China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talk before a meeting in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on July 9. Photo: AFP
John Wight
John Wight

US rebukes to China over its relations with Russia smack of imperial arrogance

  • Washington’s attempts to lecture Beijing suggest an arrogance reminiscent of the Roman empire, whose insatiable lust for power was ultimately the cause of its decline
  • Like Rome’s animus towards Carthage, US hostility towards China is rooted in Beijing’s growing influence and prosperity

Antony Blinken is clearly labouring under the misconception that he is secretary of state for the world, rather than the US. How else to explain his repeated attempts to lecture China over its relations with Russia?

The most recent instalment came at the G20 summit in Indonesia. During his meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Blinken expressed concern about China’s “ alignment with Russia”. After the five-hour meeting, Blinken, speaking to reporters, also dismissed Wang’s assertion that China is neutral in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Not satisfied with that, Blinken declared that what he “tried to convey to the state councillor is this really is a moment where we all have to stand up” and that when it comes to the Ukraine conflict, “there is a clear aggressor. There is a clear victim.”

Wang, used to being on the receiving end of these lectures from Blinken, placed them with customary alacrity in the context of the “China-phobia” driving US relations.

One is reminded of one of history’s most seminal encounters – an exchange between a Roman delegation and the Carthaginian senate that set in train the direction of travel of human affairs for centuries thereafter.

Rome had dispatched the delegation after the fall of the Iberian city Saguntum (modern-day Sagunto in Spain) in 219BC to famed Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca.

The Romans claimed Saguntum as a protectorate and, according to Greek historian Polybius, gave “the Carthaginians the option of two alternatives […] Either they must give up Hannibal and the members of his council or war would be declared.” The Carthaginians refused and Rome waged war.


US Secretary of State Blinken on meeting China at G20 summit in Bali

US Secretary of State Blinken on meeting China at G20 summit in Bali

Today, Blinken demands that Beijing should stop supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin or incur the displeasure of Washington, the Rome of our time. It’s the same imperial arrogance that accompanies any empire, established in the name not of peace and prosperity, but of war and exploitation.

As with Rome’s animus towards Carthage, the US’ hostility towards China is not over anything bad that China has done or is doing. Rather, it is because of China’s success and sure-footedness on the world stage, and its growing influence. Rome felt threatened by Carthage’s growing prosperity just as Washington feels threatened by Beijing’s.

The key difference between Washington and Beijing’s engagement with the world is the difference between domination and partnership. Where the US seeks to dominate, China seeks to cooperate. Where the US has a policy of interfering in other states’ internal affairs, China has a non-interference policy out of respect for sovereignty.

How will history judge Blinken’s diplomatic manoeuvring on China, Russia?

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has knitted together large swathes of the global south, reflected in the nearly US$2 trillion worth of infrastructure and development projects. And relations with Moscow, according to the Centre For Strategic Studies, are likely to have strengthened, rather than been weakened, with the Ukraine conflict, cohering around a “fundamentally similar view of the United States as a primary strategic threat”.
Only those who have been asleep for the past few decades could possibly disagree with this assessment. Washington’s role in fanning instability in Hong Kong via the NGO the National Endowment for Democracy is a case in point, as is the worrying departure from the one-China policy in recent years.


US President Joe Biden says US military will defend Taiwan if attacked

US President Joe Biden says US military will defend Taiwan if attacked
Where Russia is concerned, Nato’s expansion eastward since the fall of the Berlin Wall and, in particular, Ukraine being used as a cat’s paw of Washington and its allies, culminating in the 2014 Maidan coup in Kyiv, presented a clear strategic threat to Russia’s security.

Blinken knows all this perfectly well, which is why his protestations over Beijing’s relations with Moscow are disingenuous.

Carthage’s destruction after the Third Punic War (149-146BC) left the world naked and trembling at the feet of a Roman empire whose lust for power and domination was unparalleled and insatiable – and the cause of its inevitable decline.

Washington’s empire is likewise built on foundations of greed and lust for power. The democracy and human rights it purports to represent are but the flowery curtains behind which the savage beast of hegemony lives.

Putin is not a modern-day Hannibal but, sadly, it appears that Blinken believes himself to be Rome’s Scipio Africanus, the famed general who defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202BC.

John Wight is a writer and political commentator