There is a stark contrast between Angela Merkel’s quick trip to Washington — which lasted less than three hours, including a brief meeting with Donald Trump — and the meticulous reception ritual China reserved to Narendra Modi the same day, as he met Xi Jinping.
The two Western leaders seem to struggle to find common ground, and they keep their meetings as short as possible to avoid off-script moments circumstances — a common occurrence with President Trump. Meanwhile, the leaders of the two Asian giants — historical rivals still divided by unsettled disagreements — manage a friendly chat and pose in front of the cameras.
As China’s People’s Daily writes, they show that “China and India’s shared interests are far greater than their differences.” Shared interests, just like the ones that brought the two Koreas to a negotiations table, taking the first steps toward disarmament in the Korean Peninsula. The West seems to be losing its shared interests — if it ever actually had any, since they were mostly American interests.
The major Asian countries, on the other hand, are discovering their common interests as they become more conscious of their importance on the international stage, and of their chance to lead the planet. Russia too is among them. It was a historic ally of India, but it has also recently sought a more productive relationship with China. A new order is taking shape, based on the progressive shift of the world’s axis to the Far East — a process that is speeding up.
Trump is trying to carve out some space in the process. His overt strategy is to alternate the breakup of alliances with diplomatic openings. Every time, he looks for support in different places — Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi — to play with the historical rivalries that have so far prevented the Far East, the world’s most populated and powerful region, from securing the international role it deserves and is now claiming.
The US has looked eastward for a while, since before Trump’s administration. Meanwhile, it is pulling out of other regions, such as the Middle East, and investing less in other political relationships, including NATO. The new game takes place in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the main player is China, which could already undermine the US’s economic leadership.
One must ask: Why is Trump alone on the Far Eastern front, and why is Europe approaching these countries independently of the US and in such a disjointed way?
Western countries who dominated the world in the 19th and 20th centuries seem to be lacking a coherent strategy. Rather, each country appears resigned to the notion that it has to look for its own special relationship with the new masters of the world in order to preserve its wealth.
Trump too plays tough and flexes his muscles, but he knows full well that the future is China’s, India’s and Russia’s more than it is America’s. The US has more leverage than Europe with Asian countries because of its military strength and because of its advanced tech industry. But today, the US can only hope to approach those countries as their peer, not their leader.