Global rivalry

Nicholas Nugent has written a perceptive, thoughtful, and insightful article on US-China rivalry and the geopolitical implications arising from the strategic partnership established by the US, UK, and Australia (AUKUS) to police the South China Sea.

Nugent skilfully draws out the new US administration’s pivot in re-establishing partnerships with historic allies, and its hard-headed realism and comprehension of Chinese ambitions and strategies (albeit its ally France has been upset at nuclear-powered submarines replacing the diesel submarines it was contracted to provide to Australia). Further, Nugent draws the contours of evolving US geopolitical strategy – the one area in US politics that contains bipartisan support.

Inevitably, Chinese policy makers and leaders will be parsing US moves and forming their response. Again, Nugent clearly articulates the numerous Chinese alliances in situ to embed China across the globe and ensure its influence is felt, irrespective of US views.

In the influential essay “The Thucydides Trap,” scholar Graham Allison posited that war between US and China was not inevitable but escaping the trap “requires tremendous effort.” Nugent does not go that far, but has sketched out the emerging battleground between the superpowers and hinted that many nations will be forced to choose between them.

In summary, Nugent has made an important contribution to our understanding of US-China rivalry which should be absorbed by policy makers, scholars, and decisionmakers.

Graham Laird



US has duty to stand up for Taiwan

A recent Editorial in your magazine, ‘Steering a reckless course’ (November 2021), highlighted China’s threat to stability in Asia. Since 2014, China has been building islands in the South China Sea, with the goal of creating an island protection chain, similar to a moat around a castle.

Taiwan is the crown jewel of that island perimeter and Xi Jinping seems adamant on reuniting it with the rest of China. The US and our allies are the only thing standing in the way of that. We have been Taiwan’s ace in the hole since the Chinese Civil War.

Many people here in the US say that Taiwan is not worth us getting involved in. However, I believe we have a responsibility to the island, which is a democracy where people think of themselves as free Taiwanese and not as the vassals of Communist China.

We support democracy wherever it blooms and as the first country in the world to embark on the grand experiment of democracy, we have an obligation to those that take the chance for themselves. What does it say about us if we don’t?

Furthermore, allowing China to have its way with Taiwan makes the rest of the region highly unstable. We have made the choice to be their ally, officially or not. We already suffered a worldwide credibility issue when Trump was in office and basically insulted all our allies and disregarded their contribution to world peace. To cap it off, he abandoned the Kurds in Syria. While Biden has worked hard to restore our allies’ trust, the way we left Afghanistan was terrible. What will our Allies say if we now just turn our backs on Taiwan?

Jeffrey J. Hummel
Bainbridge Island
Washington, United States

China's coal dependency won't end immediately

Duncan Bartlett’s analysis of China’s power shortage (‘Lights out over China’, November 2021) showed there were policy mistakes earlier in the year that led to power shortages and the prospect of the lights going out over the winter. But those mistakes have since been reversed and the lights are now mostly back on again. The prime cause of the problems – a de facto ban on Australian coal imports – is now in the past. The result is that the coal price fell markedly since its October 5 peak of $270 per tonne. As of late November, it was already back at $150 per tonne. It would be no great surprise to see it going back to its more ‘normal’ level of $100 per tonne as the problems continue to unwind.

This brings into focus an issue which was central to November`s United Nations meeting on climate change, the COP26 in Glasgow. China remains dependent on coal for energy supplies. Around 60 per cent of China’s electricity currently comes from coal. It will take time to replace this supply with renewables. No government – neither Communist nor a liberal democracy – can risk leaving its citizens in the dark and without heat.

On the positive side, China is clearly focused on developing a leading global position in net zero-related markets, such as renewables and electric vehicles. It is therefore in its own interest to accelerate the transition from thermal energy.

Paul Hodges
Lisbon, Portugal

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