Who will rise to replace the US?
By Paul Lin 林保華
Taipei Times  2016.11.26

US president-elect Donald Trump announced that his first task on entering the

White House would be to withdraw from the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership

trade agreement. If the US moves toward isolationism, a host of nations will rise

that want to replace the US.

The first nation that will try to do so will be China: the world’s most populous

nation and second-largest economy. In such an event, Russia, militarily the

second-most powerful nation in the world, would not be prepared to simply

watch from the sidelines. Japan and Germany would also wait for an

opportunity to pounce, in order to prevent China and Russia from achieving

dominance in Europe and Asia.

It is likely that the US-Russia relationship will be the hammer that breaks the

traditional global order. It is really just a continuation of the 1917 October

Revolution — in particular the standoff between the free world and the Soviet

bloc that followed the end of World War II.

Although Russia has long since discarded the ideology of communism, Russia

’s autocratic, hegemonic mentality is still giving Western nations nightmares

and has lead to the West neglecting China’s rise. In the past few years, the US

has begun to wake up to this and take action, albeit far too late.

However, once Trump takes office, will the recent effort to redress the balance

be all for nothing?

The West has looked on Russia as its principal enemy partly because of

historical tradition, but also because of being misled by old “China hands”

and a lack of understanding of the hypocritical nature of Chinese culture. This

has caused Washington to apply a conventional Kremlinology approach to

studying the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In doing

so, it arrived at the wrong conclusion and ended up appeasing the Chinese tiger.

Russian cultural tradition is closer to that of the West than it is to Chinese

culture, which is demonstrated by how the two nations behave within the UN

Security Council. Moscow often adopts a confrontational stance, voting against

the US. Beijing, on the other hand, often gives up its veto in order to win favors

from Washington, while secretly plotting against the US.

It is possible that, in the era of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin,

US-Russia relations will improve. During the US election campaign, Trump and

Putin both openly sung each other’s praises. Trump has also appointed former

US Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn, who is believed to be

on good terms with Putin, as his national security adviser.

Many of Trump’s appointees to important government posts are likely to be

US Republicans who will not stand for Chinese threats, be they political,

economic or military. The Trump administration might therefore decide to turn

on its head former US president Richard Nixon’s doctrine of siding with

China to defeat Russia and instead form an alliance with Russia against China.

What is Russia’s view of China? Today, Putin is second to none in his

opposition of both communism and China. Very few people openly criticize

Vladimir Lenin, the spiritual father of the CCP. Yet in January, within the space

of five days, Putin twice strongly criticized Lenin for his actions, including the

massacre of the Russian Romanov Dynasty and their servants in 1918, and for

selling Russian land and ethnic autonomy.

 

Putin’s opposition to China can be seen in his prohibition on Chinatowns in

Russian cities and his government’s hostility toward Chinese immigrants.

In this respect, Trump’s brand of nationalism is similar to Putin’s and

conforms with Putin’s strategy of forming alliances with distant nations while

attacking states closer to home.

Of course, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has exerted a great deal of

energy in trying to curry favor with Putin by paying high prices for imported

Russian oil, in addition to purchases of Russian military hardware. In trying to

build a new “Greater Chinese Empire” based upon the old tributary system,

Xi has instead inadvertently allowed China to sink to the status of a tribute-

paying nation under the thumb of the Kremlin.

Beijing has already gone ahead and signed a border agreement with Russia,

which offered as tribute vast swathes of Siberia and Central Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is working hard to forge closer

relationships with Russia and India. If Europe remains in its current form, the

US, Russia, Japan and India might end up containing China. If so, in a situation

similar to the dying days of the Qing Dynasty, movements for autonomous rule

and independence within China’s restive western provinces might spring up

and bring about sweeping political change.

Taiwan has a rather good relationship with Russia. During former president Lee

Teng-hui’s (李登輝) term, then-Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov visited Taiwan,

which was followed by then-Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) paying a

reciprocal visit to Russia.

In his capacity as Taiwan’s envoy to the recent APEC summit, People First

Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) engaged in small-talk with Putin —

without avoiding the taboo subject of China. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文)

must work harder to form alliances with the north.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Edward Jones

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