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Latin America is inching slowly towards a change for the better

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Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Shimone Jaini*

Every utopia sooner or later turns into a dystopia. Why, then, do Latin Americans fancy themselves constructing alternative utopias? What good is utopia? Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano seems to have the answer, “it is good for walk.”  Latin America hasn’t stopped imagining and dreaming. It may not have captured the imagination of global policy-makers and the chattering classes. But the region has indeed changed, mostly for the better. However, it would be premature to proclaim that Latin America has turned the corner.

Why has Latin America acquired the reputation for its pursuit of endless revolutions or what Marina Sitrin calls ‘Everyday Revolutions’? Peruvian novelist Santiago Roncagliolo provides some insights about such revolutions in his novel, Red April, “there is a feeling in Latin America that good ones were not so good and the bad ones were not so bad.”

Latin America has long been a laboratory of political and social experiments. Sebastian Edwards, author of Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism, says that the political and economic history of Latin America has been “marked by great hopes and even greater disappointments”. And yet, some of the political and social experiments continue to catapult the region into the global consciousness and resonate with people across the globe.

Latin America suffers from many frailties. But it refuses to put an end to imaginations. It continues to dream how to construct a world where many worlds could live. Thanks to their endless dreams and imaginations, the region glimpses possibilities of other worlds. There is a lot to learn from Latin America both from its best practices and worst failures.

Deepening democracy and political participation

With the entrenchment of democracy, new paradigms of governance have emerged in Latin America. In recent decades the region has shown a trend to reject traditional political parties and vote for new formations to power. The dominance of the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is long over.  But Political institutions are still quite weak. Rewriting constitutions comes easy to Latin Americans. Dominican Republic is having its 32nd constitution. Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador have had 32nd, 26th and 20th constitutions respectively. Now Chilean President has agreed to change the 1980 Pinochet constitution.

Does it show Latin America’s growing impatience with the non-performing models? Or are Latin Americans undermining democratic principles in the name of pursuing more radical agendas?

The institutional architecture for democracy has been very diverse in Latin America. For instance, in some countries, the party system has collapsed (e.g., Peru and Venezuela); in other countries, parties have become increasingly detached from civil society (e.g., Chile and Mexico), and, in others, social movements have replaced traditional parties (e.g., Bolivia).

The region has also shown deep contempt for modern democratic politics. It means a different kind of politics, not necessarily the denial or rejection of politics. Maybe what the region is hankering after is not just a politics which delivers but also which uses a new language of politics. It is, in a way, what Andreas Schedlar calls ‘end of politics.’

The same voters who were captivated by new, mostly leftist movements, promising to redistribute wealth, punishing traditional parties and turning political systems on their heads have now begun rejecting them. Across the continent traditional parties have disintegrated though the trend is more pronounced in the Andean region.

It all began with the emergence of a ‘vote of rage’ towards the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the present century. Several governments lost power and the voters made a demand like ‘que se vayantodos’ (they all should go). Elections in Mexico in 2000 ended 70 years of PRI’s domination. In 1999, elections in Venezuela brought an end to 40 years of bipartisan politics. Something similar happened in Uruguay in 2000 when the domination of the Colorados and the Blancos came to an end. Popular movements toppled several governments in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Ivan Hinojosa of Catholic University in Lima says that “some parties recuperate but many don’t, and in their place you have all new and unpredictable movements”.

 The institutions that promised better outcomes have delivered at best modest results. Much of the frustrations and anger that have given rise to mass protests and democratic discontent across the region are centred on the weaknesses of these institutions.1 Governments have changed, new parties and political formations have captured power and even the rhetoric has changed but meaningful institutional innovations are still a work in progress.

Constitutional changes and innovative schemes have empowered the various indigenous groups. Social policies and constitutional recognition of new citizenship rights have given these groups a new sense of belonging. However, the durability of these measures remains a moot question at a time when Latin America is witnessing end of the commodity boom and electoral setback to left-wing regimes.

New tools to boost political participation

In the areas of women’s empowerment and advancement of gender rights, the region has made notable advance. A study conducted by International IDEA in 18 Latin American countries demonstrates how important it is to have both men and women leaders to promote better participation from women, if the parties want to be democratic and inclusive institutions.

Efforts made by such parties in 11 “institutional spaces” include Statutes and Declarations of Principles, Internal Organization, Financing, Training, Recruiting, Media, etc. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) have been ratified by every Latin American country. Most  countries have approved laws promoting gender equality. Moreover, a small yet significant step of using gender-sensitive language to acknowledge women has proven monumental in reversing the predominantly male concepts in political language.

Despite the continued presence of a series of obstacles limiting the political participation of women in the region, such political parties have undertaken innovative and effective initiatives that can be considered “best practices”. 

Multiple global crises have led to an increased interest in Latin America in the social and solidarity economy (SSE).  In Latin America, the social and solidarity discourse, deployed with increasing intensity since the 1990s, refers to a model of political and economic development based on principles of solidarity, participation, cooperation and reciprocity. The same has also been articulated as ‘social knowledge economy’.

Hotbed of political innovation

A wave of political innovation is sweeping across Latin America as it is creating more participatory and inclusive democratic governments, breaking its shackles from the deep-rooted authoritarianism. It has also become an inspiration for many on how path to democracy is mapped out and advanced.

The Instituto Update, which studies political innovation in Latin America, found in its study that more than 600 initiatives have been put in place which are trying to reduce the gap between citizens and their governments by increasing political participation, improving transparency and accountability, encouraging innovation in government, and doing more to develop independent media.

The study identifies 5 main approaches in Latin America towards creating, developing and practicing new methods and instruments to foster political participation and trust in government. Firstly, citizens themselves are working for social change. The Secundarista movement that spread all over Brazil was led by students protesting for better education reforms in Saõ Paulo’s public high schools.

Another movement in México known as #Yo soy 132 was spearheaded by students who were protesting against political corruption during the 2012 presidential elections. This shows that people are creating new innovative ways to mobilize resources and to persuade elected officials and bureaucrats to pursue public policy changes.

Secondly, there are many feminist movements taking place all over Latin America like-#PrimaveraFeminista, #NiUnaMenos, #Pimp My Carroça, demanding reproductive rights and bringing attention to the issue of domestic abuse.  Activists and organisations are also using social media and humor like GregNews, a comedy news show to make citizens aware and interested in public interest issues.

Thirdly, elected officials are trying to make institutions more participatory and inclusive. Measures like DemocracyOS (Argentina) and LinQ (Ecuador) to Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights have made great progress in giving voice to the people in the policymaking process.

Moreover, to monitor and hold politicians and corporations accountable, civil society organizations are using technology and open data. Groups like Paraguay’s A Quienes Elegimos, Argentina’s Chequeado, and Chile’s Del Dicho al Hecho are using online tools and organising public protests to insist on transparency from the government.

And finally, there’s a recognition that politics across Latin America needs new voices and new people to get involved. Today, movements such as Mexico’s WikiPolítica and Brazil’s Bancada Ativista, as well as new political parties like Chile’s Revolución Democrática and Argentina’s Partido de la Red, are aiming to make politics accessible, cool, and honorable to a new generation of activists.

How protest movements are novel

Culture has long been a tool of propaganda. But culture in Latin America is also a tool of protests. Protesters dancing to the rhythms of cumbia and salsa music and citizens pot-banging from their balconies have grabbed global eyeballs. Brazilians have resorted to ‘panelacos’ (protesting with pots and pans) against President Bolsonaro for denying science on Coronavirus.

Chileans have resorted to social media with their different artistic modes of expression to warrant their movement against the government which decided to privatize public services and raise the price of public transportation. Victor Jara’s 1971 song “Derecho a la paz”(Right to peace) has become a resistance anthem for students and working-class protestors. The song, originally composed during Pinochet’s dictatorship, has now become an inspiration for the demonstrators to take to the streets despite the violent oppression by the police and military national forces.

New slogans, new symbols of power, new empowerment

For hundreds of years the indigenous people remained invisible in a culture dominated by the language and traditions of Europe. They also became victims ofwhat sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls ‘Racism without Racists’. Hence, recent gains by the indigenous are credible. Today, they have begun to dream. After all, dreams give vision and vision leads to action. Today, the various indigenous communities refuse to return to the dark valley; they have realized that forgetting could be a key part of learning.

Empowerment is an enabling exercise. It begins with the marginal, the forgotten. The indigenous groups in particular have worked to address the incompleteness of citizenship. In their efforts to rework politics, they have pointed out how for many, citizenship has remained an unfulfilled promise; citizenship is not mere entitlement.

For the indigenous, the body is the site for politics, very much the way it was for Gandhi. It is also a site for struggle. As Shiv Viswanathan argues, “the body prevents politics from straying into the abstractions of ideology or policy. It is a statement of presence, of sensing politics and suffering as part of a sensorium of sounds, smells, touch, taste and memory.” No less importantly, the rise of the indigenous has gone a long way to liberate politics from its behavioral and ideological pomposity.

By making way for leaders of their choice to gain power and overthrowing several presidents in Bolivia and Ecuador, the newly empowered indigenous groups want to ensure that no despot ascends the throne but a doer, one who heals their wounds, not turn the knife in them. In several countries and more specifically in Bolivia and Ecuador, the traditionally occupied indigenous territories have been recognized and protected and the sustainable development of natural resources located in their land has been guaranteed. Some of the issues like land as an economic base, a space of social reproduction and a condition for survival, recognition of their collective rights, have gained recognition in international forums.

Indigenous and peasant groups have not stopped at mere protests. They have adopted another strategy: protesta con propuesta, whereby positive alternatives have been suggested. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), for example, has formulated its own water reform proposal. Without denying their economic importance, the proposals emphasize the community-based, social, and ecological aspects of water. Also in Peru and Bolivia, platforms of popular alliances and peasant and indigenous organizations have formulated constructive counter-proposals that complement their claims and protests.

The following section analyses some of the institutional innovations and best practices in Latin America that have found acceptance and admiration outside the region.

Mexico’s Oportunidades and Brazil’s Zero Hunger

Progresa, Mexico’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program,(later known as Oportunidades and now as Prospera), is known for increasing school enrolments and attendance in its initial 18-month randomized evaluation (Parker and Todd 2017). In this program, money is directly given to families if they send children to school, meet nutrition standards and receive regular health check-ups. This has had significant long-term benefits that could reduce intergenerational poverty according to a study published in National Bureau of Economic Research.

A similar CCT program was adopted by Colombia in 2000 known as Familasenaccion which provides money to poor households with children under 18 years old. It targets population that comprises of poor families that have either been displaced by the conflict or are from indigenous communities. Though it is no longer regarded as an emergency response to a short-term crisis, but it has proven efficient as an answer to more structural poverty problems.

Another commendable example towards ensuring food security for everyone was taken up by Brazil in the form of ‘Fome Zero’ or Zero Hunger program. The program launched in 2003 with the goal that all people be able to access enough and the right kinds of foods, to meet basic nutritional needs and support health. Fome Zero is based on a multi-sectoral approach at the public policy level, involving policies and programs around social protection and safety nets, education, food production, health services, drinking water, and sanitation. This  can serve as a role model for national commitment to making better nutrition a top priority. 

Another best practice, Participatory budgeting (PB), has been the most serious effort to take democracy to the doorsteps of the citizens. The Workers Party and a coalition of civil society organizations of Brazil introduced PB in Porto Alegre in 1989. It soon spread to more than 250 municipalities. Several countries followed suit. PB is a process of democratic decision-making. It is a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. It allows citizens to identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. The Porto Alegre model is no longer used in the same way in Porto Alegre itself. It has lost its sheen elsewhere in Latin America.

Consulta previa (prior consultation) is another significant legal framework that some countries in Latin America have institutionalized to deepen democracy. It is the right of the indigenous and ethnic groups to be consulted on matters affecting their culture and heritage as established by ILO Convention 169. Its implementation has at best been patchy. While it has been successfully implemented by Peru’s Amazonian communities, progress is much slower as far as the Andean communities are concerned. Much of the natural resources are located in the region inhabited by the indigenous communities, consulta previa has given the people a say in the extraction of raw materials. However, many left-leaning governments have resorted to the so-called “progressive neo-extractism” to ‘fight poverty’. The indigenous groups have sharpened attacks on the Left arguing such model of development, which relies on the rapacious extraction of natural resources, entails environmental destruction and the fragmentation of indigenous territory.

Cuba’s medical internationalism

For nearly 60 years, Cuba has been sending healthcare professionals all over the globe. This is done partly to support those in need but also as a part of concerted campaign of its medical diplomacy and to make some money to help the country survive an ongoing US embargo. Since then, Cuba has established permanent medical missions in a number of countries. Over the last five decades, it has sent between 135,000 to 400,000 doctors abroad.

The tradition of medical internationalism in Cuba goes back to the first years of the Cuban Revolution. The country has dispatched 593 workers to 14 countries in the battle against Covid-19. According to the Cuban health ministry, 179 doctors, 399 nurses and 15 health technologists have been dispatched as part of Henry Reeve initiative. According to Helen Yaffe, free healthcare as a universal human right has been a key tenet now and in the 1959 Cuban Revolution which laid the foundation of medical internationalism thereby enforcing the idea and practice of sending medical teams abroad.

Even though the Cuban medical support has been helpful and hopeful to all those in desperate need, it also hasn’t been able to keep away from criticism. Some rights groups have accused Havana of exploiting its medical workers who are forced to work in unsafe environments. Others have criticized by calling the program “selectively humanitarian” which makes lower numbers of doctors available to the Cuban population. Many countries have been wary of accepting Cuba’s help due to its poor human rights record. While everyone may not find Cuba’s help genuine, this is perhaps the time to put ideological differences aside and focus on the joint effort against the global war of Coronavirus.

Zapatistas’ enduring legacy

The Zapatista movement was the first post-modern movement and it is still defiant in mountain strongholds. It rose up not just to fight indigenous repression, but also the globalization from above. It was a genuine popular movement striving for justice and for changing the status quo. Scholarly interest in the various indigenous movements in Latin America was shown only after the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.The images of the Zapatistas were too striking to be missed—indigenous peasants with wooden rifles declaring war on the Mexican government. With their faces covered by black ski masks or red bandanas, the Zapatistas symbolically became the face of the faceless, the voice of the voiceless.

The Zapatista National Liberation Army had one-third women, some in bare feet. They became instant heroes of the left and an inspiration to indigenous groups and political romantics. There are still areas under their control where they have their own system of education, health, justice and security. They train their own teachers and doctors and some have their own currency. Their slogans have been equally instructive such as “cuando una mujeravanza, no hay hombre que retrocede (when a woman advances, no man is left behind) and “here you can buy or sell anything except indigenous dignity”. The Zapatistas spelt out their key priorities like revitalizing indigenous worldviews, building autonomous, locally focused food system and food sovereignty and gender equity. Mexican sociologist Gonzalez Casanova says that the Zapatistas represent a new way of approaching problems and alternatives beyond the old dilemmas of the left, defending life, water, land and forest. The Zapatista movement offered alternative ways to organize societies, economies and the food systems.

In 1990s, Colombia’s indigenous groups formed the Indigenous Social Alliance. It won a few seats in national parliament a few years later. Nationally visible indigenous parties came up in mid-1990s in Bolivia and Ecuador. In Bolivia, groups like the Assembly for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, Movement towards Socialism and Pachakutic Movement of Plurinational Unity gained traction. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) in Ecuador has tasted electoral success and acquired considerable clout. It initially supported the left but later broke from its tutelage. The indigenous movements have helped in the democratization process. The group has combined indigenous culture and state institutions in innovative ways.

Limits of caudillismo

Latin Americans are masters at creating leaders, prophets and gods. The bane of Latin America is the system of caudillos (strongmen).  Hence some are seeking leaderless revolutions. They contend, we don’t need leaders, certainly not big leaders. As Emile Zapata says, “strong leaders make a weak people.”

Populism the bane

Populism continues to be the bane of Latin American polity. Power and authority are still configured in relation to caudillos, not institutions. Parliaments, judiciary, party system and civil society provide little institutional counterweights to political abuses by the political class. The caudillos promise magical solutions and people still fall for them. Ironically, to remain in power, the maximum leader exerts and abuses state force but also propagate the myth that he/she is there by the popular will. The growing polarization has not allowed institutions like the judiciary and the police to become autonomous and independent. Populism has acquired a “new dimension” with decisive leaders pushing nationalism, demonizing opposition and stirring up issues that divide society. Populismhas marginalized the centrist forces and removed their bonding powers resulting in gridlock in parliament and diluting public trust in its efficacy.

Bertrand Russell says that the game of politics is the process by which people choose the man who will get the blame. Latin America has witnessed the masterful play of such blame game. Populist leaders thrive on confrontation and chaos. Bolsonaro is using the pandemic to stir up his base. He has dismissed Coronavirus as “just a little flu”, “we will all die one day”.

Conclusion

Some of the best practices in Latin America have caught the attention of the world. Whether these are replicable or not requires further research and study.The region has been long experimenting with novel political, social and economic initiatives and practices which resonate with people across the globe. Some consider the region to be a land of endless revolutions, but it has launched not only slogans but sustainable alternatives as well. It has maintained the ideal of ‘Protesta con propuesta’(Protest with purpose). However, many have questioned the robustness of these measures when Latin America is witnessing the end of the commodity boom and the defeat of left-wing governments. The historical conflicts, the silhouettes of authoritarianism and past of caudillismo still weigh heavily on the Latin American present.

Will the region be able to overcome its non-democratic past and advance with its revitalized worldview? Or will it succumb to the ghosts of the old despotic regimes? There are no easy answers. It has to do with Latin American psychology, “the rejection of what is real and possible.” Latin America also fits in Hannah Arendt’s description how the most radical revolutionary becomes “conservative the day after the revolution”. That of course doesn’t deter Latin Americans from constructing alternative utopias.

*Shimone Jaini is doing Masters from Centre of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian andLatin American Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Ash Narain Roy did his Ph.D. in Latin American Studies , Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He was a Visiting Scholar at El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City for over four years in the 1980s. He later worked as Assistant Editor, Hindustan Times, Delhi. He is author of several books including The Third World in the Age of Globalisation which analyses Latin America's peculiar traits which distinguishes it from Asia and Africa. He is currently Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

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The Forgotten Analogy: World War II

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Pundits are searching for adequate analogies to explain the growing China-U.S. rivalry and predict its future direction. Two main ones appear: the pre-World War I era and the Cold War. Both have their merits. The early twentieth century pitted Germany, a rising power, against status quo Britain and France. The Cold War also shares similarities to the current situation. The United States engaged in a prolonged struggle to contain a nuclear-armed great power. However, neither the Cold War nor the First World War offers an entirely appropriate analogy to make sense of the current world order.

Wilhelmine Germany was a formidable power but it largely stood alone, cornered in the center of Europe. London, Paris, and Saint Petersburg had an easy time concentrating their forces to balance against Berlin. Although it had Asia as secondary and the rest of the globe as tertiary theaters, the heart of the Cold War was also Central Europe. There were only two great powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, wholly occupied checkmating each other. 

Today’s international politics differs by the number and locations of the main protagonists. Although China legitimately attracts most of the attention, Russia remains a great power. Both China and Russia are the sole great powers of their respective regions — Asia and Europe. Both are bent on correcting the balance of power to their advantage and pushing the United States out of their neighborhood. On its side, Washington has a deep-seated interest in making sure that no great power competitor dominates Asia or Europe because both regions concentrate a big share of the world’s wealth and advanced industries. Indeed, a regional hegemon in possession of such resources would be strong enough to potentially overpower the United States. 

Washington found itself in the same position during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Nazi Germany had become the strongest power on the European continent and seemed bound to dominate all of it. Imperial Japan’s bid for Asian hegemony was unfolding unabated. The Americans had a vested interest in ensuring that neither Berlin nor Tokyo would seize control of their neighborhood because local powers were unlikely to get the job done on their own. It is now Beijing and Moscow occupying these roles.

Asia and China

China is the strongest state in Asia by a wide margin. No regional state can counterbalance Beijing on its own. Even a coalition of current U.S. partners — say Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea — would likely be too weak to seriously deter China without America’s support and strength. If Washington wants to prevent a Chinese bid for regional hegemony, it needs to throw its weight behind the balancing effort.

During the World War II era, America had to work alongside allies with widely divergent interests (notably Britain, Free France, and the Soviet Union) against the would-be German and Japanese hegemons. In a similar vein, the United States needs to help repair the relations between Japan and South Korea and accommodate those who have had rocky relations with Washington (India, Vietnam) or that are non-democracies (Singapore). The sheer power of China and the challenge of putting together a working balancing coalition imposes to the United States an “Asia First” strategy in the same way that the Third Reich’s superior military and industrial capabilities forced “Europe First” during World War II.

Another similarity with the World War II era is that power dynamics are rapidly changing. In Europe, the primary focus of American planners, Germany was with little doubt the strongest power on the continent. But the balance of power was evolving and the Soviet Union, still reeling from its civil war and Stalin’s purges, appeared to the Germans as a rising threat. Today, Beijing is growingly wary of India, a state as populous as (and very soon, probably more than) China and enjoying economic growth rates superior to China’s.

Europe and Russia

While most Asian states are directly exposed to Chinese military power, the states of Western and Southern Europe are separated from Russia by several other states in-between. Therefore, many European states feel less threatened by Russia and have been slow to balance against Moscow. Although France has been increasing its military spending and Britain vowed to redeploy heavy forces to Germany, these small incremental changes do little to correct the overwhelming military superiority of Moscow. No Western European state is ready or willing to confront Russian power head-on. Europe needs American leadership for that. It is not unlike the late 1930s, when the Soviet Union, separated from Germany by Poland, readily passed the buck of containing Berlin to London and Paris, with disastrous results.

On paper, European states — most notably Britain, France, and Germany — have enough latent capabilities to counterbalance Russian power. But geography and the collective action problem stand in the way. Indeed, Russia is not an immediate threat to Western Europe like the Soviet Union was. Today’s Russian army is unable to threaten the survival of France or Germany due to the East-Central European states acting as a buffer. Even if the Western Europeans acknowledge the resurgence of Russian power and are slowly rearming, they just do not feel the same sense of urgency as in Eastern Europe.

Collective action is difficult when many actors have to provide for a common good. An instinct is to do as little balancing as possible and wait for others to take the mantle of deterring Russia. Also, with no clear leader, effective decision-making is unlikely. Berlin, London, Paris, and others will push for their own preferences, thus resulting in lowest-common-denominator policies and under-balancing. Russia would then be free to cherry-pick its small neighbors and subjugate opposition. Eventually, Western Europeans would balance more effectively; but by the time they do so, Russia will have grown its power base and will already dominate Eastern Europe, thus representing a far more formidable challenge.

NATO is a powerful but imperfect tool to contain a Russian aspirant hegemon. The misaligned interest between many western and southern states and those closest to Russia stands in the way of effective balancing. A potential cure would be to form an additional smaller and more focused alliance system of Poland as the main bulwark, the Czech Republic, Romania, the three Baltic states, and maybe Sweden. In any case, to overcome buck-passing tendencies and problems of coordination, American political leadership is inescapable.

No Easy Fix

Historical analogies are always risky and no situation ever recurs in the exact same way. Yet, if we are to compare the current international situation with a past example, the World War II analogy appears more powerful than the World War I and Cold War ones.

Indeed, the United States faces the same conundrum of having to deal with two formidable rivals on two different continents. World War II had Germany as the most powerful opponent and Europe as the theater concentrating the most resources. Now, both the strongest competitor and the main loot are in Asia. During World War II, U.S. policymakers wanted to focus their forces on taking down Germany but they also had to cope with Japan out of fear that Tokyo would successfully absorb much of East and Southeast Asia and become a far greater threat than it already was. Today, although Russia lacks the power potential of China and Asia has now more wealth than Europe, with potential hegemons in both Asia and Europe, Washington is forced into a gigantic act of dual containment. Therefore, the same dilemma that plagued the United States eight decades ago plagues the Americans of today. 

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There is no roadblock in the way of improving Sino-US ties

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photo: Tehran Times

According to my long-term observations, the challenge that the US strategic circle has been confronted with in assessing Sino-US ties is: How to comprehend China? What is the best strategy for dealing with China? What is the proper topic for researching Sino-American relations? If they have a more objective perspective of China and a more reasonable understanding of China’s growth, there will be less friction between China and the US, and bilateral ties will develop more smoothly. Otherwise, there will be additional difficulties and twists and turns.

Of course, the United States has no shortage of discerning and young people. Nixon and Kissinger, for example, ventured to question American society, “Should the United States open the door to China?” “Should US-China relations be broken?” They had the “Ice-Melting Theory” because the questions they presented were valid. Despite the fact that diplomatic ties have not yet been established, Nixon has decided to visit China as President of the United States.

Such an accomplishment is still remarkable and admirable. Because the topic they propose is appropriate, their efforts will live on in the annals of history and will be remembered in perpetuity. In truth, the Chinese did not have the present degree of awareness of the United States at the time, and the “Cultural Revolution” had not yet finished. Even if the sign on the edge of the Beijing airport welcoming President Nixon remained “Down with US imperialism.”

Despite the removal of the Beijing Airport tagline, Nixon’s successors have always had a swinging perception of China, whether clear or muddy, straight or crooked, and floating. As a result, Sino-American ties have been bumpy along the road. Because some Americans misunderstood the subject of China studies, the ensuing misconceptions appear to be a black cloud in the sky of Sino-US relations; when the dark cloud appears, the US and China will lose ground in their interactions with China.

The current challenges in Sino-US relations are likewise similar: there are both black clouds of the so-called “China threat theory” and aggressive actions continually unleashed by the US administration, which throws a shadow on US policy toward China while also casting a shade on the US itself. There are several impediments to growth. In truth, the different “evidences” of the so-called “China Threat Theory” are not difficult to understand and do not need profound knowledge or secrets that cannot be made public.

Viewing China’s peaceful development trend honestly and logically is not an insurmountable challenge for Americans. Nixon and Kissinger of the United States strove hard 50 years ago not to “hide from the clouds.” Today, the US likewise has no need to invent a slew of fictitious “reasons for China threats” in order to keep Sino-US ties from improving!

Otherwise, I’m not sure whether future Americans will be able to answer the question, “Who lost China?” However, as the adage goes, “the house leaks and rains,” referring to the ongoing epidemic of the new crown epidemic, which prevents direct face-to-face connection. The hurdles, which include psychological and emotional barriers, have exacerbated the difficulty of removing these black clouds.

Expressions like “I am in you, and you are in me,” “Everything is thriving, and everything is lost,” and “Global Village” are also taught from American scholars, and they reflect true developments in Sino-US ties. As far as I am aware, virtually few researchers over the age of 40 in American academic circles have not been inspired by the thesis of “interdependence.” As a result, they recognize the importance of interdependence and will not turn a blind eye to the breadth and depth of dependency between China and the United States today.

The United States and China’s interdependence today is extensive, multi-layered, and multi-faceted. It is a network structure system that is vertically and horizontally interwoven and coexists peacefully. What exactly is “hehe”? It is designed to meet the demands of both China and the United States. If the difficulties of matching and matching between the two nations via peace and collaboration is unique in history, then the matching and matching accomplished between the two countries after a half-century of hard effort is also exceptional. There are few countries in the world that can be compared to it, and none that can replace it.

To put it another way, the compatibility that China and the US require may be achieved through hard work. Even though China and the United States do not share the same destiny or synergy for the time being, the American people’s everyday lives are nearly inextricably linked to China. Based on this, I’ve understood the truth: the mutual relationship’s ability to shift from danger to safety is due to their interdependence, and no one can abandon others. This is the heart and soul of Sino-American ties. There is no justification for anybody to overlook this basic due to the disagreement between them, let alone dig out the roots and harm the truth!

There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in order for Sino-US relations to develop, because there are always more solutions than challenges. The author has firsthand knowledge of the development process that occurred after the “hard ice” of Sino-US ties was cracked. I’ve witnessed both the flowering spring and the dismal winter that appears to be on its way. Even if “apes on both sides of the strait couldn’t cry,” they can nonetheless show up. Situation in which “the light boat has crossed ten thousand huge mountains.” Following the upheaval of the late 1980s, Sino-US relations were practically intolerable, and they persisted until the end of 1991, with little indications of improvement.

There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in order for Sino-US relations to develop, because there are always more solutions than challenges. Following the upheaval of the late 1980s, Sino-US relations were practically intolerable, and they persisted until the end of 1991, with little indications of improvement. On January 24, 1992, excellent news came out of Chinese diplomacy in the midst of such a “severe winter”: Following a brief conversation with Israel, they agreed to formally establish diplomatic ties without any impediments, based on the strong affinity forged in the history of the Chinese and Jewish peoples. The two countries’ long-awaited wish. The positive news of the creation of diplomatic relations between China and Israel has taken the Jewish world by surprise and has had a significant impact on the inclination of the American media to report on China issues.

There are many Chinese in the United States, and most Chinese expect Sino-US ties to strengthen. Only until Sino-American ties improve will Chinese people have a place and be appreciated in the United States. Foreigners will also consider a person’s “birth background,” which is natural and nothing strange; if the “birth background” is favorable, they will be “admired.” China is also the “birthplace” of Chinese people in the United States. Chinese in the United States have put in a lot of effort and made significant contributions to the establishment of stable and seamless Sino-US ties. This tradition is not only alive and well, but also thriving.

There are a considerable number of Americans who rely on China-related employment, business, and investment, whether in China or the United States. Only until Sino-US ties improve will they be able to focus only on China-related professions, business, and investment, and they despise “McCarthyism.” As a result, they anticipate that Sino-US ties will improve, which is unavoidable.

For example, in July 1990, at the invitation of the “National Committee on U.S.-China Relations,” then-Shanghai Mayor Zhu Rongji led a delegation of Chinese mayors to the United States, aiming to dispel U.S. government and opposition to China’s reform and opening up through the development of Pudong.

The Sino-US relationship, which was harmed by the late 1980s instability, also sought an agreement from the US Congress to prolong China’s most-favored-nation status. According to Zhu Rongji’s suggestion, Shanghai organized a delegation of scholars led by Ding Xinghao from the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, Hong Wenda from the Department of Economics at Fudan University, Yao Tinggang from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and Yao Tinggang from the Department of International Politics at Fudan University. Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade’s Zhou Dunren and Zhou Hanmin are made up of five persons.

These five people’s round-trip travel expenditures were not covered at the time. When the National Committee on US-China Relations learned about the situation, they quickly said that they would offer it in its entirety. American friends are very ruthless! At the time, Sino-US ties were exceedingly tense, but China had made many American friends via bilateral exchanges with the US, as well as diplomatic assets for the growth of Sino-US relations. Trusted friends will provide genuine assistance in times of need.

As a result, the Chinese mayor delegation led by Zhu Rongji’s tour to the United States outperformed expectations. Friends such as the “National Committee on US-China Relations” are not only there, but numerous. This decision should be practical and in line with objective reality. Furthermore, the US still has a vast number of international challenges that cannot be managed by one country alone and necessitate China’s assistance. There are still many shared interests between China and the United States that must be pursued in order for individual interests to be realized. There are several elements that benefit both China and the United States. The challenge is how to make the most of these advantageous circumstances. The overarching theme is how to persuade Americans to view China’s peaceful growth trend objectively and rationally.

In sum, their concept of the character of the United States has been constantly painted and has not been in place for a long time. The examination of the character of the United States, on the other hand, differs from the policy of international affairs in the United States. The primary purpose of US strategy is to enable the US to comprehend China objectively and logically. There is still a lot of opportunity for improvement.

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The impact of Biden’s policies on China

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

The main Indications of US policy towards China have begun to become clear, and this policy reflects an American approach based on dialogue, without abandoning the militancy adopted by the administration of former President “Donald Trump”. In this context, the Egyptian researcher will analyze what (the shift in the language of China’s political discourse towards the policy of the new US administration and its impact on the Middle East, and the corresponding Chinese policy determinants). On the other hand, the scholar will shed light on the position of the Middle East countries, especially in the Gulf region, with the intensification of competition between the two major powers.

  The moves of US President Joe Biden’s administration, since he formally took office on January 2021, have focused on building a policy toward China based on alliances. This policy includes:

Trying to coordinate with Washington’s allies to confront China’s foreign policies.

Re-enhancing the influence of the United States in international organizations.

This trend also shows that the determinants of the US administration’s policy towards China are not exclusively related to Washington’s management of bilateral relations with Beijing, as much as they are affected by the management of its relations with other countries as well.

The “Biden administration” stems from a position of weakness in the East Asian region following the isolationist policies of the previous “Trump’s administration”, and the impact of the Corona pandemic.

Chinese officials and analysts have pointed to a crisis (the failure of the Trump administration’s pressure on Japan and South Korea to increase their defense spending).

On the other hand, China’s success in persuading most countries in the region to join the (Regional Comprehensive Economic Agreement) was the biggest blow to American influence.

In mid-March 2021, a “Quad Summit” was held, which brought together the leaders of (the United States, Japan, India, and Australia), and focused on China. The summit showed that “Biden” wanted to expand the scope of cooperation among the group’s members, to include elements of “soft power”, in addition to its military dimension.

We also note the tours of the US Secretary of State, “Anthony Blinken” and the US Defense Minister “Lloyd Austin” to Japan and South Korea as well to coordinate US efforts against China.

Washington has announced the holding of a high-level meeting in Alaska between Secretary of State “Anthony Blinken” and National Security Adviser “Jack Sullivan” on the one hand, and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Communist Party of China “Yang Jiechi” and Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” on the other hand.

On the bilateral level with China, we note that (the Biden administration has adopted a parallel dimension based on a balance between diplomacy in issues on which the two parties agree, and deterrence in controversial files).  The US strategic objective of this approach is to adopt dialogue, but to a lesser degree than the administration of former President “Barack Obama”, in conjunction with maintaining the policy of confrontation, but to a lesser degree than the Trum’s administration.

One of the most important contentious issues that is expected to occupy the agenda of the two countries, and which is witnessing the intensification of competition between them, is “technological competition”. Chinese Professor (Wang Da), Deputy Director of the American Institute at Jilin University in China, analyzes the course of this technological competition between Washington and Beijing, saying:

The United States will continue to adopt a hard policy towards China in certain areas, such as 5G networks, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, but it will reduce the policy of “aggressive detachment in other less sensitive areas”.

We note here the Biden campaign pledge during the US election battle to allocate $300 billion for innovation, and this will be the main driver behind US policy, in parallel with (Washington’s endeavor to undermine China’s capabilities in the field of science and technology).

On the (political level), the Biden administration seems to have no options but to be tough on China. One of the most important strategic goals of President Biden is to end the internal political division.  It is understood from this that adopting a different approach from the Trump administration towards China may deepen the division further, and this complex position for the American administration means that at a time when “the files that might produce consensus between Democrats and Republicans are almost absent”. Here, we can see that the “Chinese threat” appears to be the most important consensual issue on the American political scene at the moment.

American analyzes indicate that between a quarter to a third of men in the United States may lose their jobs by the middle of this century. In addition, the expansion of globalization and the accelerating digitization process caused great pressure on the working class in some crucial states, which are called (Rust Belt states), in which Biden achieved a hard or hard victory in the last presidential elections in the face of his opponent, “Trump”. These are the states of (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin), which means that this class will determine the outcome of the US presidential election again in 2024.

Based on this complex political equation towards the US tightening policy against China, the Biden administration announced its intention to tighten trade policy with China, with the “Joe Biden administration”, stressing the need to “reconsider the agreement of the first phase of trade negotiations with China and not to rush to lift trade sanctions against it”.

On the (security level), the White House issued guidelines for all US agencies in the month of March 2021, we note that it “mentioned China’s security risk more than 20 times”.

President “Biden” pledged the importance of (strengthening the US military presence in the Indo-Pacific region), and obtaining the support of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia in the face of “China’s hostile practices in the Northeast Asia and the South China Sea”, in addition to the support of NATO,  As essential components of the American alliance against Chinese policies in that region, according to the new American vision.

The US security document also pledged the importance of “strengthening the US partnership with India, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and the rest of ASEAN countries” to undermine and besiege China.

In order to undermine and besiege Chinese influence, Washington announced in March 2021 several plans to build (a network of guided and high-precision missiles along the so-called “first island chain”, which constitutes the first strategic defense line for China), and includes mainly “Taiwan and the Philippines”, and as well as several islands disputed between Japan and China.

The Biden’s administration’s tendency to double (media and diplomatic pressures on China in connection with the human rights file in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, and with regard to the international investigation of the source of the spread of the Corona virus, as well as the file of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea) was also clearly shown.

On the other hand, there are files around which the views of China and the United States of America converge together, according to the same American vision, and among the files of: (controlling nuclear arms, climate change, and combating epidemics), which are the foundations for points of cooperation between the two sides, as it focused  Biden made his first call with Chinese President “Xi Jinping” in February 2021.

But the main dilemma that will face the “Biden administration” lies in (the different visions of most Southeast Asian countries for the security approach to confront China from the American vision itself), and the inability of the Asian countries allied to Washington to withstand Washington’s strategic pressures to confront Chinese influence, which is mainly supported by policy interactions.  interior in the United States. These mainly Asian countries share a common destiny with China politically, economically, geographically and historically.  Moreover, most do not view US-China relations as a “zero-sum” as in Washington.

  Here, we note from the foregoing, the contradiction of the policies and vision of the American administration with its allies regarding China, and therefore, the United States will have to (invent new formulations in its dealings with each country separately according to its interests), and this is the most important obstacle in Washington’s relations with its allies in dealing with China.

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