Real partition of the world. Warriors and freeloaders

Xi Jinping was assessing France’s readiness to stand in defence of the current world order. What he heard from Emmanuel Macron may accelerate China’s decision to invade Taiwan.

The world is not divided into dictatorships and democracies. It is not divided into North and South. Nor is it divided into supporters of the United States, China, or Russia. That is to say, such divisions exist, and they are very important for current politics. Without them, it would be difficult for us to navigate through the tangle of interests and conflicts.

But there is a much deeper and more fundamental division. An existential one. The real division of the world is the one where on one side stand those who take politics seriously, which means as a place where a final clash may occur at any moment, where the life of their nation is at stake – the warriors. On the other hand, those who only think they take politics seriously, because they conduct far-sighted economic activities, form alliances and build security systems, but do not consider the possibility that their partners and adversaries may resort to arms. In the final analysis, they can be described as freeloaders.

They live and conduct the affairs of their country as if the threat would never come. As if – despite difficulties and obstacles – the world will always be predictable and not go beyond established frameworks. They can be compared to chess players (sometimes talented and outstanding), who believe that they will always play chess, and a fight to the death is distant from them. It’s the domain of history, or it happens far away. It doesn’t concern them.

Warriors, on the other hand, know that playing chess is just one form of confrontation, because some chess sparring partners have tricks up their sleeves and will pull them out as soon as they see an opportunity.

In Europe, the first approach has been prevailing for many decades. Post-war Europeans, surrounded by military and initially also economic care of the Americans, behaved like a carefree child who believed that every behaviour would go unpunished and no threat was real. This conviction allowed de Gaulle’s France to withdraw from NATO’s military structures in 1966 and live in the illusion of greatness, believing that its own nuclear weapons would suffice to deter opponents. Such a conviction was the deepest hidden reason for German policy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union, and then with Russia, under the slogan “Wandel durch Handel”. It could already be seen in the 1970s, during the “détente” period, and fully revealed itself during the “end of history” era after 1989.

The President of France belongs to the second type of politicians, although he certainly thinks of himself as incredibly prescient and able to secure not only his own country but the whole of Europe. After all, on his trip to China, he took the heads of the largest French companies, patronised a huge Airbus contract, which significantly expands the sale of French pork and other smaller contracts that will contribute to the prosperity of France, Europe, and further link them to the Chinese economy, which can only have beneficial effects for peace. Additionally, Macron once again obtained Xi Jinping’s assurance that he considers the use of nuclear weapons unacceptable. An assurance he generously shares with his interlocutors since the start of the war in Ukraine, because he knows that this is the only thing they truly fear.

In exchange, Macron didn’t have to do anything special. He simply had to distance himself from defending Taiwan by applying the principle of equal distance from China and America. Chairman Xi doesn’t mind criticism from European politicians or distancing from his intentions. Of course, it would be better if Macron just said that Taiwan belongs to China, but – as Stanisław Barańczak wrote – there are certain realities.

So all it took was for the guest to declare that it was “not his” conflict. And if it was “not his”, then perhaps it was not European either? And the statement that Europe cannot be a “vassal” of the United States must have also pleased the Chairman’s ears. In this way, Macron inadvertently played into the world created by the cartoonists of China’s Global Times. America is portrayed in it as a bony and falsely smiling “Uncle Sam”, always having missiles, bombs, or at least matches up his sleeve to set fire to unsuspecting partners who are essentially his servants.

Politicians from Europe are portrayed as somewhat disoriented, but sympathetic, unwittingly and perhaps reluctantly succumbing to the manipulations of "Uncle Sam", and in reality, they are full of goodwill and susceptible to gestures of friendship and practical cooperation from the Chinese.

The latter are always alright, sincerely smiling, and never having any hidden intentions, because they simply want cooperation, which is hindered by the demonic Yankee. So it is enough to distance oneself from him, engage in peaceful cooperation with China, and the world will move in the right direction. And if some “special operation” happens along the way in Taiwan? After all, crises happen.

False sense of security

At the end of the 1990s, Caspar Weinberger, the head of the Pentagon during the Reagan administration, together with journalist Peter Schweitzer, published a book called The Next War, in which they outlined scenarios of possible global or regional conflicts. The most dramatic was the one involving the threat from Russia, which, thanks to nuclear blackmail made possible by the introduction of an innovative anti-missile system, effectively pushed the United States away from Europe and took control over it.

It does not seem that the affluent capitals of Europe were overly concerned with the gloomy predictions of the American “hawk”, especially since Margaret Thatcher wrote the approving preface to this book. Europe did not want to think about war and nuclear blackmail. The sense of security was ubiquitous and all-encompassing.

And it can safely be assumed that the sense of security is the factor that still dominates and distinguishes the politics of Western countries from the politics of front-line countries in the European Union, of course with the exception of Hungary, which chose the path of vassalage in the opposite direction.

To put it bluntly: the French, as well as the Dutch, Belgians, Italians, and Germans, do not believe that their countries are facing real danger. The buzz may happen only in the east: in Ukraine, maybe in Poland or Estonia. Paris and Berlin will be safe. Western Europeans simply do not believe and do not take into account that hostile forces may also come to their countries. After all, they do not belong to the Russian “near abroad” and have always been essentially friendly and free from the “Russophobia” shaping the thinking in the east of the continent.

The French socialist politician who, commenting on the Chinese visit, “welcomes” President Macron among people who sensibly treat international politics, is a perfect example of how many European elites are alien to the sense of threat. Similarly, the statement by Charles Michel, who simply said that Macron was right to talk about European “strategic autonomy” and that Europe should not engage in “other people’s conflicts” after the visit to China. Rolf Muetzenich, the head of Germany’s ruling SPD, holds the same view and would not like Europe to “become a party” to the US-China conflict.

It can also be argued that such a false sense of security was at the root of the reluctant attitude of countries such as France and Germany towards military aid to Ukraine. Considering the power of their economies, this aid is minimal. According to the Institute of Economics in Kiel, which meticulously compiles all donations, France delivered or promised to deliver weapons worth 650 million euros for a year. Less than Norway, Sweden, not to mention Poland. After months of hesitation, Germany launched more extensive aid, but bilateral aid (i.e., without including EU aid) is at the level of 0.07% of GDP in the case of France and 0.21% of GDP in the case of Germany.
Emmanuel Macron speaks at a university in Guangzhou. Photo by GONZALO FUENTES / Reuters / Forum
None of these countries has initiated any serious initiative in terms of military aid to Kyiv. One could say that they are doing what is expected of them and participating in joint actions, but they are not willing to be seen as “instigators” like the Poles or Lithuanians. By the way, it is worth following the list of aid, as it allows for a sober look at the propaganda exclamations of politicians who like to boast about naming military equipment, hoping that the audience has no idea what they are talking about.

But let’s return to the issue of the sense of security. Does Macron (and many other European politicians) have a point in thinking that if the conflict is limited to Taiwan, Europe will be able to adopt a distant attitude without fear for its fate? I don’t think so.

In January of this year, Michael Brown, former CEO of Symantec and former head of a special unit in the Pentagon dealing with the acquisition of new technologies, valued by both the Trump and Biden administrations, for whom he worked during their terms, published an article calling on US authorities to implement a weapons development plan and adopt an intense deterrence strategy towards China in connection with their intentions to conquer Taiwan. Brown described plainly what could happen if a war over Taiwan broke out. The costs of the war itself would, of course, be enormous, though not estimable beforehand.

  However, the economic costs of halting production and trade of Taiwanese semiconductors would be catastrophic. For China, which produces 70% of the world’s electronic products, and for the West, which would fall into a prolonged economic depression without microchips. Similarly, the practical cessation of navigation in the Taiwan Strait and trade between China and the West would have catastrophic consequences. Shipping in the strait will have to resume at some point.

Among the side effects of a potential loss in the Taiwan conflict, Brown also mentioned the downfall of Xi Jinping and perhaps the end of the Chinese Communist Party. It is worth adding in passing that these two events in themselves might not be too worrying, but they would certainly mean destabilisation in this enormous country, and Americans generally fear destabilisation more than the rule of known autocrats.

It’s certain that regardless of the evaluation of all the consequences of such a war, one thing is for sure: the tragedy, although apparently limited to one place, would affect the whole world. Like an asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula millions of years ago and caused the extinction of species, this war, striking Taiwan, would have catastrophic effects in what seemed to be safe places like the United States, not to mention Europe.

We can build scenarios – beyond Brown’s article – about how the war in Ukraine could develop further, imagining quite justifiably that in conditions of total destabilisation, the desire of Russians to use nuclear weapons would be immeasurably greater than it is now.

Because the only country capable of global military intervention would be occupied by the majority of its forces in one place, the world would become, for a time – probably short, but it is difficult to predict how long – a place of unrestrained violence, thanks to which all those who would feel bad in their previous roles would try to change the political order by force and count on impunity. Who will guarantee us that North Korea would not want to attack South Korea, taking advantage of the fact that the protectors of both countries would be at war?

As I mentioned, Brown does not paint such an extensive picture of global catastrophe, as a man involved in the IT industry and then dealing with new military technologies, he is most concerned about microchips and sees the worst possible development of the situation in the crisis on this market, which must be prevented at all costs. And he sees deterrence as the best way. He writes: “But if the West seems content or careless, Xi may see an opportunity. To change his calculus, Taiwan, the United States and their allies should show that they are determined to repel an invasion. As China issues increasingly bellicose declarations of its determination to regain the island, there is less and less time for America to demonstrate its commitment.”

Mutual signalling

Was Emmanuel Macron in Beijing, to use Brown’s words, “satisfied” or “inattentive”? Let’s leave detailed exegesis aside. What matters is that he sent a clear signal to Beijing that there is a serious chance that Europe will remain neutral in the event of a military conflict over Taiwan. Is that enough for “Xi to see an opportunity”?

Again, it’s difficult to answer this question because we don’t have access to Chinese situation rooms, but one thing is certain. The Chinese are now closely monitoring European reactions, and such reactions as Michel’s or Muetzenich’s strengthen their conviction that Europe will remain in the starting blocks. Will the reactions of politicians like Mateusz Morawiecki, who has clearly come out in favour of the transatlantic alliance, balance out the reactions of Western Europe? After all, Poland and the eastern flank countries are still much weaker economically and politically.

Macron’s signalling was important, but its significance was heightened by the fact that it occurred simultaneously with signalling from Xi Jinping. And I’m not just talking about the almost simultaneous conducting of Chinese naval manoeuvres simulating an attack on Taiwan during the French president’s visit. Such manoeuvres have occurred many times in the past, as have provocative flyovers of the island or its territorial waters.

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From the Chinese side, a much more dangerous and potentially more consequential move took place, which the global public, fond of ships and missiles, did not notice. Elizabeth Braw, a distinguished commentator on international affairs affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, noted that last week the Chinese fleet deployed an “inspection flotilla” in the Taiwan Strait.

This flotilla was ready to conduct inspections of ships passing through the strait. The reason for the inspections? That’s not a problem. There is always something to find, such as the transport of prohibited goods or the fight against an epidemic.

What would be the consequences of such inspections? Quite catastrophic for global trade, including Chinese trade. The Taiwan Strait is a major shipping lane used by at least 200 large container ships every day. Navigation in the strait is difficult, with so many huge ships and if several of them were detained even for a few hours (and a serious inspection cannot take less time), the remaining ones would have to stop or circumnavigate Taiwan from the open sea.

The move would have been hostile, but below the threshold of war. Countering it would have been extremely difficult and carried the risk of military confrontation. Of course, it would depend on whether Chinese units were ordered to actively search for “Western provocation”. Thus, almost unnoticed, the world could wake up in a situation of a maritime blockade of Taiwan, only one step away from military action.

Fortunately, the “inspection flotilla” did not take action and only manifested its presence and readiness to follow orders. Did Macron, while expressing his wisdom about the “strategic autonomy” of Europe and “not our conflict”, know about this? If he did not know, it speaks poorly of his country, and if he did, it speaks poorly of him personally. Xi Jinping was testing the readiness of an important Western country to defend the current world order, which China seeks to change.

Instead of condemning the provocative actions of the “inspection flotilla” or the manoeuvres simulating an attack on Taiwan, he heard that France would like a multipolar world in which Europe would become the third pole alongside the United States and China. So he heard that Macron is his actual ally because he also wants to change the global order. Such behaviour by the President of France may indeed accelerate China’s decision to invade Taiwan and cause the catastrophic consequences of that invasion to reach safe France, whose prosperity Emmanuel Macron cares so much about.

– Robert Bogdański

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping during a meeting in Guangzhou on 7 April 2023. Photo by POOL / Reuters / Forum
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