Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Marcos and the Beijing-Moscow Axis

My column continues last week’s story. See my column, from last week, Ukrainian surprise, and last week’s newsletter, Duterte’s Ukraine Trap.


This week’s The Long View

‘Strategic silence’ | Inquirer

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM March 09, 2022

In a nutshell, that was the policy of the Philippines concerning Ukraine, despite Ukranian lobbying for the country to raise its voice in support of that invaded nation, until the secretary of foreign affairs went to Poland. The experience seemingly inspired the DFA to innovate foreign policy and add the country’s voice to the majority of nations condemning Russia’s actions.

Last week, I mentioned how it apparently took the President by surprise; thereafter, it seems the President resigned himself to the new state of affairs but focused his attention on Russian arms purchases dear to his heart. In, (click “air force” then select “heavy lift helicopter”) you will find the detailed story of how the President personally insisted the timetable for the acquisition of heavy-lift choppers be not only accelerated but be specifically sourced from Russia, as a condition for his approving the purchase of Black Hawk choppers (itself a compromise as he had wanted to end the AFP’s practice of sourcing equipment from the United States). It’s proven a bumpy ride, not least because of the risk of incurring sanctions in the Philippines; but shortly after Russia’s Ukrainian invasion, the secretary of defense reportedly announced the down payment had been made: this was likely reassuringly raised in last week’s meeting called by the President.

As I also mentioned last week, it seems the online activities of the President and Marcos’ supporters were primed to push the Russian line while suggesting it served as a warning against hard-headed places like Taiwan and the Philippines concerning China. Rappler, which outlined the extensive use of Russian online assets for the government back in 2019, reported last week that pro-Marcos and Duterte accounts were busy pushing a pro-Moscow line (even as others observed a downturn in online activity for the Marcos campaign). This serves as a timely reminder of what the world is discussing. It boils down to this: Just the other day, Beijing announced Moscow is its “most important strategic partner,” adding that theirs is “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world.” A rejection of the global campaign of imposing sanctions and demands to condemn the invasion.

This comes as the world marks a half-century since Richard Nixon, in a bold gambit to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and Communist China, opened up relations with Beijing. What followed was the American pursuit of helping shepherd the People’s Republic into the global community operating under American-led rules, first by taking over Taiwan’s seat in the UN Security Council and culminating in China acceding to the World Trade Organization. A half-century on, as China reclaims the global position it had occupied until the late 1700s, and America recedes in influence, Americans are challenging the wisdom of Nixon’s move even as Russia and China have once again become allies. China, always consistently critical of the idea of sanctions to compel countries to behave a certain way, and eager to expand its own strategies to displacing American dominance, has resisted global opinion in terms of Russia and discreetly kept open ways for Russia to further cement the partnership the two countries most recently underscored last February when Putin and Xi met.

Among the things China has made available: When Visa and Mastercard pulled out, Russian banks announced they were exploring using UnionPay, China’s own payment card system. Earlier, Russia had been ousted from the SWIFT bank transaction network: but China has its own system, CIPS which in turn fosters the use of the Chinese yuan (and the Hong Kong dollar), potentially enough of an umbilical cord for Russia which can continue to transact with China and sell exports banned elsewhere. If Russia miscalculated in thinking it could mount a quick blitzkrieg in Ukraine, and that the West would stand by merely wringing its hands, it didn’t make a mistake in increasingly strengthening an alliance reversing the historic suspicions between Russia and China, and creating a united front against the United States. The emerging regional order that was fostered by American defense diplomacy: cooperation between Australia, Japan, and India, as a counter to China’s “all under heaven” dream of restored paramount status in the world. Russia’s extensive ties with India have created a wedge keeping that country from joining the rest of the world in condemnation.

Even as the President worried about his Russian military deals, Marcos Jr. did a backstep. After initially toeing a line very similar to the “strategic silence” our diplomats originally took to be their marching orders concerning Ukraine, he then said he hoped for peace and respect for Ukraine. This costs nothing as it means nothing: even as Russia and China come together due to a shared strategic vision, it’s well to bear in mind those interests converge in one candidacy tying together old and new ties to both country: Marcos-Duterte.

The Beijing Moscow-Axis and Washington

Useful readings:

I’ve included an asterisk (*) for the readings I consider particularly interesting.

I. Background

Relations With the Great Powers: Russia, Japan, China by Raymond L. Garthoff (1997)

Russia’s Image of China and Russian-Chinese Relations By Alexander Lukin (2001)

Sino-Russian Relations in a Changing World Order by Paul J. Bolt (2014)

Cooperation and Competition: Russia and China in Central Asia, the Russian Far East, and the Arctic by Paul Stronski & Nicole Ng (2018)*

Strategic Culture and Russia’s “Pivot to the East:” Russia, China, and “Greater Eurasia” by David Lewis (2019)*

II. Washington and Beijing

Has Russia Wrecked American ‘G-2’ Plans? (Jan. 29)

The world’s top two authoritarians have teamed up. The US should be on alert (Feb. 6)

Fifty years on, ‘Nixon in China’ loses its sparkle in Beijing and Washington (Feb. 21)*

The False Choice Between China and Russia (Feb. 21)

How the US brought China and Russia together (feb. 24)

A Rival of America’s Making? The Debate Over Washington’s China Strategy (March/April 2022)*

III. Beijing and Moscow

See: Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development, February 4, 2022*

Russia and China’s plans for a new world order (Jan. 23)

New World Order Or Hidden Power Struggle? Experts Assess The Future Of Chinese-Russian Relations (Feb. 4)

Chinese views on the evolving dynamics of US-China-Russia ties (feb. 16)

China’s economy faces ‘minimal’ fallout from sanctions on Russia, despite close ties (Feb. 23)

China could be Russia’s key to surviving tech sanctions (Feb. 25)

China’s Support for Russian Aggression Toward Ukraine Confirms the West’s Worst Fears (Feb. 28)

China’s Propaganda Machine Gears Up for Putin — and Blames America for the Invasion (Mar. 2)

Analysis: China’s CIPS cannot rescue Russian banks from SWIFT ban (Mar. 3)

China’s Strategic Assessment of Russia: More Complicated Than You Think (Mar. 4)*

China says Moscow relations solid, accuses U.S. of building ‘Pacific NATO’ (Mar. 7)

Xi Jinping faces a tricky calculation (Mar. 8)

Russian banks mull China UnionPay; big accounting firms exit (Mar. 8)

Russia considers Chinese payment system, as Beijing calls Moscow its ‘most important strategic partner’ (Mar. 8)

IV. The Marcoses, Russia, and China

Russian disinformation system influences PH social media (2019)

Bongbong, family attend China embassy’s photo wall ribbon-cutting event (2021)

The Manchurian candidate: why China’s interest in the Philippine election is under scrutiny as Duterte prepares to leave office (2021)

2022/16 “The Philippines’ China Policy and the 2022 Elections: Time for a Rethink” by Charmaine Misalucha-Willoughby

Philippines’ Marcos to Pursue Bilateral Deal With Beijing Over South China Sea (Jan. 28)

Philippine frontrunner Marcos favors China over US (feb. 1)

Pro-Marcos, Duterte accounts weigh in on Ukraine invasion, praise Putin and Duterte (Mar. 4)

From Francis Fukuyama

A surprisingly digestible read. The passages below in particular, are strikingly illuminating. But read the whole thing.

Francis Fukuyama: Putin’s war on the liberal order | Financial

Democratic values were already under threat around the world before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now we need to rekindle the spirit of 1989…

Liberalism is a doctrine, first enunciated in the 17th century, that seeks to control violence by lowering the sights of politics. It recognises that people will not agree on the most important things — such as which religion to follow — but that they need to tolerate fellow citizens with views different from their own.

It does this by respecting the equal rights and dignity of individuals, through a rule of law and constitutional government that checks and balances the powers of modern states. Among those rights are the rights to own property and to transact freely, which is why classical liberalism was strongly associated with high levels of economic growth and prosperity in the modern world. In addition, classical liberalism was typically associated with modern natural science, and the view that science could help us to understand and manipulate the external world to our own benefit.

Many of those foundations are now under attack. Populist conservatives intensely resent the open and diverse culture that thrives in liberal societies, and they long for a time when everyone professed the same religion and shared the same ethnicity. The liberal India of Gandhi and Nehru is being turned into an intolerant Hindu state by Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister; meanwhile in the US, white nationalism is openly celebrated within parts of the Republican party. Populists chafe at the restrictions imposed by law and constitutions: Donald Trump refused to accept the verdict of the 2020 election, and a violent mob tried to overturn it directly by storming the Capitol. Republicans, rather than condemning this power grab, have largely lined up behind Trump’s big lie.

The liberal values of tolerance and free speech have also been challenged from the left. Many progressives feel that liberal politics, with its debate and consensus-building, is too slow and has grievously failed to address the economic and racial inequalities that have emerged as a result of globalisation. Many progressives have shown themselves willing to limit free speech and due process in the name of social justice. Initially celebrated, the internet has come to be used by malevolent actors from Russia to QAnon conspiracists to spread disinformation and hate speech

Both the anti-liberal right and left join hands in their distrust of science and expertise. On the left, a line of thought stretches from 20th-century structuralism through postmodernism to contemporary critical theory that questions the authority of science. The French thinker Michel Foucault argued that shadowy elites used the language of science to mask domination of marginalised groups such as gay people, the mentally ill or the incarcerated. This same distrust of the objectivity of science has now wandered over to the far right, where conservative identity increasingly revolves around scepticism towards vaccines, public health authorities and expertise more generally.

Meanwhile, technology was helping to undercut the authority of science. The internet was initially celebrated for its ability to bypass hierarchical gatekeepers such as governments, publishers and traditional media. But this new world turned out to have a big downside, as malevolent actors from Russia to QAnon conspiracists used this new freedom to spread disinformation and hate speech. These trends were abetted, in turn, by the self-interest of the big internet platforms that thrived not on reliable information but on virality. How liberalism evolved into something illiberal

How did we get to this point? In the half-century following the second world war, there was broad and growing consensus around both liberalism and a liberal world order. Economic growth took off and poverty declined as countries availed themselves of an open global economy. This included China, whose modern re-emergence was made possible by its willingness to play by liberal rules internally and externally.

But classical liberalism was reinterpreted over the years, and evolved into tendencies that in the end proved self-undermining. On the right, the economic liberalism of the early postwar years morphed during the 1980s and 1990s into what is sometimes labelled “neoliberalism”. Liberals understand the importance of free markets — but under the influence of economists such as Milton Friedman and the “Chicago School”, the market was worshipped and the state increasingly demonised as the enemy of economic growth and individual freedom. Advanced democracies under the spell of neoliberal ideas began trimming back welfare states and regulation, and advised developing countries to do the same under the “Washington Consensus”. Cuts to social spending and state sectors removed the buffers that protected individuals from market vagaries, leading to large increases in inequality over the past two generations.

While some of this retrenchment was justified, it was carried to extremes and led, for example, to deregulation of US financial markets in the 1980s and 1990s that destabilised them and brought on financial crises such as the subprime meltdown in 2008. Worship of efficiency led to the outsourcing of jobs and the destruction of working-class communities in rich countries, which laid the grounds for the rise of populism in the 2010s. 1989–91 The pivotal years when communism collapsed in Europe, giving liberalism a shot in the arm

The right cherished economic freedom and pushed it to unsustainable extremes. The left, by contrast, focused on individual choice and autonomy, even when this came at the expense of social norms and human community. This view undermined the authority of many traditional cultures and religious institutions. At the same time, critical theorists began to argue that liberalism itself was an ideology that masked the self-interest of its proponents, whether the latter were men, Europeans, white people or heterosexuals.

On both the right and the left, foundational liberal ideas were pushed to extremes that then eroded the perceived value of liberalism itself. Economic freedom evolved into an anti-state ideology, and personal autonomy evolved into a “woke” progressive worldview that celebrated diversity over a shared culture. These shifts then produced their own backlash, where the left blamed growing inequality on capitalism itself, and the right saw liberalism as an attack on all traditional values.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.