top of page
  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons


When China Stood Up – for the Second Time

The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on 18/19 March 2021 was a watershed moment in the contest between today’s great powers, USA, and China. The US was represented by Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and US National Security adviser, Jake Sullivan. The China contingent was represented by Yang Jiechi, Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the CCP, and China’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi.

Blinken lambasted China over its increasing authoritarianism and assertiveness. However, China would have none of it, with Yang saying, “The United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.” In so speaking, China told the US the old dialogue was finished.[i]


It was in 1949, following the Chinese “Century of Humiliation” that Mao Zedong, having proclaimed the People’s Republic of China, said, “The Chinese people have stood up”.[ii] This time it is different, and China is expected to emerge, in the short term as the largest economy on the planet.

China’s Challenge to the US

The Anchorage meeting was probably the first time that China has openly and publicly challenged American supremacy. China drew a “red line”. Here are the Seven takeaways from China[iii]:

1. Neither the US nor the Western world represents the public opinion of the whole world.

2. China opposes US interference in its affairs and warned that Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan are an inalienable part of China’s territory.

3. China disagreed with the US claim of universal standards and values saying, “Our values are the same as the common values of humanity. Those are: peace, development, fairness, justice, freedom, and democracy”, adding, that the US version of democracy and human rights are not universal values.

4. China neither feels pressure from the US alliance nor accepts the US right to speak on behalf of others.

5. The rules-based international order should be based on the prevailing international law and followed by all. What China and the international community follow or uphold is the UN international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called “rules-based” international order.

6. China would tolerate no more humiliation and insults from the US. It is time for this to change.

7. The US needs China for its economic interest, but China doesn’t need the US, and then it asked: What did the United States gain from the Trump trade war?

Since the November 2020 election, President Biden and his team have painted China as America’s primary strategic rival, talking up their eagerness to confront and contain it, and wanting to show US voters that he is even tougher than Trump! However, the idea that America can compel China to conform to its vision has become a fantasy. America needs to acknowledge China’s power and ambitions. If they do not, the US will face a choice between only two alternatives: going to war with China or withdrawing from the Asian region. Neither would be a good outcome for Washington.[iv]

Yang took Biden to task on the extent of American hypocrisy drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and also noted that gun ownership and civilian deaths from domestic shooting were the highest in the world. America has met its match and the Alaska conference marked a turning point in international relations.[v]

US Intervention

Only days after the Alaska conference, Blinken expressed US strong opposition to the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany indicating that Germany (a US ally) risked US sanctions over the almost completed pipeline. This reflects a long-standing temptation in Washington to interfere, even where there are no real American interests at stake. This goes back a long way, as evidenced by John Adams’ letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1813 saying: “Our pure, virtuous, public-spirited federative republic will last forever, govern the globe and introduce the perfection of man.”[vi]

[The following commentary is a brief summary taken from Play by the Rules, by Michael Pembroke[vii]. This is a brilliant, easy to read book and is indispensable for anyone interested in the recent “Story of America’s Leadership”]

US intervention continues unabated, aiming to transform other countries to its own liberal democratic capitalist image, with disastrous human consequences. America has wasted trillions of dollars attacking Iraq, bombing Syria, sanctioning Russia, and baiting China.

Adherents to the idea of US “exceptionalism” contend that the US has a “destiny and duty to expand its power and influence of its institutions and beliefs until they dominate the world”. However, for President Roosevelt, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights included a cardinal principle of respect for “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.” In 1953, President Eisenhower said that “Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.”

The 50 nations which signed the Charter of the United Nations in 1945 agreed to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. However, following World War II, President Truman moved to a policy of confrontation with Soviet Russia. His White House Counsel considered that the US should be prepared to wage atomic and biological warfare against Russia. The US saw communism as an existential threat (although it did not prevent a wartime alliance of the UK, US, and Soviet Russia, drawn together by mutual convenience and necessity). Russia bore the brunt of the war’s casualties and the worst of the conflict, suffering far more than the UK or the US. Even though Truman knew that the Japanese were ready to surrender, he saw the atomic bomb as a crucial diplomatic tool against Soviet Russia. That treachery, against a former wartime ally is almost unimaginable. It was Truman who decided that the Korean peninsula should be partitioned at the 38th parallel and occupied by US military forces. The Korean war followed.

Successive US administrations have conducted one operation after another to overthrow foreign governments, assassinate foreign leaders and invade foreign countries. From 1947 to 1989, there were 72 attempts by the US to change the governments of other nations. The US led invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked the beginning of the decline of the American Century. Neither Iraq nor Saddam Hussein were connected to the September 11 attack.

Only four countries supplied combat forces in addition to the US. Australia was one of them.

The US has continued on the same path for more than 70 years. Since the end of the Cold War, the tempo of US military intervention has become nothing short of frenetic. The entire planet is divided into US military command structures. A key feature of the Pentagon’s global power projection is its empire of foreign military bases. A 2015 estimate suggests 800 such foreign bases many of which are near Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, creating the very threat against which they are designed to protect.

The US has not ratified a single UN Convention or treaty since 1994. This includes conventions dealing with the rights of the child, discrimination against women, human rights, climate, and the Law of the Sea. As to “economic coercion”, America resorts increasingly to unilateral economic sanctions and massive unilateral tariff increases, such as those directed at China. Washington has used its economic warfare to attempt regime collapse and regime change, including in North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran – and now, in its efforts to “contain” China. The US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and more recently from the Paris Climate Agreement.

In 2018, former president Jimmy Carter, at the age of 94 warned that the US was the “most warlike nation in the history of the world”. He continued, saying that “while America waged war all over the world, China was investing its resources in infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail.” China has not been at war with anyone since 1979. The US has remained at war throughout that period. In the last year of former Barack Obama’s presidency, the US dropped 26,000 bombs on seven countries!

China is not attempting to turn other countries into communists. China wants to trade with America, and, for the vast majority of Chinese people, “communism” is simply a name for the ruling party, rather than an ideal. China aspires to be a global commercial hegemon – not a military, political or ideological hegemon, and it is not going to war, unless the US overreacts or pushes Beijing to intolerable limits.

The IMF has forecast that by 2022, China will return to its global dominance of past centuries. It is estimated that by 2030, its economy could be worth $42 trillion compared with $24 trillion for the US making China 77% larger. The US reaction is to do everything within its power to blunt China’s rise.

Compare China

The contrast with China could not be starker. As noted in an earlier paper[viii], in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping talked about people of different races, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds, sharing peace and development. In 2017, he talked of building a new era of harmony and trade, forging partnerships of dialogue without confrontation. He spoke of joining hands and rising to challenges, and marching arm in arm towards a bright future. China talks of mutual benefits, enhancing cooperation and using incentives. The US seeks to reshape the world using the stick rather than the carrot.

Russia Too

In late March 2021, US President Biden, speaking in an ABC News interview described Russian President Putin as “a killer” without a soul. By any standards, those remarks from the leader of the United States to any other international leader (let alone a major power) were gravely inappropriate. Putin responded in a prepared statement recalling the US history of genocide against its indigenous people, the experience of slavery, the ongoing repression of black Americans, and the historical, unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Putin added: “We are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural, and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.” In effect, Putin was communicating a message – Do not dare to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days on now over. The message was remarkably similar to that coming from the Chinese diplomats a few days earlier, in Alaska.

Russia and China are both signalling that they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them, and that sanctions no longer worry them. Countries in Asia are recognising the signs of US economic and political decline. The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money is on Russia and China.[ix]

What about the “What Abouts”?

No conversation about China occurs these days without the questions: “What about Hong Kong”; “What about Taiwan”; “What about the South China Sea”; and “What about Xinjiang and the Uighurs”. This is not the place to discuss all of these issues but lately, Xinjiang has been very much in the news. Xinjiang is located in the far north-west of China. It is four times the size of California.

The recent Western “Xinjiang cotton” campaign brought out Beijing’s hardening attitude to the West. H&M announced that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang because of concerns over forced labour. New sanctions against China on the issue of Xinjiang have been announced by Canada, the EU, the UK, and the US. China returned fire against those Western countries, including Australia, which are critical of China’s treatment of the Uighurs. It accuses the West of spreading “lies and disinformation” about human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Chinese foreign ministry accused Australia of operating a concentration camp on Manus Island. It referred to the White Australia policy as genocide against the Aboriginal people including when 100,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their families. Many Chinese consumers have joined a boycott of popular Western fashion brands including Nike, H&M, and others. Chinese online retailers have removed these brands from their sites. As far as China is concerned, businesses can either support Beijing’s policies or will face ousting from the huge Chinese economy. On 31 March 2021, H&M announced that it was dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of its customers, colleagues, and business partners in China!

Muslim extremism has a long and bloody history in western China. Saudi Arabia is one of 37 states which have offered explicit support for China’s de-radicalisation efforts in Xinjiang. It shares an interest with China in containing the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Beijing’s conduct towards the Uighurs may seem unacceptable by Western standards, but China will not tolerate any repetition of the disastrous major outbreaks which occurred in the mid-19 century.

Conclusion - it is about Good Government

The era of Western domination is ending. The pandemic highlights the contrast between the competent responses of East Asian governments (China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) and the incompetent responses of Western governments (America, Britain, and in Europe). This reflects not only medical capabilities, but also the quality of governance. Despite differences between the system of government in China, and those of Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, all of them share a belief in strong government institutions run by the best and brightest. This emphasis on meritocracy has deep roots in Confucian culture.

Paradoxically, a China-led order could turn out to be more “democratic” because China does not seek to export its model, and it can live with a diverse, multipolar world.[x]

[i] Bruce Haigh (former Australian diplomat) writing in John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal, Pearls and Irritations, 22 March 2021

[ii] This statement followed the defeat by the Communists of the Nationalists in 1949, at the end of the Chinese civil war. Under Mao’s leadership, China embarked on the Great Leap Forward, but it suffered great famines killing more than 40 million people and it went through the Cultural Revolution tearing the nation apart. It was only following the death of Mao in 1976 and the rise of Deng Xiaoping to the leadership of the CCP that China really began to emerge as an economic power. Xi Jinping became the leader of China in 2012 making the realisation of the “China Dream” and the “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People” his main objective. [iii] Bhim Bhurtel, Asia Times, 22 March 2021 How China drew a red line in Anchorage.

[iv] Hugh White (emeritus professor of strategic studies at Australian National University. Australian Financial Review, 23 March 2021

[v] Bruce Haigh Ibid

[vi] Michael Sexton, The Australian Newspaper, 29 March 2021

[vii] Play by the Rules, published 2020. The author is a recently retired Judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court.

[viii] The Eurasian Continent Revisited. 9 March 2021

[ix] Tony Kevin, Asia Times 26 March 2021 (Kevin is an Emeritus professor at ANU and formerly served as an Australian diplomat in Russia in the late 1960s, and in the 1990s as Australia’s Ambassador to Poland and then Cambodia)

[x] Kishore Mahbubani, The Economist 17 November 2020

74 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page