During the month of August 2021, the global community is witnessing at least four large military exercises with scale and frequency rarely seen in the past four decades since the end of the Cold War. The first two are the Large Scale Exercise 2021 (LSE2021) staged by US Navy Fifth Fleet and Second Fleet close to Europe in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea between August 3-August 15, 2021 and the Large Scale Global Exercise 21 led by the US and its allied forces with a focus on the Indo-Pacific Ocean between August 2 and August 27, 2021. While lasting about a month, these military exercises are being conducted with China and Russia as their imaginary enemies. To demonstrate China’s readiness to defend itself in response to these military exercises, China alone conducted a large-scale military exercise in South China Sea between August 6 and August 8, 2021. In addition, China and Russia reportedly conducted a large joint military exercise called “ZAPAD/INTERACTION-2021 in Ningxia, China’s Northwest Region during the period of August 9-13, 2021. While the two military exercises staged by the US and its allies are both maritime, the two military exercises staged by China and Russia is one maritime and the other one land based. While the former military exercises initiated by the US Navy are far from the US homeland geographically and thus viewed as aggressive by China and Russia, the latter by China and Russia are geographically at the front or backyard of China and Russia respectively and thus thought to be self-defensive.
It thus appears that both the US-led Western powers are defending its so-called maritime liberal global order, whereas China and Russia are declaring and defending the continental order as both sovereign nation-states of continental Asia and masters of Central Asia and possibly Euro-Asian landmass (nicknamed “the world island”) covered by member countries of Shanghai Cooperation. As one of the results of this great power competition, the consolidation of strategic power between China and Russia is almost on par with the so-called Communist Block led by USSR in the early part of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the world is slipping back into a Cold War mode which began seven decades ago and the US is going back to its starting point of the project of Pax Americana after World War II. Its ambitious project to liberalize the world after the American model since the end of the Cold War is being declared bankrupt with the staging of these military exercises against one another.
Underlying this kind of dramatic military showdowns towards each other are a series of deeply embedded divides such as resurfacing ideological differences, historical-cultural differences, political differences and so on which are further decoupling US-China relations and further isolating Russia-West relations. This geopolitical divide and rivalry, fueled by these growing divides, is running a higher risk of both splitting Asia into two blocks, the maritime Asia and the continental Asia, and halving the world, resulting in another Cold War, even possibly World War III, with all spheres divided into halves, land, maritime, cybersphere in the form of splinternet, airspace, outer space, and ice space and so on. With two oppositional, rivaling, and dueling forces carving out its own order and expanding its own sphere of influence by trying to weaken or conquer the other, a polarized world would be full of miserable souls and losers on both sides. Is this what both sides originally wanted? If not, how have both sides got here? The current status of the world is one world with two dreams, with the US leading in championing for a struggling capitalistic democracy to the entire world in order to maximize the interest of the elite class and China leading in championing for a still elusive yet all-inclusive, all-win, equitable, and just world for all with such ideas as shared peace, shared prosperity and shared freedoms.
How can the two power blocks pause over such intense and comprehensive rivalry, and pursue a mechanism and platform for dialogue, mutual listening and mutual learning, a much less costly, more constructive, and thus more civilized means of conflict management and resolution, in lieu of military exercises, a mutually defeating and barbaric means defending the status quo? How can the two allow mutual peaceful coexistence in this world as a minimum condition? How can the two sides stop bickering and practicing double standards as well? For example, while the US is accusing China of practicing “debt trap” diplomacy with developing countries, President Biden has forced conventionally neutral countries such as Switzerland, Singapore , New Zealand and so on to purchase F-35 planes from the US and join the US-led military club. Also, can President Biden’s Global Democracy Forum be changed to “Global Democracy Reform Forum so that more focus would be on improving its own internal deficiencies than external threats from the so-called “authoritarianism”? Only if the answers to my above questions are positive can the “guardrail” as suggested by US Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman be set in place to effectively manage if not stop this global power competition!
My ultimate advice to both sides and the third parties for averting this trend of global decoupling is as follows: Read Chinese President Xi’s remarks on building the community of humankind with a shared future and other similar ideas articulated by other world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, former US President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and so on with sincerity and get inspired for real solutions to such grave challenges and problems posed by this engulfing global divisions as illustrated by the four military exercises discussed above.