Trump launches without the slightest ambiguity: he calls covid the China virus and wants the UN to hold Beijing accountable for the pandemic. The US game at the UN is less and less that of a plotter. The slogan during these weeks, and even in the president’s speech, seems to be to act as if the sanctions against Iran had been magically renewed. It even reinterprets on his own the tenuous ideological layer woven by the organization during these decades: the core of human rights would now lie in the freedoms of religious worship and property rights. Not that anything changes, but it is significant that it launches initiatives, slogans and speeches without first preparing some minimum support.
China, which obviously denies having unleashed a plague on the world, takes advantage of the situation to present itself as the last guarantor of multilateralism, and rejects US environmental policy. Xi promises to achieve CO2 emissions neutrality in 2050.
At first glance, it would seem that China is taking on the role of a U.N. conductor held by the United States for decades. But it’s only a mirage. The crisis has not helped it to gain influence in the EU, against which it complains of turning Europe into a hostile territory for Chinese investments. The US is accused of conspiring to erode its good relations in Latin America. Today, pressure from the United States makes it difficult for it to even reach an agreement with the Vatican to renew chinese bishops.
When Widodo’s turn came, the Indonesian president made explicit the elephant in the room, the perspective of a war between the United States and China. In a grumbling tone he addressed Xi and Trump to remind them that:
The war will benefit no one. There is no point in celebrating victory amidst ruins. It makes no sense to become the greatest economic power in the midst of a sinking world.
Xi in his speech insisted that:
We will never seek hegemony, expansion or a sphere of influence […] We have no intention of fighting a war, hot or cold with any country
This is not reassuring even for its neighbors. After weeks of armed pressure, and in the midst of a military mobilization around Taiwan, which has authorized its armed forces to fire on planes or ships crossing the border. But for China, none of this is an external conflict: Taiwan is part of China and the border therefore does not exist.
Under the strain of the Taiwan Strait lies much more than nationalist slogans. USA is waging a real war to mow China’s technological growth. Huawei has been the most showy part. But the core is the control of processor and semiconductor supplies. That is, the Taiwanese industry. Bringing Taiwan closer to the US sphere means gaining a much more powerful leverage than tariffs. And they are not far from achieving it: the Taiwanese government called this very week for the creation of an international alliance to confront the Chinese threat.
A proposal that is well received in India, whose president, Modi, took advantage of his speech to the assembly to claim a permanent seat in the Security Council. India, which has reached a minimum agreement with the Chinese army in the Himalayas is starting this week naval maneuvers with Australia as the first step in a reactivation of the QUAD, the military alliance with the US, Japan and Australia that seeks to create a naval encirclement around China. Japan, which also aspires to become a permanent member of the Security Council, has already announced that under its new Prime Minister, Suga, it will be provided with a record military budget and rearm at even greater speed than until now.
To sum up: China is much more fragile than it seems. It is increasingly pressured in Asia, it is diplomatically stalled in its attempt to gain influence in Europe, it is beginning to feel insecure in South America, militarily it is lagging behind the US and its efforts to gain technological independence and have an alternative to AMD and Intel… may require almost a decade.
Europe and Mercosur
The one who also used the message to the assembly to claim a seat on the Security Council was Merkel. Without a sizeable army and without nuclear weaponry, Germany aspires to a seat by virtue of its economic dominance of Europe. It is another matter whether, politically, it is capable of dominating the EU or contending with Russia. As an example, the the refugee policy switch or its inability to reach a consensus on sanctions against Belarus, both this very week.
Macron directly drew the map of French imperialist interests by coating them with a vague Republican paternalism. Macron, who had been a pioneer in using the environmental discourse as a battering ram for his imperialist interests, now expands the field of the same discourse. The climate would be only a part of those assets that are common to humanity and whose deterioration would damage everyone’s sovereignty. What did he refer to? First of all, the Brazilian Amazon. But the argument extends to any good with global repercussions: from freedom of navigation to fisheries. But the central point was the announcement of European resistance to joining a new anti-Chinese American bloc.
In the future, we will have to face these new balances that are in the process of definition. We will have to rely on the strength of good will. Because the world as it is today cannot be reduced to the rivalry between China and the United States, whatever the global weight of these two great powers, whatever the history that links us, especially with the United States. The crisis, the collapse of our cooperation frameworks, the weaknesses I have just mentioned, force us to rebuild a new order and Europe to assume its full share of responsibility; that is, to bring its values, its taste for the future and its ability to build new solutions. Because we are not collectively condemned to a game of two that, in a way, would reduce us to being nothing more than the pitiful spectators of a collective impotence.
Putin, on the other hand, intervened mainly for Merkel. He suggested that sanctions – to Russia and eventually to Belarus – would be counterproductive to her interests while exports plummet in the middle of a recession. Rouhani of Iran and Maduro tried something similar, claiming against US sanctions. But at this point, Iran is treated as a danger to be contained even by France, and the Venezuelan government is a zombie to which few pay attention. If Maduro stands, it is more because of the resistance of the Brazilian army and a faction of the Colombian bourgeoisie to the explosion of decomposition that would follow an invasion, than because of his military or diplomatic capabilities.
Another one who actually spoke to Europe was Bolsonaro, who wanted to present himself as a victim of a campaign using the environment as an excuse. He was immediately reminded in the Brazilian press of statements and policies on covid, deforestation and human rights. But to be honest, the campaign exists and it is an excuse by some European countries, led by France, to avoid the ratification of the trade agreement with Mercosur. As things go on in Brussels everything points to the fact that if the agreement finally materializes it will be in the form of bilateral arrangements with Argentina and possibly Uruguay, leaving Brazil out.
A great fracture
In the end, of all the interventions, from Duterte to Macron, what hinged was the resistance of the different powers to the forces that from China and the United States are trying to force a decantation into two technological, economic and military blocs… and the fear of an inevitable perspective of war opened up by this. A perspective that is undoubtedly bad for the business of most national capitals. General Secretary Guterres was quite clear in expressing this opposition:
Our world cannot afford a future in which the two largest economies split the world into a great divide, each with its own trade and financial rules and capabilities of artificial intelligence and the Internet […] A technological and economic divide risks inevitably becoming a geostrategic and military one. We must avoid this at all costs.
The point is that it is not avoidable. Among other things because the primary objective of each national capital is not really some utopian world peace, but to defend its own imperialist interests: to access new markets, to defend its own, to find profitable destinations for its surplus capital, to attract external capital for projects that promote new applications and greater productivity in terms of profit from the labor they employ . This is the engine driving each one of them in a constant tension and measurement of forces in which war -trade, currency, technological and, finally, armed war- is generally an option to be avoided… until it becomes the most profitable or at least the least bad for those same interests. The perspective of a long and devastating crisis, which was already clear before the covid, has accelerated with the pandemic. And with it the tendency for the calculation of costs and benefits to take a step further in the development of conflicts. The big divide that Guterres spoke of is already underway. The question is into how many fields will the world market break and how long will it take to multiply the blood spilled to make capital profitable.