‘But he began!” The indignant cry of a schoolboy quarrel is also in the mouth of diplomats and politicians as soon as conflicts intensify. She started; we respond only – defensively, lawfully. Unfortunately, the other side usually sees a world in which we made the first attack. This leads to clashing stories, divergent perspectives, which make any conversation impossible.
Currently, China and the United States are full of this narrative escalation. Here we see the display of power of the People’s Republic towards Taiwan. Monday sent Beijing 52 fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace, an absolute record. We hold our hearts. Time is ticking until 2049, when President Xi Jinping wants to restore territorial unity with the renegade island at the latest.
From a China perspective, the recent Aukus Defense Pact between the US, Australia and the UK was an unexpected act of aggression and militarization. To annoyance also led to the large naval exercise east of Taiwan, last weekend, by American aircraft carriers and the British squadron of which the Dutch frigate Zr. Ms. Evertsen is a member. “Testing muscle from distant lands thousands of miles from home,” a government spokesman said earlier this year.
Certainly, we Dutch are sailing with the British to mark the right to free passage in the South China Sea – a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague from 2016 in hand – not to surround China. Nevertheless, hopefully it will slowly dawn on The Hague that our country has thus become a party to a global power conflict.
America’s and China’s visions of the future world order fundamentally clash. A confrontation in or around the Indo-Pacific has been taking place for at least ten years. As public narratives increasingly point to war, invisible diplomatic channels become essential. As for this kind ofback channelsFortunately there is good news. There are two indications that Beijing and Washington are speaking in silence.
First, journalist Bob Woodward (in the book peril) that America’s highest-ranking military officer, General Mark Milley, made two self-titled calls to Beijing in Trump’s twilight years to assure his counterpart that the US would not attack. Milley did this just before Election Day and shortly after the storming of the Capitol, when no one could contain the seething loser in the White House. After the revelation, Milley came under fire domestically: Was his action illegal? Was he colluding with the Chinese? More relevant for the rest of the world is that, when necessary, there are open lines between the military commands of the two major powers.
Even more striking was the coordinated release, at the end of September, of Huawei top woman Meng Wanzhou by Canada – she had been detained in Vancouver at the end of 2018 at the request of the United States – and of the two Canadians arrested by China. in retaliation. Beijing has consistently denied any connection between the two cases and conducted a Kafkaesque lawsuit against the Canadians. With their release, within 24 hours of Meng’s house arrest being lifted, China says unabashedly, yes, it was retaliatory action. At the same time, Beijing and Washington show that they are capable of something as difficult as a hostage swap.
Rarely has backdoor diplomacy been more important to world peace than during the Cuban Missile Crisis: October 1962, the “hottest” moment in the Cold War, when America and the Soviet Union were close to a devastating nuclear war.
It was only years later that President Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev struck a secret deal: the Russians took their missiles from Cuba (this saved JFK serious loss of face at home) and in exchange the US removed missiles from Turkey (this part remained secret). According to a new book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Silent Guns of Two Octobers, Both leaders sought a peaceful way out, in Kennedy’s case against wild invasion plans by his military advisers. The president did not trust his own services, in part because the CIA leaked to the Republicans (his real enemies, domestic); so he arranged everything from behind. Khrushchev had miscalculated and was not looking for high stakes. It went off like that.
In a grand speech in June 1963, Kennedy said, almost directly to Khrushchev: “If we cannot eliminate our differences, we must make the world safe from diversity. After all, we all live on one small planet. We breathe the same air.” A month later, the superpowers signed a nuclear deal and the famous hotline built between the Kremlin and the White House.
Perhaps things also have to get worse between China and the US before things get better.
Luke of Middelaar is a political philosopher and historian. His book was recently published A European pandemonium.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of October 6, 2021