A lot has been written and said, as of late, on how recent developments in Eastern Europe are being observed and processed by both allies and foes of the United States in East Asia and the Pacific alike. Governments, business, media, civil-society organizations and ultimately the peoples of these nations and economies to the East of the Yabanovyt Range can’t help but ask themselves: How reliable is the US as a defense partner? How far is the US willing to go to honor its commitments in this part of the world? The military setbacks that the Armed Forces of the United States have experienced, not to mention America’s disengagement strategies, ever since the end of the Vietnam War are not very reassuring to its allies.
Eyes are inevitably drawn to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Taiwan, the West Philippine Sea,…¿Somos o no somos? is the existential question. Or in the vernacular, Ano ba talaga, kuya?
Advocates of Realpolitik have warned US Foreign Policy crafters of being distracted from what should be its paramount concern: the hegemonic ascendency of China. It would appear as if in the Information Age geography was no longer relevant—rivers, valleys and mountain ranges had vanished into thin air—and, thus, geopolitics shelved in the drawer of history if not thrown to the bin altogether.
Many pundits on international relations have spared no time in completing their winner-loser columns following the outbreak of hostilities. There are divergent views on which of these two columns to put the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and conflicting readings of what it means for the European Union. This ranges from its definitive epitaph to an opportunity to rise to the occasion and reinvent itself in Ave Phoenix fashion. Moreover, questions abound on this idea: Is there such a thing as the free world? If so, what does it mean following the fall of the Berlin Wall, close to third of a century ago.
There seems to be greater consensus on who the prime medium-and-long-term beneficiary is: China. And China is aware of this and is from a comfortable distance watching developments unfold and witnessing the further decline of the superpower of what it foresees as the Ancien Régime.
China may be geographically relatively far from the conflict but is by no stretch of the imagination strategically indifferent as it has more at stake than initially meets the eye.
Indeed, China has so far maintained itself in relative equidistance. The way it has voted both in the UN Security Council as well as the General Assembly can attest to this. Then again, speaking out on issues such as sovereignty and territorial integrity may have a boomerang effect on its domestic and foreign policies. Prudence is a necessity.
While China may be quietly celebrating the erosion of the current international order, particularly the palpable and increscendo weakening of the US, in the midst of the armed conflict, it is aware that a protracted war, much less a spillover, is not in its interest.
China’s might is rooted in its economic growth and this relies on sustained open international trade and prosperous domestic markets. An all-out war does not contribute to these. The emergence of the so-called next-gen economic sanctions is of great concern in Beijing as they have the potential of crippling any economy, dynamic as this may be.
Not letting a good crisis put to waste might constitute a unique opportunity for China to step up to the plate as a responsible member of the international community and in doing so build the foundations of its global leadership.
China has the clout to convene the two conflicting parties—Ukraine and Russia—as well as other actors such as the US, the European Union, as a facilitator, a reliable honest broker of sorts. It can do so under the auspices of the United Nations or by itself. It has little to lose and the world to gain.
As a facilitator it need not (ought not) take sides, just project China’s good faith. In doing so it can dispel the notion of China as an expansionist power and replace it for one of a nation that fosters peace and understanding by generously providing its services and promoting goodwill.
Then again, like any broker, reliable and honest or otherwise, it is bound to send its bill.