Jannus TH Siahaan
Jannus TH Siahaan

Finally, It seems to be Biden and Putin versus Xi

As told in his book “Promise me, Dad. A year of hope, hardship, and purpose (2017), the Joe Biden family spends most of their Thanksgiving time in Nantucket, southern Cape Cod. The area was historic for Joe Biden, as well as for Jill. The story is, at Thanksgiving in 1975, Joe Biden’s first years as a senator, Biden was caught in three difficult family choices. At that time, he was a single parent with two children, Beau was 6 years old and Hunter was 5 years old, and was in the process of exploring with Jill Jacob as his second wife.

Joe Biden’s parents wanted the four of them to celebrate Thanksgiving in Wilmington. Meanwhile Jill’s parents wanted them to celebrate in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Not only that, the parents of the late wife of Joe Biden, also wanted them to spend Thanksgiving at their place, in upstate New York. Biden was confused. In accordance with his political character, which is centerist and moderate, Biden certainly thought hard about how to deal with the three families. The problem was obvious that whichever of the three locations was chosen, two families will be offended

In fact it seemed like only a minor problem for a young senator whose spirit was burning at the time. We can imagine, for example, what if Donald Trump were in the same position. Most likely choice of actions Donald Trump would take is to choose one family and condemn or attack the other two. Of course, this possibility cannot be separated from Donald Trump’s personal character and political beliefs, which are considered very “right.”

But the Biden’s typical centerist, finally forced him to get a second opinion. Biden summoned his chief of staff in the Senate, then explained the issues that was worrying him, for a different view. After hearing young senator’s rant, his chief of staff reflexively gave a fourth option, “nuclear Thanksgiving.” The word nuclear refers to the “nuclear family” aka just Joe Biden the widower, Beau, Hunter, and Jill. It seemed that the suggestion of the young senator’s chief of staff was also not far from the political character of his boss, namely the middle way. Without thinking, Biden took the middle ground option, which meant focusing on the happiness of his immediate family at Thanksgiving, without having one or two of his family offended. And so to this day, the Biden family’s Thanksgiving is often celebrated on the chosen place, Nantucket

And for me, this simple story could be a simple but powerful lens to understand how Joe Biden’s diplomacy is carried out, both at the international and domestic levels. Both the young senator and the president are likely to try to get a second opinion from the experts to “play it safe” in every decision. That’s why, on the global stage, according to expert advice from both Democrats and Republicans, multilateralism will be rekindled, after being abandoned by Donald Trump. But on the other hand, Biden also doesn’t want to hurt his voters in the domestic sphere by giving too high hopes to globalist/internationalist groups who have moved capital to countries with cheap labor and hurt the American workers.

This means that Joe Biden’s multilateralism will be based on the interests of the American middle class, the voter base of Joe and Trump. In other words, Joe Biden has not simply erased the “America First spirit” that Donald Trump has sown. Moreover, there were 70 million voters who also voted for Donald Trump because of their preference for nationalism and unilateralism. As was the case with the Joe Biden family, Biden would try not to hurt US’s global alliance, while accentuating and prioritizing his domestic voter base. Because of this, Biden is quite obsessed, even dreaming of being like FDR with his “New Deal” Project or like Lyndon B Johnson with his “Great Society” vison in the domestic sphere, but also desiring to be Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, even Obama on  international stage.

Interestingly, in the capacity and ideals that the five Democrats overshadowed, Biden has to deal with Vladimir Putin who is also overshadowed by Peter The Great and Russia’s Czar Nicholas II on the one hand, Lenin and Josef Stalin on the other. Putin desperately wants to be treated phenomenally and historically like Peter the Great, wants to reign as long as possible like the Czar, and to get that, if necessary, Putin is willing to act harshly and cruelly like Stalin.

These shadows also seem to confuse Putin. On the one hand, Putin must gain moral and religious legitimacy from Orthodox Christians just as Czar Nicholas II (which he has earned). On the other hand, Putin still needs the status of “senior communist comrade” from the communist ranks, which in the past actually beat the orthodox church to death. The tug-of-war between the orthodox centric and the Communist centric have become important points in Putin’s political attitudes and choices, both domestically and internationally.

Apart from Putin, Biden also has to deal with Xi Jinping, who turns out to be in the same capacity and influence. Xi is under the shadow of Confucianism which must be preserved in order to remain moral legitimacy for the CCP. But Xi certainly cannot be separated from Mao, who actually played a major role in deconstructing Confucianism during the Cultural Revolution. Not only that, Xi also felt that he is the successor of Deng Xiaoping, who was opposite in some respects to Mao. The result is today’s China, increasingly repressive and oppressive on the inside, abusive to capitalism, and quite assertive on the outside.

Xi has to carry out his mandate as “son of heaven,” which legitimizes Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, but also has to carry out his mission as senior comrades of the Chinese Maoist proletariat, while continuing to outsmart, if necessary, capitalize on capitalism and the liberal order internationally, fighting to palce it under the influence of the CCP, so that the domestic economy will continue to thrive and the Chinese people will have more confidence in the party, such as Deng Xiaoping’s idea.

In such a personality constellation, Biden is likely to choose a middle ground as he did with his family in Nantucket. Biden will choose to practice a game theory approach (Competition and Cooperation). Biden would bring United States to compete ideologically with an emphasis on issues of democracy versus autocracy, human rights, multilateralism, international liberal order, but within reasonable limits. With that said, Biden is bound to come face-to-face with Putin’s autocracy and Xi’s authoritarianism.

Therefore, Biden would also open options for cooperation, for example with China on climate change, covid 19, global vaccine, and terrorism, or with Putin on nuclear deterrence and cybersecurity, for example. With China, Biden would be tough on Taiwan and the South China Sea, but willing to accept Chinese and Russian help in dealing with Iran and the Taliban, for example. Another example with Russia several time ago, for example, is that as long as Russia is willing to withdraw troops on the Ukrainian border, sanctions on contractors working on the Nord Dream II project will be lifted.

Moreover, Nord Dream II is related to the energy interests of one of America’s main alliances in Europe. Germany could experience energy supply uncertainty for the foreseeable future if the Nord Dream II project stops altogether, while Russia’s oil and gas pipeline to Europe via Ukraine has stalled due to tensions between Russia and Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea. From Biden’s point of view, the uncertainty of oil and gas supply for Germany can be assured. As a concession, on the other hand, it would be better if the American troops withdrawn by Trump from Germany are returned, so that Putin would not be too flexible. While Putin looks like he’s won a lot, he’s actually not. Putin will still lose Ukraine, one of the most important countries in the USSR empire and there is a good chance of seeing the addition of American or NATO troops in Europe.

This means that Putin is also playing a middle ground between the spirit of orthodoxy, Csarism and communism. For Putin, as long as he can get the opportunity to maximize Russia’s interests, Putin will be in the house for diplomacy. It is proven that without open war, Europe’s breath will depend on Russia’s oil and gas via Nord Dream II, but together with Russia’s willingness to accept Ukraine away from the Kremlin. Here, Biden managed to force Russia to stay behind the buffer zone, so that there is a guarantee that Europe will not be easily conquered by Moscow.

Meanwhile, what is a bit difficult is Xi Jinping. Too complex and contradictory the shadows that hang around him. Ming and Qing Dynasties are not typical empires like Europe and America in the modern era, but typical empires with subtle aggression using the Tributary System. The Ming and Qing Dynasties did not interfere in the internal affairs of the conquered areas, as long as they paid tribute, things were settled. On the other hand, the Ming and Qing Dynasties also did not want to be meddled in their internal affairs, just like today’s China and Xi.

While other influences are Mao and Deng, pure communists and pragmatic revisionist communists. Mao was noted to be quite ruthless on the inside and quite brave on the outside, but was willing to sit down with Nixon and Kissinger. Mao sucked the sweat of rural farmers to accelerate urban industrialization (Great Leap Forward) and tried to undermine Confucianism (Cultural Revolution). Mao also dared to participate in the Korean war against US and help North Vietnam against South Vietnam. And, Mao’s style was changed by Deng Xiaoping, by sucking up the international trade system within the international liberal order (started with Open Door Policy), to passiveize the economy inside, aka abusive to capitalism, while still taking strong action against those who want to interfere with party power

So, Xi will use international and multilateral institutions to maximize political and economic benefits that can be used for the welfare of one billion more people, at least so as not to revolt or not question the CCP’s legitimacy basis, without having to come into violent conflict with US, even though he will be tough on who and anything that has the opportunity to weaken the CCP’s legitimacy at the domestic level. What Xi and CCP fear is not US, Europe, or Russia, but the weakening of the CCP’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese people. For this reason, as long as the economy is running, entrepreneurs can be controlled as they receive large profits from international trade, jobs are available, so CCP is safe, even though it costs a lot, and even gets a large portion of the PRC defense and security budget.

But the point is for Joe Biden with the middle way, US would try to strengthen the foundation of the American economy with infrastructure projects, middle-class social welfare programs, pro-climate change policies, Research and Development priorities, domestic supply chain, so that the American economy not continuously sucked in by China. Biden would also try to stay on track via established international institutions and multilateral alliances to pressure China and Russia, let’s say to make China less popular or to keep Putin locked in the Ukrainian and Belarusian Buffer Zones, while maintaining positive communication on common issues that can be resolved. together on one table. So far, Biden appears to have had quite a bit of success in bringing Xi and Putin to Nantucket Style Diplomacy

But today’s trend of geolpolitical constellation puts China in the position of the highest threat to US and Joe Biden. He and his strategic team needed to re-use Nixon and Kissinger’s style of carrying out a dual containment strategy against the Soviets in the 1970s by partnering with China. Meanwhile, this time, US must act on the contrary, collaborating with Russia to carry out a containment strategy against China. It is in this context that now CIA officials are seen frequently communicating with Putin and his staff. The direction is quite clear, the composition of the competition will be formed into Biden featuring Putin versus XI Jinping. In other words, we are now in the two-thirds phase of the cold war. Slowly, one by one the countries of the world have to choose

About the Author
Doctor of Sociology from Padjadjaran University, Indonesia. Defense and Environment Observer.
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