By Harsha Gunasena –
Political tensions of the world are getting intensified. The main reason for this is the defense policy of the USA. Their foreign policy is based on their defense policy. Russia and China also define their foreign policies based on their defense policies. Although during the time from the end of World War II and the collapse of the USSR the cold war between the USA and the USSR intensified from time to time, there was no war between those two countries as close as the present war in Ukraine. In the Ukraine war Russia is in one side and Ukraine is in the other side but the USA if firmly behind Ukraine. Although the intention of Russia would have been to finish the war within a short duration by conquering Ukraine, it continues after a lapse of one year with losses to Russia in weapons as well as in manpower. Biden said in Kyiv ahead of the one-year anniversary of war that Kyiv stands, and that democracy stands.
During the time of the USSR, Crimea was handed over to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, the then Soviet leader. After the collapse of the USSR the issue of nuclear weapons stored in Ukraine and other countries belonged to previous USSR came up. In 1994 Russia, the UK and the USSR along with Ukraine signed a document called Budapest Memorandum where the signatories respected the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine, reaffirmed their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. With those assurances Ukraine handed over the nuclear weapons to Russia.
Russia has violated this agreement. Therefore, Ukraine is reluctant to come to an agreement with Russia to end the war. Also the country which put Russia in the position that it would breach the Budapest agreement was the USA.
Pro Russia Viktor Yanukovych became the President of Ukraine in 2010. A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest called Euromaidan has begun in November 2013 mainly to protest the suspension of preparation of signing an Association Agreement with European Union by the President and by and large to protest the widespread government corruption, abuse of power and violation of human rights. The President fled to Russia.
The USA intervened in the unrest. The extent of intervention could be understood through the leaked telephone conversations of Victoria Nuland, then US Assistant Secretary of State. Nuland is the current US Under Secretary of State who has visited Sri Lanka recently. Interim government came to an agreement with the EU. In response Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The strategy of the West was to extend NATO to the east so that Russia could be stressed. Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, 14 countries of the eastern Europe have joined NATO. Those were Hungary, Czechia and Poland (1999); Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004); Albania and Croatia (2009); Montenegro (2017); and North Macedonia (2020). Estonia and Latvia are bordering Russia and Norway which entered into NATO at the initial stage is bordering Russia. Ukraine and Georgia are also bordering Russia.
Georgian change of regime in 2003 paved the way for the Russian- Georgian war in 2008. There are separatist movements in Georgia and Ukraine. In Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are Russian backed and internationally unrecognised separate states. Luhansk and Donetsk of Ukraine were recognised by Russia as separate states in February 2022. Russia had invaded these areas now.
In 1962 using the fear that the USA would invade neighboring Cuba, the USSR installed missiles in Cuba and planned to install more. The crisis ended with the agreement that the USSR to withdraw the missiles and the USA would not invade Cuba. This was similar to the current crisis of Ukraine.
Prior to the eruption of the war Russia requested a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO. Neither the USA nor the EU nor Ukraine were able to give that assurance. Once the war erupted, Finland which is on the Russian border and had an understanding with Russia and not joined NATO, and Sweden which is in close proximity, applied to be members of NATO.
In the war Russian weapons are getting destroyed and the Russian soldiers are getting killed in large numbers compared to the Ukrainian soldiers. Ukraine is getting ample supply of weapons from the EU and from the USA. There is a setback of the Russian economy due to the sanctions imposed by the West. In turn EU countries such as Germany is suffering from the non-supply of Russian gas. If Ukraine take back the areas acquired by the USSR, Ukraine army would attack Crimea as well. Or else Russia may have to withdraw since it cannot sustain the war. In both instances there is a possibility that chemical or nuclear weapons could be used.
Ukraine issue first came when Barak Obama (2009-2017) was the President of the USA. At that point there was a setback for the USA. Obama planned to face the economic war with China by introducing Trans-Pacific trade agreement along with quite a number of countries in that region without China. The intention was to make Chinese goods less competitive in the USA market. Donald Trump (2017-2021) changed these policies. He entered into a reconciliation process with Russia. He abandoned the Trans- Pacific trade agreement and imposed higher trade tariffs on imported Chinese goods. China reciprocated and imposed higher trade tariffs on imported American goods.
When Joe Biden became the president of the USA it seems to be that he is prepared to take on both Russia and China at the same time. In one way Ukraine war is an indication to China that it would be the same in the case of Taiwan as well. In both instances Ukrainian or Taiwanese soldiers and people are dying or will be dying, not the Americans.
The USA along with Japan, Australia and India initiated the Quad with the persuasion of Japan in 2007. During that time China advocated a policy of peaceful development. In 2012 with Xi Jinping coming to power the defense and foreign policies of China became aggressive. Building of islands in South China sea was started by Vietnam and by Philippines and they were doing it in a slow phase. Xi started building islands in South China sea rapidly and created a problem by storing weapons in one island. Under the Belt and Road project China invested in foreign countries and wanted control of these countries. Obama during the tail end of his tenure and Trump responded to this new development of Chinese policies introduced by Xi.
There was a change of the project of privatization of State-Owned Enterprises. Xi has put more attention to enlarge the SOEs by amalgamating them and not to privatize. He did not like commercial power of the private sector. The zenith of this process came when an Initial Public Offering(IPO) of Ant Corporation of Jack Ma, the owner of Alibaba was halted by the authorities in November 2020. In April 2021 after a Public Offering of Meituan, an investigation was started. In June 2021, soon after the IPO of Didi in New York stock exchange, an investigation was launched against the company. All these are high-tech companies.
The signal of this process is crack down of large private companies. The reason is in the view of the government these companies became more powerful than the level it should be. This is an issue of power. If this is an issue of inequal distribution of wealth, there are taxes to address that issue. If the issue is monopolies, there should be antitrust laws. There is a possibility that there are legal gray areas. However, crackdown is not the answer. Due to the economic pressure of the time of Trump some companies moved away from China and located in the countries such as Vietnam.
Li Qiang the new Prime Minister who is a close associate of Xi in his first press interview said that there were errors in the recent past and they will create a market-oriented, legalized and internationalized business environment, treat enterprises of all types of ownership equally, protect the property rights of enterprises and the rights and interests of entrepreneurs.
Jiang Zemin (1993-2003) and Hu Jintao (2003-2013) who were in power prior to Xi were in the helm for two five years period each. Accordingly, after ten years in power they stepped down. Xi changed this tradition and it looks like that he would continue in power throughout his life. Hu Jintao would have opposed to this and that was why Hu was forcibly removed from the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party held in last October.
There is a dictatorial leader immerged in China who extend his power internationally as well as locally and, in the businesses, as well as in the state. That itself may be the starting point of the downturn. When he faces the inherently aggressive American defense policy the outcome would be explosive. Until such time it does not explode there will be a cold war. The triggering point may be Taiwan.
Tsai In-wen, the President of Taiwan has to play a critical role. She is primarily responsible to her people. Her responsibility is to safeguard the lives and property of the Taiwanese and not to safeguard the American interests as did by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President. This is walking a tightrope. The agreement between China and Taiwan in 1992 is defined by China as one country, two systems and Taiwan does not agree to this.
In 1999 when Boris Yeltsin was the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin was the Prime Minister. Putin became the President in 2000. Since then, he was the unconditional leader of the country although he had to step down and act as the Prime Minister to avoid constitutional requirements. Xi Jinping is also in the process of becoming the lifetime President of China. It would create dangerous repercussions, at war if the back of a dictatorial leader of a nuclear-powered country is against the wall.