illustration, usa and china

If the master of Beijing wants to transform the crisis into a diplomatic opportunity, that of the White House has found in Xi Jinping the ideal scapegoat to make people forget their own dead ends in order to thus win the November election.

In 1949, after the victory of the Communists of Mao in Beijing, a vast acrimonious debate divided Washington around this question: Who lost China ?, “who” lost “China? ”… Seventy years later, the Middle Kingdom is once again at the heart of the American debate, with a variant: not“ who (again) lost China? “; but which will be the hardest vis-à-vis this country still communist and become the second world power behind the United States. Donald Trump believes that the demonization of China can allow him to win the November election: he designates Beijing as the enemy, and makes his democratic rival Joe Biden too soft. Democrats retaliate by overbidding: “who is really the softest”, they ask, denouncing the real ambiguities of the president.

 

The consequences of such a clash matter little to Trump

These political games would be immaterial if the world were not, at the same time, confronted with the coronavirus pandemic and its catastrophic economic consequences. In search of a scapegoat to make up for his own dead ends, Donald Trump has found an ideal culprit; regardless of the consequences on the fight against the pandemic, in which health cooperation with China is a crucial element.

The president-candidate’s cynicism is matched by that of the Beijing master, Xi Jinping , who sits on his country’s initial lies concerning the beginnings of the epidemic in Wuhan, and has launched into aggressive communication throughout the world. to turn this crisis into a diplomatic opportunity for China.

It is therefore a strange fight, which it would be very difficult to describe as that of good against evil, to which we are invited, not only as spectators, but as “supporting roles”, called to choose our side. The question is however at the heart of this decade, if not this century: what will be the place of Chinese power? What relationships should we have with it? For thirty years, Westerners based their Chinese policy on the assumption that the increase in the standard of living in this country would automatically lead to its democratization, its “normalization” in the Western sense of the term … Xi Jinping put an end to the ambiguity original that Deng Xiaoping had maintained and which had survived the Tiananmen massacre and so much abuse. He transformed emerging China into a conquering China. The redefinition of relations between Europe and China was underway before the pandemic; it is all the more urgent, on the conditions of Europe, not necessarily those of America.

 

The multilateral order inherited from World War II

The paradox of the American-Chinese standoff is that we are dealing with two “revisionist powers”, in the sense that they want to transform the international order, where, in previous confrontations, one of the two “camps” was that of its preservation. Donald Trump also has a program to challenge the multilateral order inherited from the Second World War, and it is nonetheless threatening for Europe, his theoretical ally that he despises. China cannot be an ally, if not punctually, as in the Iranian climate or nuclear sector .

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are finding their way into a new cold war that seems inevitable, with the weakening of the ties of economic dependence woven during the previous phase of globalization. The November American election may change the tone, but not the trajectory, because no one in Washington wants to be the one who “lost China” – the one who failed to contain it. Europe may not have much room left in this new polarization.