Japan had the first world leader to meet with President-elect Trump. For the first time in eleven years, Putin just visited Japan for two days of talks. Trump’s proposed Secretary of State was awarded a Friendship medal by Vladimir Putin. What if anything do these have in common? Maybe nothing, but I can’t help but consider the implications for a Grand Alliance between Japan, Russia and the United States to contain China’s expansionist tendencies
Until recently, only Mao and Deng Xiaoping have achieved the title of “Core Leader”. Deng wanted the Communist Party to become a consensus-based system with rotating leadership and he would be the last Core leader. Current Premier Xi has put the end to that with his recent appointment as Core leader. We will have to see if this turns out to be an over-reach or the start of Emperor Xi’s dynasty.
China has always been a difficult country to rule. There are five distinct regions and multiple languages. There have only been a few times where a dynasty has been able to rule them all. Revolutions start, not when things are at their worst, but when rising expectations are dashed. Xi can see the demographic wall they are about slam into, as a result of the one-child policy lasting too long. He also knows that there will be economic dislocations, as they try to change from an Export-driven to a Consumer Society.
His biggest threat internally may not come from the aging establishment’s backlash, but from a youthful burgeoning left-wing Maoist movement. That is why the charismatic populist Bo Xilai was the victim of one of the first Stalin-like Show Trails. Xilai’s popular message was that Mao’s revolution has been hijacked by the corrupt Princelings – a group that Xi was fortunate enough to be born into.
China doesn’t it view itself as a Rising Power, but a a Returning Power. After all, with just 250 years under their belt, these Americans are only upstarts. While Kissinger was secretly meeting with Deng for Nixon’s Machiavellian opening to China, he asked Deng what he though about the French Revolution. After a pause, he said “We’ll have to see how it turns out”. China takes the long view of history and their future.
Embattled leaders will often use external threats to distract a restless populace. Xi knows the end of China’s economic miracle will bring unrest. Xi’s expansionist foreign policy has unnerved its neighbors, the most powerful of which are Russia and Japan. They could be open to a Grand Alliance with the United States to counter China’s rise. After all the US joined with Stalin to defeat what we thought was the greater foe – Hitler.
There is no love lost between Russia and China. They fought a seven month undeclared border war in 1969. China is financially taking over Mongolia and expects its other neighbors to eventually become vassal states also.
Russia had always been torn. It’s either a European or an Asian power. The construction of St. Petersburg was supposed to tilt Russia to the West. Putin rose to power from there. He has revived the Russian orthodox church. Putin’s Russia feels more comfortable with the West than the East. Russia is a declining power, who is afraid of the dragon’s growing power on it’s western borders. Japan is afraid too. Fear of a common enemy can make for strange bedfellows. Trump’s unconstrained collection of no-nonsense generals and plutocratic deal makers could think far enough outside the box to try and pull off such a Grand Bargain.