“Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)
Toward the close of World War II, with the advancing Red Army not yet in Berlin, Adolph Hitler and some of his closest aides retreated to the Fűhrerbunker, a presumed shelter of last resort near the Reich Chancellery. On 29 April 1945, Hitler married Eva Braun. One day later, to be followed by the entire Joseph Goebbels family, they committed suicide.
What could this infamous historical event possibly have to do with US President Donald J. Trump and his rapidly-descending American presidency? To be sure, this current head of state is not guilty of genocide, and likely does not have any sort of “final retreat” in mind. Nonetheless, on June 1-2, 2020, during a period of unusual uncertainty and instability in Washington DC, Trump briefly made his way to the White House basement “safe area” for improved personal security. While in no way reasonably analogous to thebloodied Fűhrerbunker of the Third Reich, it was nonetheless a grim reminder that we too, as a fragile and unraveling American society, could sometime have to confront our ownleader-created Gotterdammerung,or “Twilight of the Gods.”
However irksome, such a reminder should have its proper and clarifying place in this country’s national consciousness. Even if taken only as metaphor, a presidential retreat to the “bunker,” whether as a singular isolated event or as continuous and ongoing practice of self-serving escape, could plausibly emerge in America’s collective future. At that fateful point, it would likely be much too late to make any once-necessary policy remediations.
At that point, even while barely comprehending American crowds shriek their approval at rancorous presidential rallies, the existential damage will already have been done. Though the elucidating theatrical genre here would likely appear to be tragedy, the actual ambience of Donald Trump’s crumbling cities would probably resemble pathetic melodrama or an unseemly self-parody.
There would be little residual mystery here for the Trump minions or for anyone else. To incredulous Americans, the once preventable horrors of a deranged national leadership will have become a fait accompli. Moreover, to this nation’s ineradicable shame, these once-distant horrors could run the gamut from various selective infringements of human rights, both national and international, to massively cascading death counts arising from “plague” (pandemic) and/or catastrophic nuclear war. If this last atomic scenario might at first appear implausible or impossible, thoughtful Americans should bear in mind that any US president’s ultimate authority to use nuclear weapons is distinctly far-reaching and potentially incontestable.
Once abused or simply misunderstood, this authority could open the way for America’s very own existential “twilight” and “retreat.”
In such too-easily rejected circumstances – “Out of sight, out of mind” – it is well worth remembering the cautionary historical observation of Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually they have wreaked havoc.” Significantly, Freud wrote these sobering words before humankind had unlocked the secret of the atom, before any nation-state could ever have had reason to worry about finding itself in extremis atomicum.
Truth is exculpatory. As with so many previous dictators or would-be emperors, Donald J. Trump is generally unaffected by any decipherable considerations of Reason or Science. In the evident matter of a still-accelerating worldwide biological assault, he has without hesitation substituted his own conspicuously uninformed medical opinions for the country’s most well-qualified and esteemed epidemiologists. In these life-endangering behaviors, Trump remains able to make wildly irrational substitutions because (like these previous dictators and would-be emperors) he feels himself unbound by any usual rules of calculation, logic or scientific method. Or in the marvelously apt terminology created by 20th-century Spanish thinker Jose Ortega y’Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses,1930)” “The mass-man has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”
Lest anyone may not yet have noticed, Donald J. Trump is philosopher Ortega’s “mass man” par excellence. At first glance, any such demeaning ascription could appear to be inappropriate prima facie. How, after all, can an American president be a “mass man?” Mustn’t there be something basically wrong with a such an ascription, as even by definition, the nation’s leader is patently above mass? Isn’t this very plainly therefore an obvious oxymoron?
To be sure, this “Fűhrer’s” loyal followers would object strenuously. Yet, these very same followers would deny any Trump-committed wrongdoings, even if they were direct personal witnesses. For them, as for their endlessly-dissembling leader, truth and falsity are readily interchangeable.
“I love the poorly educated” ranted candidate Trump back in 2016.
“Intellect rots the brain,” warned Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934.
“Whoever can dominate the street will one day conquer the state,” offered Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1934.
“The goal is to dominate the street,” echoed Donald Trump on June 1, 2020.
Is there a curious verbal and philosophical kinship here? Is it even possible that Trump is well aware of Goebbels’ “wisdom,” and sees therein some very compelling examples? It was Joseph Goebbels, after all, who became well-know for the logic-torturing statement that any lie can become “truth” if it is merely repeated often enough.
Whether literally, or “merely” as metaphor, any upcoming Trump retreat to the Fuhrerbunker would necessarily follow certain catastrophic declensions of the wider American commonwealth. It follows, inter alia, that our most overriding current responsibility must be to heed such portentous warnings, and thereby to remain standing as a civilized national community as long as such a vital stance is still at least possible. Among many other things, this means an unswerving obligation to stand firmly against the multiplying and incessantly primal surrenders of the Trump administration, even when our duly elected representatives in the Congress display gratuitous servility to this incoherent presidency and an almost measureless level of personal cowardice.
Observing the groveling, obsequious and breathtakingly fawning behavior of the vice president, secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, homeland security secretary, Republican leadership in the Senate, secretary of health and human services, etc., etc. – the humiliating list goes on and on – Americans should finally inquire: What is going on here? To ask such a basic question, citizens needn’t even be well-read, educated or determinedly intellectual. They might ask, therefore, without any fear of retribution: What are the well-habituated sycophants sustaining this hideous president so afraid of?
Here we have a fundamentally core question that must be raised quickly and resolutely. There is, after all, no conceivable set of justifications for such pervasive and irredeemable official cowardice. Historically, however, there is ample precedent in the “Thousand Year Reich.”
Of what consequences are they so afraid? In the absolutely worst case scenario for these relentless administration sycophants, they would simply have to get real jobs and do some real work. Of course, judging from their generally conspicuous lack of any tangible learning or acquired wisdom, this expectation could still prove overwhelming. To wit, most Americans no longer expect even their highest officials to do any serious reading. In the case of the president, the unassailable truth that Trump reads nothing – nothing at all – is actually more of an asset than a liability for his followers. The fact that this president who “learns only in his own flesh” has never bothered to read the US Constitution elicits similarly little public consternation.
In essence, presidential historical and jurisprudential illiteracy is very widely acceptable. This is the case even among Trump’s opponents, who by now have relinquished even their most basic citizenship expectations.
There is more. Even among the most conscientious political reporters and journalists, tough questions put to the president invariably deal narrowly with certain purported policy delinquencies of the moment, but never with this president’s more overriding and general incapacity. The real problem with US President Donald Trump, however, is not that he makes variously specific mistakes or commits assorted particular harms. It is that he is intrinsically unfit to be President of the United States.
In April 1945, the Third Reich – “the thousand year Reich” – went up in smoke. For the most part, the individual Germans who had made this twelve-year horror possible were not identifiably “evil.” Rather, in the precisely-fashioned language of political philosopher Hannah Arendt, who had been a student of Professor Karl Jaspers, these docile people were merely ordinary or “banal.” What had made this murderous and genocidal regime possible, therefore, was not any deliberate malice or bloodlust, but instead the very sort of pervasive cowardice we witness today in the United States, -especially at the level of gratuitously belligerent government officials.
Plausibly, the multiple harms now being inflicted upon the United States and other parts of the world by President Donald J. Trump will not rise to the level of a nuclear war or genocide. Nonetheless, this is difficult to confirm for certain. The most fearful war or genocide consequences that could come immediately to mind are for the most part unprecedented or sui generis. It follows, from the standpoint of science and formal logic, that nothing can be said about the true probability of any such consequences. Accordingly, it would be foolhardy to dismiss them prima facie as somehow exaggerated or insignificant.
There are pertinent examples. As just one worrisome case, if some internal crisis in the Trump administration were sometime to occur at the same time as a North Korean nuclear crisis, a catastrophic nuclear war could not be ruled out. In this connection, it is also crucial to understand that Trump has never understood the most elementary elements of nuclear deterrence, and originally felt that “attitude,” rather than “preparation,” would successfully “denuclearize” the Pyongyang regime.
More precisely, said Trump, after returning from the Singapore Summit,” Kim Jung Un and I “fell in love.” At that still-early stage in his defiling presidency, it ought already have become obvious that “the emperor has no clothes.” Already, it should have been apparent that this was not simply a remediable problem of bad manners or spasmodically careless error.
Why, then, was he permitted to go on by so many who surely knew better? Why should so many have continued to believe that this president was capable of understanding myriad complex, intersecting and even synergistic problems? Now, as just one more portentous step toward the “Fuhrerbunker,” Trump supports policies that undermine the most utterly indispensable safeguards against further Covid-19 resurgence. Millions of Americans have even accepted this president’s incoherent line contra competent science and informed immunology, sometimes to the extent of personal experimentations with Trump-recommended “detoxifying” disinfectants.
“Is it an end that draws near,” inquired Karl Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The answer will depend, in large part, on what another major post-war German philosopher had to say about the Jungian or Freudian “mass.” In his own classic study, Being and Time (1953), Martin Heidegger laments what he calls, in German, das Mann, or “The They.” Drawing fruitfully upon earlier core insights of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung and Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represent the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) that can all-too-quickly suffocate personal growth and identity.
Anywhere, these assemblies are an eternally reassuring source of shelter from individual citizen responsibility. Such sources of “untruth” were recently present in Tulsa just as they had earlier been present in 1930s Berlin. How else can we explain a public that enthusiastically cheers an American president who complained, at his June 20th Oklahoma rally, “There is too much testing (Covis19) going on,” or which stood by silently when Trump ordered his lapdog attorney general to transform the US Department of Justice into a corrupted agency of personal benefit and political enforcement?
For instructive purposes, analogies are not always meant to be exact, literal or “perfect.” There are, of course, very substantial differences between the rise of German National Socialism in the 1930s and this incumbent American president’s subversion of American democracy. At the same time, there are also increasingly disturbing points of commonality between the philosopher’s “The They” and Donald J. Trump’s viscerally loyal minions. Left in place, this president could suddenly or eventually lead a fragmenting and imperiled American state toward its own apocalyptic end, whether by war, plague or “metastasizing” internal decay.
Should this outcome be permitted to happen, a US presidential retreat to the “Fűhrerbunker” could sometime prove to be more consequential than mere metaphor.
At that once unimaginable point, the American survivors would be asking themselves exactly the same question that surviving Germans had asked themselves back in the dark summer of 1945.
Among other things, that point could become a notably unwelcome “remembrance of things past.”
 Karl Jaspers is the distinguished twentieth century German philosopher best known for his post war classic, The Question of German Guilt (1947). This book will be briefly discussed toward the end of the present essay.
 He did instruct his Secretary of State and Attorney General to openly denounce the International Criminal Court’s planned investigation of alleged US war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. This direction was in fundamental contradiction of America’s obligation to both national and international law. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.” See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900). See also: The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).
 Here we may recall Swiss Playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt’s succinct reminder of what is both obvious and repressed: “The worst sometimes does happen.” But where understood in the express imagery of the theatre, as below, this “worst” is likely to present itself not as high tragedy, but as pathos or farce.
 For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/ See also, by Professor Beres, https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon).
 In part this is because he knows that many of his followers are actively seeking to avoid any too-challenging analyses or obligations of clear thought. Recalling the philosopher Karl Jaspers, in Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought, but for the whisperings of the irrational.”
 Similarly, we may learn from Swiss psychologist and philosopher Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.” At this point of almost fevered US citizen surrender to street-master Donald J. Trump, it is no longer difficult to imagine such a sweeping social downfall.
 This brings to mind a warning by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917): “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”
 See Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963).
 See, by Professor Louis René Beres, at Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/
 In technical philosophy of science terminology, such perfect or “one-to-one” resemblances are known as “isomorphism.”
 The literary origin of this phrase, of course, is Marcel Proust’s early 20th century allegorical biography, his novel in seven parts, Remembrance of Things Past.
Roads and Rails for the U.S.
For those who expect the newly announced $2 trillion Biden infrastructure program to be a goodbye to potholes and hello to smooth-as-glass expressways, a disappointment is in store. The largest expenditure by far ($400 billion) is on home/community care, impacting the elderly or disabled. The $115 billion apportioned to roads and bridges is #4 on the list.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) keeps tabs on our infrastructure and their latest report (2020) gave it an overall grade of C-. Although bridges worsened, this is a modest improvement on the previous report (2017) when the overall grade was D+. If $115 billion in spending sounds adequate, one has to remember it costs $27 billion annually for upkeep.
Astounding it might be the backlog in spending for roads and bridges runs at $12 billion annually. Go back 20 years and we have a quarter trillion shortfall. Add all the other areas of infrastructure and the ASCE comes up with a $5 trillion total. It is the gap between what we have been spending and what we need to. Also one has to bear in mind that neglect worsens condition and increases repair costs.
One notable example of maintenance is the Forth rail bridge in Scotland. A crisscross of beams forming three superstructures linked together, it was a sensation when opened in 1890 and now is a UN World Heritage Site. Spanning 1.5 miles, its upkeep requires a regular coat of paint. And that it gets. Rumor has it that when the unobtrusive painters reach the end of their task, it is time to start painting again the end where they began — a permanent job to be sure though new paints might have diminished such prospects.
Biden also proposes $80 billion for railways. Anyone who has travelled or lived in Europe knows the stark contrast between railroads there and in the U.S. European high-speed rail networks are growing from the established TGV in France to the new Spanish trains. Run by RENFE, the national railway, Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) trains run at speeds up to 310 km/h (193 mph) — a speed that amounts to a convenient overnight trip between Los Angeles and Chicago.
The hugely expensive new tracks needed can be considered a long-term investment in our children’s future. But it will take courage to contest the well-heeled lobbies of the airplane manufacturers, the airlines and big oil.
If Spain can have high-speed rail and if China already has some 24,000 miles of such track, surely the US too can opt for a system that is convenient for its lack of airport hassle and the hour wasted each way in the journey to or from the city center. Rail travel not only avoids both but is significantly less polluting.
Particularly bad, airplane pollution high above (26 to 43 thousand feet) results in greater ozone formation in the troposphere. In fact airplanes are the principal human cause of ozone formation.
Imagine a comfortable train with space to walk around, a dining car serving freshly cooked food, a lounge car and other conveniences, including a bed for overnight travel; all for a significantly less environmental cost. When we begin to ask why we in the US do not have the public services taken for granted in other developed countries, perhaps then the politicians might take note.
Congress and the Biden administration should end FBI immunity overseas
The FBI notably has an extended international presence running 63 offices in select countries overseas. The offices are called “legats” and are situated at the US Embassy in the host country. One of the major reasons for FBI’s international presence is fighting international terrorism.
The FBI legat personnel at the US embassies are fully accredited diplomats enjoying full diplomatic immunity but that poses several questions that are worth asking, such as: how is it possible for law enforcement to be diplomats and is that a good idea, legally speaking?
Police work should not enjoy diplomatic immunity because that opens the door to abuse. Does the FBI’s immunity overseas mean that the FBI attaches can do no wrong in the host country? How do we tackle potential rights infringements and instances of abuse of power by the FBI towards locals in the host country? The DOJ Inspector General and the State Department Inspector General would not accept complaints by foreigners directed at the FBI, so what recourse then could a local citizen have vis-a-vis the FBI legat if local courts are not an option and the Inspector Generals would not look into those cases?
This presents a real legal lacuna and a glitch in US diplomatic immunity that should not exist and should be addressed by Congress and the new Biden administration.
While FBI offices overseas conduct some far from controversial activities, such as training and educational exchanges with local law enforcement, which generally no one would object to, the real question as usual is about surveillance: who calls the shots and who assumes responsibility for potentially abusive surveillance of locals that may infringe upon their rights. It’s an issue that most people in countries with FBI presence around the world are not aware of. The FBI could be running “counter-terrorism” surveillance on you in your own country instead of the local police. And that’s not nothing.
When we hear “cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism”, as recent decades show, there is a great likelihood that the US government is abusing powers and rights, without batting an eyelash. That exposes local citizens around the world to unlawful surveillance without legal recourse. Most people are not even aware that the FBI holds local offices. Why would the FBI be operating instead of the local law enforcement on another country’s territory? That’s not a good look on the whole for the US government.
The legal lacuna is by design. This brings us to the nuts and bolts of the FBI legats’ diplomatic immunity.
Diplomatic immunity is governed by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, under Chapter III on privileges and immunities. The US is also a state party to the Convention, along with most states around the world. While there could be some variations and disagreements on bilateral basis (including on weather for example one state could be hosted and represented through the embassy of another state in a third state), on the whole there is a universal consensus that the Vienna Convention sets the rules establishing diplomatic immunities and privileges.
Under the Vienna Convention, only top diplomats are given the highest degree of immunity from the law. This means they cannot be handcuffed, arrested, detained, or prosecuted by law enforcement officials of the country in which they’re stationed. Diplomatic immunities and privileges also include things like diplomatic “bags” (with very peculiar cases of what that could entail) and notably, protection and diplomatic immunity for the family of diplomats.
It is a universal consensus that not everyone who works at an Embassy has or should have diplomatic immunity. Immunity is saved for diplomats whose role has to be protected from the local jurisdiction of the country for a reason. Not all embassy staff should enjoy diplomatic immunity. Granting law enforcement such as the FBI full legal immunity for their actions is bad news.
Only the top officials at an embassy are diplomats with an actual full immunity — and that’s for a reason.
It makes sense why a diplomat negotiating an agreement should not be subjected to local courts’ jurisdiction. But the same doesn’t go for a law enforcement official who acts as a law enforcement official by, for example, requesting unlawful surveillance on a local citizen, in his law enforcement capacity, while thinking of himself as a diplomat and being recognized as such by the law.
Law enforcement personnel are not diplomats. Dealing with extraterritorial jurisdiction cases or international cases is not the same thing as the need for diplomatic immunity. If that was the case, everyone at the export division at the Department if Commerce would have diplomatic immunity for protection from foreign courts, just in case. Some inherent risk in dealing with international cases does not merit diplomatic immunity – otherwise, this would lead to absurdities such as any government official of any country being granted diplomatic immunity for anything internationally related.
The bar for diplomatic immunity is very high and that’s by design based on an international consensus resting upon international law. Simply dealing with international cases does not make a policeman at a foreign embassy a diplomat. If that was the case every policeman investigating an international case would have to become a diplomat, just in case, for protection from the jurisdiction of the involved country in order to avoid legal push-back. That’s clearly unnecessary and legally illogical. Being a staff member at an embassy in a foreign country does not in and of itself necessitate diplomatic immunity, as many embassy staff do not enjoy diplomatic protection. It is neither legally justified nor necessary for the FBI abroad to enjoy diplomatic immunity; this could only open up the function to potential abuse. The FBI’s arbitrary surveillance on locals can have a very real potential for violating the rights of local people. This is a difference in comparison to actual diplomats. Diplomats do not investigate or run surveillance on locals; they can’t threaten or abuse the rights of local citizens directly, the way that law enforcement can. Lack of legal recourse is a really bad look for the Biden administration and for the US government.
The rationale for diplomatic immunity is that it should not be permitted to arrest top diplomats, who by definition have to be good at representing their own country’s interests in relation to the host state, for being too good at their job once the host state is unhappy with a push back, for example. The Ambassador should not be exposed to or threatened by the risk of an arrest and trial for being in contradiction with the interests of the host state under some local law on treason, for example, because Ambassadors could be running against the interests of the host state, by definition. And that’s contained within the rules of diplomatic relations. It’s contained in the nature of diplomatic work that such contradictions may arise, as each side represents their own country’s interests. Diplomats should not be punished for doing their job. The same doesn’t apply to the FBI legats. Issuing surveillance on local citizens is not the same as representing the US in negotiations. The FBI legats’ functions don’t merit diplomatic immunity and their actions have to be open to challenge in the host country’s jurisdiction.
The FBI immunity legal lacunae is in some ways reminiscent of similar historic parallels, such as the George W. Bush executive order that US military contractors in Iraq would enjoy full legal immunity from Iraqi courts’ jurisdiction, when they shouldn’t have. At the time, Iraq was a war-torn country without a functioning government, legal system or police forces. But the same principle of unreasonable legal immunity that runs counter international laws is seen even today, across European Union countries hosting legally immune FBI attaches.
Congress and the Biden administration should end FBI immunity overseas. It can be argued that for any local rights infringements, it is the local law enforcement cooperating with the US Embassy that should be held accountable – but that would ignore that the actual request for unlawful surveillance on locals could be coming from the FBI at the Embassy. The crime has to be tackled at the source of request.
When I reached out to the US Embassy in Bulgaria they did not respond to a request to clarify the justification for the FBI diplomatic immunity in EU countries.
To prevent abuse, Congress and the Biden Administration should remove the diplomatic immunity of the FBI serving overseas.
Competition and cooperation between China and the United States and the eighth priority
In mid-March U.S. President Biden held his first press conference since taking office. Speaking about Sino-U.S. relations, Biden said: “I will prevent China from surpassing the United States of America during my term of office”. At the same time, he also stressed that he would not seek to confront China, but to keep up fierce competition between the two countries.
Focusing on competition between major powers is one of the important changes in U.S. foreign policy in recent years. As the strengths of China and the United States draw closer together, the United States increasingly feels that its own ‘hegemony’ is threatened. During Trump’s tenure, the United States has caused a trade war, a technology war, and even a complete disagreement with China in an attempt to curb China’s development momentum and erode Chinese positions.
The expansion of the competitive field and the escalation of the competitive situation have become the hallmarks of Sino-U.S. relations during this period. Although Biden’s policy line has made substantial changes to ‘Trumpism’, it still has much of its predecessor’s legacy with regard to its policy towards China.
The first foreign policy speech made by U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken listed China Challenge as the eighth priority, preceded by:
1) ending the COVID-19 pandemic;
2) overcoming the economic crisis, reviving the economy at home and abroad, as well as and building a more stable and inclusive global economy;
3) renewing democracy;
4) reforming immigration and creating a humane and effective immigration system;
5) rebuilding alliances, revitalising U.S. ties with allies and partners with the system that the military calls force multiplier;
6) tackling climate change and leading a green energy revolution;
7) securing U.S. leadership in technology; and
8) confronting China and managing the greatest geopolitical test of the 21st century, i.e. relations with China, which is the only country with economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the international system and equilibria.
The eighth medium-term guideline for the national security strategy sees China as an important competitor. These guidelines clearly show that competition still sets the tone in the way President Biden’s Administration’s manages relations with China, as was the case in the previous four-year period.
At a press conference on March 26, 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the above statements were not surprising. It is clear that China and the United States are competing on different interest levels.
The key factor, however, is to compete fairly and justly and to improve oneself. The appeal to the other side is moderation and restraint, not life or death, or a zero-sum game. These words are along the same lines as Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement when he spoke about Sino-U.S. relations at a session of the National Congress of People’s Representatives of the People’s Republic of China (the Chinese Parliament). It is not only a response to the U.S. strategy of competition with China, but it also provides a model for the future way in which superpowers should proceed together.
The reality of Sino-U.S. competition is unavoidable, but competition can be divided into benign and vicious. The former is a winning model for “improving oneself and understanding the needs of the other side”.
Since Deng Xiaping’s reforms and opening up to international trade, China has begun its own reconstruction. It has continuously widened the scope for benign competition and has changed its mindset by actively embracing the world’s different political parties and participating in international competition. It has also inspired enthusiasm for innovation and creativity and made progress in various fields.
At the same time, development has also provided ample opportunities for countries around the world and injected growth momentum into the global economy: this is a typical example of China’s good interaction and common development with all countries around the globe.
Conversely, fierce competition means breaking rules and systems and even breaking the demarcation line to prevent or contain the opponent, and this is usually followed by fierce conflicts.
The two World Wars of the last century were extreme examples of violent competition between great powers: the first as a clash between capitalist imperialisms in search of new markets; the second as a result of mistakes made in the peace treaties that ended the Great War, plundering the losers and causing misery, resentment and chauvinistic desires.
In today’s world, competition without respect for the other side has not disappeared from the scene of history. Trump Administration’s frantic anti-China activity over the last four years has not only failed to make the United States ‘great again’, but has caused a linear decline in its national competitiveness, at least according to the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020 published by the Lausanne-based International Institute for Management Development, which sees the United States dropping from third to tenth place. Besides the fact that its international image has seriously plummeted and Sino-U.S. relations have hit the lowest ebb since the establishment of diplomatic relations. It can clearly be seen that fierce competition will only restrain its promoters and ultimately harm the others, themselves and the international community.
In December 2020 General Mark Alexander Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a body that brings together the Chiefs of Staff of each branch of the U.S. military and the Head of the National Guard Bureau), said in an interview that ‘great powers must compete. This is the essence of the world’.
There is no problem with this statement: it is not wrong, but it is important to maintain a state of competition and contact between major powers, precisely to ensure that it does not turn into conflicts or wars that are fatal to mankind and the planet as a whole.
The gist of the speech shows that some U.S. elites also believe that China and the United States should adhere to the principle of ‘fighting without breaking each other’. The importance and the overall and strategic nature of Sino-U.S. relations determine that no one can afford the zero-sum game, which is a lose-lose as opposed to a win-win game – hence we need to ensure that competition between the two countries stays on the right track.
Competition between China and the United States can only be fair and based on rules and laws. This is the basic rule of international relations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations as its point of reference.
Regardless of the common interests of China, the United States or peoples in the world, both countries should make this system promote healthy and fair competition, thus turning it into the greatest value of sharing and cooperation.
China’s goal has never been to surpass the United States, but to advance steadily and become better and no longer a prey to imperialism and colonialism as it has been the case since the 19th century, when Great Britain waged the two Opium Wars (1839-1842 – 1856-1860) to have not only the opportunity, but also the right to export drugs to the Middle Empire – hence Great Britain was the first pusher empowered and authorized by the force of its weapons.
Although – by its own good fortune -the United States has never been England, it should not always be thinking of surpassing the others or fearing being overtaken by the others, but should particularly focus on Secretary of State Blinken’s first seven priorities and raise its expectations.
China should show its traditional political wisdom and manage Sino-U.S. relations in accordance with the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, so that Sino-U.S. relations can develop in a healthy and stable way for the good of the whole planet.
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