China: Not the savior we wanted, but the savior we need

Courtesy of the New York Times

3101/31/2019

By Alexander Wolfe | Staff Columnist

Although Russian Orthodox Christmas was Jan. 7, Vladimir Putin continues to get presents beyond the second $3,000 jumpsuit I’m assuming he asked for. The American government just ended a month-long shutdown, the European Union seems to be foaming at the mouth to humiliate Theresa May and the Treasury Department appears to be lifting sanctions on yet another Russian oligarch. As retired General Michael Hayden once said, Vladimir Putin is like the child at Thanksgiving who wants to sit at the adult’s table, but rather than grow himself, he saws the legs out from under his parent’s table until it’s short enough for him. Unfortunately for the adults and fortunately for the Russians, no one seems to be able to stop the rising tide of dissatisfaction among the citizens of Western democracies.

Of course the world will continue to turn, we have Mackenzie and Jeff Bezos to thank for that, but the collapse of Western institutions cannot be solved with sole executive power. Their survival depends on the maintenance of global cooperation between the world’s leading nations. Yet while the weary titans of the West continue to falter, the ambitions of their eastern counterparts continue to grow, mainly due to the aggressive diplomacy of the hemisphere’s hegemon: China.

Aggressive diplomacy sounds like an oxymoron, but the truth is quite the opposite. China has simply devoted staggering amounts of money toward courting developing nations. The most outwardly aggressive form of Chinese diplomacy is known is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Put simply, China is trying to establish a new, global silk road, with Shanghai at its epicenter. With this in mind, Chinese investment in African and Latin American coastal nations begins to make more sense. Whether or not the U.S. should welcome China as the new economic hegemon is another matter, but the fact remains; Chinese grand strategy for the past decade has been designed to expand its dense web of international trade.

But how does this play into the conflict between Russia and the West? Like China, Russia’s goal involves the expansion of its trade networks, but this expansion is regional, an effort to secure its oil trade with EU nations. The key is Russian oil. Russian oil accounts for more than 60 percent of its exports and comprises 30 percent of its GDP; therefore, the health of Russia hinges on the price of oil. So, one sly way of overcoming Russian influence would be to decrease the value of oil, forcing Russia to quickly cut back on its military and covert escapades. This was proven to work in 2014, as hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale allowed the U.S. to export enough oil for half the international price. Around that time, the Russian economy fell into a so-called crisis, and the Russian stock index dropped by 30 percent between June and December of that year.

Another way to decrease the international value of oil would be through the proliferation of cost-effective renewable energy. Coincidentally, the largest investor in renewable energies (as of 2017 and assuming we can trust the numbers) is China, outspending the next-largest investor, the U.S., by about 300 percent. China reported investing $126.6 billion compared to the $40.5 billion reported by the U.S. Whether intentional or not, the absurd amount of Chinese government spending in the renewables industry may drive the Russians out of business. It’s no secret that the next economic boom will be in green energy, and that economic revolution will begin when renewable energy becomes profitable enough to outpace oil. Assuming rare earth minerals aren’t discovered in Siberia, Russia will be out of business when the world quits oil and natural gas.

It may seem ridiculous, but China will be the savior for the West, crippling Russian energy exports and thus crippling Russian expansion against the West. In this, China will propel itself to superpower status, sidelining a major political thorn and acting within the interests of international institutions. The liberal in me wants to believe that the interests of the world will align with the interests of the Chinese government, and against Russia this seems to be the case. Of course, until the Chinese decide otherwise.

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