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Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront.
In light of current events, it is remarkable that the term “Chimerica” was coined by Nial Ferguson and Moritz Schularick a mere 15 years ago. Reflecting on the growing interdependence era between the United States and People’s Republic of China, they argued the two countries in practice represented a single, symbiotic economy featuring a closed cycle of manufacturing, consumption, spending, and debt.
Chimerica, alas, hit a rough patch at about the same time as another similar project which never developed any catchy nicknames but which we can provisionally refer to as “EuRussia” which was similarly predicated on a closed cycle of resource extraction, manufacturing, finance, and consumption. The 2008 financial crisis undermined the self-confidence of US and European elites and also their legitimacy in the eyes of their own electorates which were poorly shielded against its effects. It is quite telling that while Western leaders and media genuinely love to paint a picture of autocratic, oppressive China and kleptocratic, corrupt Russia, in the end neither of these non-Western powers suffered from the 2008 financial crisis as badly as their Western counterparts whose financial systems proved to be rife with insider trading, regulatory capture, backroom deals, and other forms of corruption which ultimately meant the perpetrators of the crisis were shielded from the consequences of their actions. The spectacle of US and European “too big to fail” banks having to be propped up by constant infusions of cash under the guise of “quantitative easing” and enjoying unprecedented monetary stimulus by the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, economy-warping measures sustained for well over a decade now solely in order to protect the big financial institutions from bankruptcy.
The dry rot of Western institutions the crisis revealed also shook Western powers’ confidence in their ability to continue the center-periphery relationship they established with Russia and China. The former would provide abundant raw materials to Europe, the latter would serve as America’s giant assembly warehouse, with neither threatening the West’s comfortable self-image as rulers of the world. Neither Russia nor China appeared to be particularly unhappy with that state of affairs, either, since the relationship did facilitate their economic development and relieved the two countries of the burden of military modernization.
Before the Fall
China’s leadership including General Secretary Hu Jintao were content with that state of affairs and focused their attention on economic development and growth while at the same time assigning a far lower priority to military modernization. As of 2012, the year of Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”, the People’s Liberation Army was not a serious competitor, in terms of quality to the US military. The degree to which armaments were de-emphasized during the “Chimera” period plainly visible when one examines China’s naval shipbuilding programs of the past two decades. The initial batches of China’s most important domestically designed guided missile destroyer class, the Type 052, ran between two and six ships, creating a veritable “fleet of samples” with the main goal being the establishment of trained cadres, the expansion of shipbuilding infrastructure. While today’s People’s Liberation Army Navy overshadows the US Navy in terms of sheer number of warships if not tonnage, the vast majority of that build-up took place under the leadership of Hu’s successor Xi Jinping. China’s development of stealth fighters was similarly a product of the breakdown of Chimerica.
Matters were not all that different in Russia. The Medvedev presidency which ended in 2012 represented the high water mark of Russia’s liberal economic elite which was less concerned with the country’s great power status than with making money for itself, though incidentally also modernizing the Russian economy. The state of affairs was neatly summarized by Obama’s ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who, when asked about Russia’s liberal elites, pointed out that these elites’ foreign bank accounts, foreign real estate, children at foreign universities, actually made it the West’s elites, a veritable Fifth Column that could be relied upon to do the West’s bidding in Russia’s politics. The condition of Russia’s military during the EuRussia era was not much to write home about either, though Georgia’s aggression against South Abkhazia and Ossetia in 2008 which on the one hand ended with a Russian military victory but on the other revealed the profound inadequacies of Russia’s military of that era, was an early wake-up call that prompted urgent defense reforms which bore fruit just in time for Ukraine’s Maidan. The so-called Serdyukov reforms named after a defense minister of that time resulted in the disbandment of Ground Forces divisions and their replacement by far smaller brigades intended mainly for low-intensity warfare rather than pitched battles against peer opponents. To understand the thinking of Russia’s leaders during the EuRussia era, one should only remember this was the time when Russia placed orders for Mistral-class helicopter carriers in France, explored the possibilities of license-producing Italy’s Iveco trucks and Freccia wheeled infantry fighting vehicles, and even contracted with Rheinmetall to equip a military training facility near Moscow. These projects would ultimately fall victim to the breakdown in relations following the reunification of Crimea and the outbreak of civil war in Ukraine.
A Short Victorious Hybrid War
Given the dramatic transformations that took place in China and Russia since that time, Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” in retrospect proved to be a declaration of hybrid war against the two Eurasian powers and was certainly received as such, prompting a major rearrangement of political objectives and economic priorities, accompanied by a suitable re-evaluation of defense needs. The aim was relatively straightforward: to reassert control by United States and the European Union over their wayward “peripheries” which were now expecting to be treated like great powers on an equal footing with the Western ones, an expectation that unfortunately was not going to be satisfied, certainly not without a fight. The relatively high level of interdependence between US and China on the one hand, and Russia and the EU on the other, combined with the US dominance of the global financial markets, meant that the leaders of these countries expected Russia and China would be forced to abandon their great power ambitions and prepare for a far less “symbiotic” relationship with their Western “partners”. This time it would be a relationship of outright exploitation which the dire state of US and EU economies demanded.
The desperation of Europe’s leaders, even supposedly Russia-friendly ones like Angela Merkel, was evidenced by their commitment to absolutely insane actions, such as the promotion of Ukrainian and Belorussian nationalism, and of various subversive forces within Russia itself. The fake Navalny poisoning followed by Josep Borrell’s disastrous lecture tour of Russia seems to have been the proverbial last straw. Whatever vestiges of hope that the EU would come to its senses vanished with Borrell’s departure from Moscow.
When it comes to China, the steadily escalating trade war waged by Obama, Trump, and now Biden administrations also escalated into support of Hong-Kong militants and the invention of the “Uighur genocide”, a charge far surpassing any fake accusations leveled at Russia during the same period of time. Europe’s sanctions on China over said “genocide” seem to have had the same effect on its politics that Borrell’s visit had on Russia’s. Prior to those events, the leaders of both countries appear to have maintained a belief that perhaps the EU would exercise a certain level of strategic autonomy and craft its own foreign policy. China’s comprehensive investment agreement with the European Union which entailed considerable concessions on China’s part, was motivated by that apparently mistaken belief. The dispatch of European naval warships to the South China Sea did not help matters either.
Toward Eurasia and Amerope
If Biden felt compelled to suddenly refer to Russia as a “great power” in a televised address and plead for a de-escalation, it is only because it has dawned on the leadership of Western powers that non-Western powers have agency too. Neither America nor Europe are indispensable. If Chimerica and EuRussia complete their unraveling that vacuum will be filled by new power combinations. China and Russia can fill each other’s voids left by the collapse of cooperation with US and EU. Europe and the US can pursue closer integration as well. Michael McFaul was infamously reduced to trolling his Russian audience by raising the specter of Russia becoming a “tributary state” to China. Apart from considerably misreading the nature of the relationship, it should be noted that the West’s own designs on Russia, voiced at an Atlantic Council virtual conference in March 2021, amount to dismemberment of the country through promotion of not only Aleksey Navalny but various separatist movements across the country, under the guise of “promoting democracy” in Russia. Whereas US and EU have an official opinion on literally everything that happens in the domestic politics of non-Western powers and are not above inventing atrocities and even genocides to justify acts of military and non-military aggression, the Russia-China relationship is characterized by mutual recognition of juridical equality of the two partner states. China certainly is not financing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation or promoting a Bolshevik coup. Russia likewise is not trying to impose its own model of governance onto China.
America’s fear of Eurasia is accompanied by EU’s fear of becoming Amerope in which the Europeans will fully bear the heavy hand of American dominance and actually be reduced to the status of tributary states. UK’s experience in the aftermath of Brexit is indicative of what awaits European countries in that relationship. Germany’s defense of Nord Stream 2, European countries’ embrace of Sputnik V vaccine, are motivated by the dual fear of actually having an unbound Russia on its eastern flank and their sovereignty lost to United States desperately fighting to avert their own decline. The future course of global politics still chiefly depends on choices made in Washington, it remains to be seen whether the resistance their policies have provoked will actually lead to genuine and lasting moderation and recognition of equal status of other major international actors.
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