The Ukraine-Russia war has disoriented American focus on the Indo-Pacific. The US focus is now on the less strategic region of Eastern Europe.
There have been obsessive arguments that America has geostrategic interests in Ukraine. Many say that the Russian president wants to reestablish the former USSR and the US should preemptively engage to prevent that and to save liberal democracy.
Joe Biden recently accused Russia and China of seeking an illiberal world order. Russia’s primary goal is not demising the existing order and establishing an illiberal one. Its goals are geostrategic security interests. Russia’s demand is only to ensure the neutralization of Ukraine and to prevent the expansion of NATO and the European Union into its security buffer zone.
Russia always feels insecure and it is historically an aggressive state. Despite being a great power, Russia is a prisoner of geography. When it feels insecure and desperate, Russia would always use sheer force.
However, China, whether liberal or illiberal, wants to dismantle American global hegemony. It is aggressively working to challenge US influence in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.
Chinese goals are global ones while Russian interests are regional. Russia seeks security assurances but China is seeking global dominance.
However, the US has concentrated on the Russian-Ukraine war instead of focusing on the Indo-Pacific strategic competition with China. The US is losing its energy in a less geostrategic importance region.
America should mediate between Russia and Ukraine to end the war. By doing so, it can concentrate on containing the growing influence of China.
Russia is a declining regional power and has no economic resources to influence the region and challenge American dominance. Its geography and economy will not allow Russia to seek global hegemonic ambitions.
China, however, is an emerging global power with huge economic capabilities to grow its influence in the region. China has economic tools of influence that Russia hasn’t. Thus, China, not Russia, is the actual challenge to American hegemony. American influence is declining from time to time because of China.
The actual battlefield for global hegemony is the Indo-Pacific region and its extended realms. The Indo-Pacific region is now the most important geopolitical realm to America and anyone who aspires for global influence. It has become the hub of global trade and economy.
The Indo-Pacific Ocean is of by far the top strategic importance to US interests and should be the number one priority for its foreign policy and strategy. Hegemony is always based on control of oceans and seas. China is building artificial islands to dominate the Pacific and Indian oceans.
China aspires to push the US out of the Indo-Pacific region and contain it in the Atlantic Ocean. The goal of the two-ocean strategy of China is to monopolistically dominate the Pacific and Indian oceans and surrounding geopolitical regions. China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has absorbed several states in the region including US close allies; Australia, Japan and South Korea.
China is now the largest economy in Purchasing Power Parity terms. Chinese influence is exponentially growing in the region along with its economy.
Meanwhile, the US is forging defense alliances such as AUKUS. This will not curb Chinese economic expansion. Military might without economic tools is meaningless. The US has no economic leverage to preserve its influence. What can contain Chinese dominance and preserve American hegemony is if the US can have economic levers to outcompete China.
You can’t weaken China’s economic expansion by forging defensive alliances. The US strategy should be about crushing the sources of China’s economic might. The main source of Chinese economic power is American, European, Japanese, and ASEAN markets and intellectual properties.
America should work to replace these Chinese products from within or from abroad first and deprive Chinese commodities of US and its allies’ markets. This only will effectively weaken China’s influence. The US should also prevent China from using its intellectual properties.
The US should get Russia on its side to cripple the Sino expansion in the region. Russia had been very important to Great Britain and the US and an essential element in the European balance of power system by preventing the domination of Europe by a single power from Germany, France or Sweden. Therefore, Russia is also now the most significant force to counter China.
Russia and China have diverging interests in the region. There is a potential rivalry between China and Russia as the former sells weapons to Pakistan and the latter sells weapons to India and Vietnam. America should maneuver and exploit it to its interest. Sino-US relations were started mainly to counter USSR dominance in the region.
Hence the US should recognize Russia’s geostrategic security interests in its buffer zone. It should mediate a resolution to the war. Neutralizing Ukraine will benefit the US, Russia, and Ukraine itself by balancing and maneuvering the West and East to its economic advantage.
The author is a journalist and international relations researcher based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He currently works for Inform Africa, a media and research organization in Ethiopia. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.