@edgymandrill submitted this report.
In the past few weeks, two seemingly-unrelated diplomatic confrontations have revealed a broader trend in great power politics. China’s recent demonstration of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s capabilities near Taiwan provided an early test of resolve for the Biden administration. Naval confrontations have been common practice for China, as well as the United States and Russia, but this one followed a heated exchange in Anchorage, Alaska between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In this exchange, China took an approach that was common among communist nations during the Cold War era and questioned the moral authority of the United States on human rights, using recent domestic tensions in America as talking points. The official return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China was also noted at the meeting.
Reunifying with Hong Kong – and potentially, Taiwan – improves China’s geostrategic position and allows the Chinese to complete the first chain of island defensive positions that they have been constructing in the South China Sea. This brings China one step closer to regional dominance within the nine-dash line, a sea boundary which China claims in defiance of a 2016 ruling by a United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal which found that China’s claims to the territory inside the nine-dash line were unlawful if they exceeded what China was entitled to under UNCLOS.
At the same time, Russia may once again be seeking to expand into the majority Russian Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, which declared independence from Ukraine with Russian support in 2014. The military escalation between Russia and Ukraine in the last few weeks invited comparisons to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, as well as the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, both of which resulted in territorial gains for Russia. As Western political leaders and commentators condemned Russia’s actions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a statement criticizing what he called “aggression against white people” in the United States and suggesting that “political correctness taken to the point of absurdity will not end well” for Western nations. Lavrov’s comment and China’s aggressive diplomatic stance suggest that both Russia and China have noticed the domestic instability of the United States, and are willing to deploy rhetoric intended to undermine American internal affairs while making moves to expand their territory and influence.
These simultaneous moves by China and Russia create a difficult situation for the United States. The fact that both world powers are deploying rhetoric that could divide the United States internally while making aggressive moves within their spheres of influence suggests that they may be willing to act in conjunction to exploit America’s weaknesses. It is also an important test for China and Russia: if they can act together to neutralize American soft power, they may also be able to undermine the relatively free pass to deploy hard power that the United States has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War and gain the freedom to realize their regional ambitions.