IPA Today

Blind Western Aggression Against Chinese And Russian Authoritarianism Won’t Win The Clash Of Civilisations

Written by
22 August 2022
DF-26 missiles attend a military parade in Beijing on September 3, 2015. Picture: Getty Images
Originally appeared in Sky News Australia

If we really want to convince the world to take our side, we have to start by highlighting the main virtue of the Anglosphere – that despite all our faults we simply have more to offer than authoritarian dictatorships.

Plenty has been said about the threats to US ascendency by the rising superpowers of Russia and China.

This column presents what hasn’t been said.

Some see it as the “clash of civilisations” foretold by the late Dr Samuel P. Huntington in 1993.

Perhaps it is, in a sense. What underlies it though is a clash of narratives.

To start with, the US has effectively banned foreign militaries, alliances and puppet regimes within its own sphere of influence since 1823.

President James Monroe established these parameters as the cornerstone of American foreign policy — otherwise known as the Monroe Doctrine.

The Soviet Union was the last foreign power to try and establish a military presence on the US’ doorstep.

It didn’t go down well.

That military stand-off was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has ever come to global nuclear war.

You would think this would serve as a cautionary tale for the US and NATO, yet both are now growing their military presence on Russia and China’s doorsteps.

The two rising powers consider this unacceptable.

They want their own Monroe Doctrine that lets them maintain security buffers.

On top of this, both Russia and China resent the West, especially the Anglosphere, due to old scores from the past.

DF-26 missiles attend a military parade in Beijing on September 3, 2015. Picture: Getty Images
DF-26 missiles attend a military parade in Beijing on September 3, 2015. Picture: Getty Images

For Russia, the narrative is the US undermined its predecessor – the USSR – by participating in proxy wars abroad against Soviet national interests.

Despite the Cold War ending when the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO has continued to recruit Russia’s neighbours into its sphere of military influence.  

The first wave came in 1999 when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland all joined the alliance.  

The second, in 2004, brought in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Albania and Croatia signed up in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.

This large recruitment drive forced Russia to tolerate what the US could never countenance — the presence of unaligned foreign militaries on one’s doorstep.

Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO was the final straw.

For China, the narrative is the British Empire undermined Qing dynasty-led China (1636-1912) by waging the Opium Wars in the 1800s – which forced a series of unequal treaties and a “century of humiliation”.

The British Empire took Hong Kong in 1841 and US meddling in the Chinese Civil War of 1927-1949 left mainland China divorced from Taiwan.

For decades, America has maintained its permanent combat-ready air and naval bases in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Guam on China’s doorstep.

Yet America expects China not to install defence systems in the South China Sea.

With the exception of Dr John Mearsheimer, most commentators in the Anglosphere wouldn’t touch these narratives with a ten-foot pole.

Instead, we prefer to think that Vladimir Putin just wants to restore the former glories of Soviet days because he’s a neo-Soviet romanticist and Xi Jinping just wants to restore the former glories of Qing dynasty days because he’s a neo-Sinic romanticist.

Since we think they’re ideological warriors, that makes them intransigent.

This absolves us from having to respond to their actual narratives.

The end result is a polarised world with more countries in their camp than ours.

Despite everything we say about Russia, when the vote to suspend it from the UN Human Rights Council came before the UN General Assembly, 18 countries were absent, 24 voted against and 58 abstained. 

That’s the majority. One hundred of the 193 countries with UN membership were not convinced that suspension was warranted.

Despite everything we say about China, 149 out of 193 countries have willingly embraced its Belt and Road Initiative.

Outside of our echo chambers, the debate gets tough.

The minute we say Russia is a warmonger for invading Ukraine, they point to the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The minute we say Ukraine has the right to choose its own military allies and join NATO, they remind us — so does the Solomon Islands.

Except, we don’t want Chinese military bases on Australia’s doorstep.

Clearly, the pursuit of strategic interest doesn’t leave much room for doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

As if contradictions in foreign affairs weren’t enough, the state of our domestic affairs is only riddled with more.

Unlike Russia and China, we neither have a unifying narrative, nor the means to sell one if we did. 

We don’t control our education system and press like they do.

We have divided narratives, a whitewash version and a black armband version but we love freedom of speech.  

We have divided values, a woke-left and a conservative-right but we love democracy.

We have divided citizens, the inner-city elites and regular folks in the suburban heartland but we love capitalism.

Contradictions like these are our greatest strengths and weaknesses at the same time.

If American ascendency is to be renewed, the old approach must change.

If we genuinely believe the purpose of the US’ global military presence is to act as a deterrent, then that point must be made loud and clear.

Narratives must be confronted, not ignored.

The case for an Anglo-led world has to start with highlighting the virtues of the Anglosphere.

Despite our contradictions, we have more to offer.

America is far from perfect. Yet it continues to resettle millions of aspiring newcomers for a fresh start in life.

It offers billions in financial aid to developing countries.

Its technological innovations bring convenience to millions of households around the world.

Its universities offer scholarships to millions of overseas students.

It affords its citizens a lifestyle free from persecution based on ancestry or belief. 

It has a rigorous academic tradition that facilitates the free flow of ideas.

It has a relatively free press that continues to hold its government to account.

Its medical research continues to save lives all over the world. 

Its cinema and music remain a source of global entertainment.

For all its flaws, the Anglosphere, of which Australia is an integral part, remains the preeminent cultural model.

It contains the recipe for organising fair and tolerant societies.

That’s why celebrating and enriching the Australian way of life is so important.

There’s a start. If we can’t win that clash of narratives, then winning the clash of civilisations will be even further out of reach.

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Sherry Sufi

Senior Fellow, The Centre for the Australian Way of Life at the Institute of Public Affairs

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