Remember: China is weak. It’s tempting to ascribe power to a country like China that, for all its size, diversity and complexity, advertises messages of unity to the rest of the world. When those messages are crafted exclusively by the central government, “China the rising power” becomes an easy story to tell, especially when the rest of the world appears to be tearing itself apart. In the mighty United States, once-noble legislators are in a bitter fight over a Supreme Court justice. In Australia, headlines read of a culture war that threatens to destroy the country’s public institutions. In the United Kingdom, the divisions over Brexit are as pronounced as they have ever been. And in India, the largest democracy in the world, the push and pull between Hindu nationalists and a fractured opposition cast a shadow over everything New Delhi does.
Perspective is important. In all of these countries, what some call political turmoil are very real disagreements about the nature of governance. And in all these countries, there is a tendency to treat China as a boogeyman that must be stopped. This is why the tariffs Washington is using to redefine its economic relationship with China, for example, are part of a broader strategic effort to curb Chinese power.
Lost amid the political machinations is the fact that China is not nearly as strong as it seems. Recently, The New York Times got its hands on a directive issued to Chinese media by the government in Beijing that explained how to cover some economic topics without inducing panic. All media has a slant, of course, but there’s a difference between unconscious bias and, say, targeted content for a particular audience, and the creation of an alternate reality. The latter is hardly the hallmark of a confident, composed country. Ironically, the obsession over China’s supposed strength won’t make it any weaker. It will only make it hostile.
Russia’s “missile diplomacy.” According to Russia’s foreign minister, the government in Moscow has already made good on its plans to deliver the S-300 missile system to Syria. Meanwhile, the Times of India reported that India’s government decided to go ahead and purchase S-400 missiles from Russia, with delivery to happen over the next four to five years. The S-300 delivery to Syria is a major development, one we must admit we did not expect. Israel vowed to destroy the S-300 the last time Russia considered selling it to Syria, going so far as to call it a red line. It may soon have to decide if it is a red line after all. Meanwhile in India, which against U.S. wishes has been in talks to buy the even more advanced S-400 from Russia, is hedging its bets. New Delhi has hinted that it will go through with the purchase but will reduce imports of Iranian oil – a measure of good faith shown to the U.S. The brilliance in Russia’s strategy is that in neither India nor Syria does new missiles change the overall balance of power. The mere appearance of doing business with Russia is now enough to sow dissension between the U.S. and its would-be partners.
For Turkey and Germany, detente is in the eye of the beholder. Turkish media coverage of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s three-day trip to Germany has been overwhelmingly positive. The Daily Sabah, for instance, says Turkey and Germany agreed to normalize ties and strengthen bilateral cooperation, while Hurriyet described the visit as “historic.” German media is much more measured, alluding to vague steps to increase economic cooperation in one sentence and continued tensions in the next. The Financial Times described German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reception of Erdogan as “cool.” So who’s right? The frustrating answer is: All of them, and none of them. Economically, there is a firm basis for cooperation. Germany needs markets to sell its manufactured goods to, and Turkey needs investment, access to technology and anything and everything to wean itself off its dependence on the dollar. Strategically, these countries are at odds in the Balkans, suspicious over whether the other might start leaning more heavily toward Moscow. The large and rapidly growing Turkish population in Germany complicates matters further. For now, in an odd reversal of roles, Turkey is courting Germany, and Germany is playing hard to get.
- Thousands protested in Barcelona today for Catalan independence, two days shy of the one year anniversary of last year’s vote on secession.
- Yesterday, Israel Defense Forces told Haaretz that Hamas is preparing for war against Israel. Today, Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials traveled to Egypt for a new round of reconciliation talks.
- Mexico is trying to make sure Canada is included in a revamped NAFTA deal, reportedly in the wake of a conversation between the leaders of the two countries on Thursday.
- The U.S. has closed its consulate in Basra, Iraq, and removed its diplomats in response to threats from Iran.
- In the U.K., the Tory party gathers for its annual conference today. How many rabbits can Prime Minister Theresa May pull out of her hat?
- China’s ambassador to South Korea said the two countries had “fully restored trust” in their relationship.