards and stop going further down the wrong path. Otherwise, China will resolutely make further reactions”. Ouch … another convention lies shattered.
The U.S. and EU are unused to being treated with disdain; and their sanctions ignored and brushed aside, with a curt ‘China doesn’t care for your pressures’. Even more perplexing to the EU’s unremittingly mercantilist mindset, China is evidently reconciled to losing the January Investment Pact (CAI) signed with the EU, but not ratified by parliament, and now almost certainly lost to both parties. And Moscow too, seems not to care that Nordstream 2 might also be at greater risk now. EU leaders will be disturbed that its’ ‘400 million market’ may not be the ‘ace’ which it imagined it to be.
The EU faces a dilemma: It had been crying out for a return to so-called ‘multilateralism’. It got it – the Bloc sanctioning of Xinjiang officials, Putin impugned, and Russia sanctioned, and paradoxically, the EU is now sanctioned itself – its foreign relations with the great powers of Eurasia lie mired in the mud. It faces economic losses in respect to the China Investment Pact, and in trade with Russia.
The scene then changes one final time: It has Brussels’ NATO HQ as its backdrop now. The actor-narrator steps again onto the theatre forestage to say that whilst a collective response to China’s coercive behaviour “which threatens our collective security and prosperity” was indeed the thrust of our script, the latter “doesn’t mean countries can’t work with China, where possible. The United States will. We can’t afford not to … The United States won’t force our allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China”.
The Bloc cannot hold – the crystal snapped, emitting a sharp crack. The theatre play was all about re-legitimising (a ritual, one-off re-enactment) of the American myth of its innate moral quality for holding leadership of the world, and its right to mobilise allies against those (here the tone is of a man (Blinken) shocked at what he is about to say) that don’t share our values: “They actually try and undermine the international rules-based order”.
The curtain is down. The script didn’t gel. The play is critiqued and it revealed paradoxically, that the ‘the myth’ that it precisely intended to re-validate, in a post-Trump, ritual exorcism, is indeed date-expired – it is passé. It is a very different world, four years on.