Macron’s recent statements have shown the erosion of Washington’s ‘zero-sum’ diplomacy compared to Beijing’s ‘win-win’ approach
Over the course of the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron unleashed political shockwaves by visiting China and declaring that the European Union must make itself less dependent on the United States, while urging Western European nations not to be “followers” of America.
Not surprisingly, the trip was vilified in Washington DC circles and the mainstream Western media, who bemoaned the French president undermining efforts to “control China,” attempting to paint Macron’s efforts in a negative light by arguing that China’s overwhelming strategic priority was in fact ties with Russia.
But is it not worth mentioning that China has shown the diplomatic skillset to have good ties with Russia and France simultaneously? To meet and demonstrate good will with both Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron? And if so, what does that tell us about the current state of American diplomacy, where an “all or nothing” zero-sum mindset rules the day, demanding that countries take sides and balking at the idea of nuanced, balanced, and as China likes to describe it, “win-win” relationships? In so many ways, China’s diplomatic successes highlight the failures of American diplomacy.
Once upon time, US diplomacy was pragmatic and shrewd. China, of course, is the chief example of that. In the 1970s Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger masterfully paved the way to opening relations with Mao Zedong’s China, believing it could be incorporated as a critical strategic partner in the Cold War, despite itself having once been a Communist adversary. It was arguably one of the smartest diplomatic moves of the 20th century. Yet somehow its lessons have been forgotten by the current crop of foreign policymakers in Washington DC, who have become obsessed with a zero-sum rendering of American hegemony that is ideologically zealous and eschews the concept of pragmatism, compromise and engagement in its dealings with other countries.
Bloated by the corrosive influence of the military-industrial complex and their affiliated neoconservative extremists, contemporary American foreign policy doctrine revolves around the perpetual creation and prolonging of tensions and conflict to force countries into its geopolitical orbit, framing every single dilemma as a “good vs. evil” conflict in which the US presents itself as the only good force. It is a mindset which consolidated following America’s victory in the Cold War, and the belief its hegemony over the world is a divine right. In this twisted world view, peace is derided as “appeasement” and anyone who does not sign up to the agenda of perpetual war and arms races is derided as morally corroded. Allies are not to be listened to, but coerced into following America’s will by hook or by crook.
This foreign policy fanaticism has crippled the US ability to build pragmatic relationships with countries for the greater good outside its own ideological disposition, precisely what China is deploying in its diplomacy with countries across the world, and by an ironic twist this has limited America’s ability to secure its interests, get what it wants, or “sit at the table.” What is very telling, for example, is how China was able to broker a normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The US has shown no diplomatic capacity to do so in its current outlook, because its entire Middle East policy, for one, is based on an aversion to peace, perpetually antagonizing Iran as a “threat” and therefore leveraging its own military capabilities as a security guarantor for its own strategic and commercial gain.
Likewise, this bizarre militarist zealotry is why the US has been set on prolonging the conflict in Ukraine in the belief that Russia can never be offered a particle of compromise, while simultaneously attempting to repeat the same process in the Taiwan Strait. But what happens if other countries have different ideas? Or no longer buy into this agenda? If a nation such as China, by virtue of maintaining good ties with as many nations as possible, is able to shape the international outlook? The US has forgotten the meaning of diplomacy, knowing only the language of sanctions, containment, militarism and confrontation, and in doing so has found itself on the back foot against China, which appreciates the importance of true mutual interests, and leverages its influence to that end accordingly.
Had the current crop of US leaders been in the White House in the 1970s, the great geopolitical rapprochement with Beijing would never have happened, because the only objective could have been hegemony, hegemony, and more hegemony. Thus, in the present day, the belief that the US can in any way work with China for the greater good is derided. But when you don’t sit at the table, you cannot expect to have the meal, and it is these delusions of grandeur which increasingly make China look like a kingmaker, and America like an unhinged zealot.