- Jeffrey Sachseconomist, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
China is taking an increasingly assertive role in world affairs, helping to broker a restoration of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, offering a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine, and strengthening its relationships with European and Latin American powers. Last week, China continued its diplomatic outreach by offering to hold talks between Israel and Palestine. “China doesn’t want the United States to be the preeminent power. It wants to live alongside the United States,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has also served as adviser to three U.N. secretaries-general and currently serves as a sustainable development solutions advocate under Secretary-General António Guterres. His latest article is headlined “The Need for a New US Foreign Policy.”
AMY GOODMAN: China is facing criticism in Europe after China’s ambassador to France questioned the sovereignty of former Soviet states under international law during a television interview. The Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia condemned the remarks and summoned Chinese envoys to explain Beijing’s official position. The Chinese Foreign Ministry walked back the ambassador’s comments, saying, quote, “China respects all countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
The diplomatic spat comes as China is making headlines across the globe, though maybe not so much in the United States, for its diplomatic efforts. In late February, China released a 12-point peace plan to end the war in Ukraine. On March 10th, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced they would restore ties as part of an agreement brokered by China. Days later, in mid-March, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted the Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to talk about Ukraine, trade and moving away from the U.S. dollar. Xi Jinping then met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Beijing. During Macron’s visit, Xi spoke about the roles of China and France in world affairs.
PRESIDENT XI JINPING: [translated] The world today is undergoing profound historic changes. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and major countries with a tradition of independence, China and France, as promoters of the multipolarization of the world and the democratization of international relations, have the ability and responsibility to transcend difference and restraints; adhere to the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnerships between China and France with stability, reciprocity, development and progress; practice true multilateralism; and maintain world peace, stability and prosperity.
AMY GOODMAN: While in Beijing, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, suggested France and European nations should not become a vassal of the United States when it comes to Taiwan.
PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: [translated] France supports the single China policy and the search for a peaceful solution to the situation for that matter. It’s Europe’s position. It’s a position that has always been compatible with the role of an ally. But it’s precisely one stressing the importance of strategic autonomy. Ally doesn’t mean being a vassal. It’s not because we do things together that we can’t think alone, that we’re going to follow the people in — that are the toughest in a country that’s allied with us. When we look at the facts, France has lessons to be received from no one, be either in Ukraine, in Sahel or in Taiwan.
AMY GOODMAN: China has continued its diplomatic outreach by offering last week to hold talks between Israel and Palestine.
To look more at China’s recent diplomatic actions, we’re joined by Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has also served as adviser to three U.N. secretaries-general and currently serves as a sustainable development solutions advocate under Secretary-General António Guterres. His latest article published is headlined “The Need for a New US Foreign Policy.”
Professor Sachs, thanks so much for being with us. All of the diplomatic gestures of China — you know, the meeting with Macron in Beijing, with Lula in Beijing, brokering this deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, now offering not only to negotiate between Ukraine and Russia, but Israel and Palestine — this hardly gets attention in the United States media. But around the world, the headlines are far more — there are far more headlines about this. Talk about the significance of this, and if you see a direct parallel between all the headway that China is making and increasing U.S. hostility towards China.
JEFFREY SACHS: Thanks, Amy. Very good to be with you.
And indeed, this is a crucial topic. And as President Xi Jinping said in that meeting with Macron, this is a — it is a historic watershed that the world is living through right now. What China is after, if we view it from China’s perspective, is what was also said: true multilateralism. And what that means, or true multipolarity, another term that they use, and that means they don’t want a U.S.-led world, they want a multipolar world. And the basis of that is that the United States is 4.1% of the world population, China is 17.5% of the world population. China’s economy is comparable to the U.S. economy, and indeed China is the lead trade partner for much of the world. So China is saying, “We’re there, too, alongside you. We want a multipolar world. We don’t want a U.S.-led world.”
And while the United States sometimes talks about a rule-based order, the fact of the matter is that the U.S. grand strategy, if we can use that term of the grand strategists of the U.S. state — see our grand strategy in the United States as being dominance. And I often refer to an article that I think is very clear, succinct and revealing by a former colleague of mine at Harvard University, Robert Blackwill, an esteemed ambassador of the United States, who wrote in 2015 — and I’ll quote from the article — “Since its founding, the United States has consistently pursued a grand strategy focused on acquiring and maintaining preeminent power over various rivals, first on the North American continent, then in the Western Hemisphere, and finally globally.”
Well, China doesn’t want the United States to be the preeminent power. It wants to live alongside the United States. Blackwill, writing in 2015, said China’s rise is a threat to U.S. preeminence. And he laid out a series of steps that the Biden administration actually is following almost step by step. What Blackwill laid out already back in 2015 is that the United States should create, quote, “new preferential trading arrangements among U.S. friends and allies to increase their mutual gains through instruments that consciously exclude China.” There should be “a technology-control regime” to block China’s strategic capabilities, a build-up of, quote, “power-political capacities of U.S. friends and allies on China’s periphery” and strengthened U.S. military forces along the Asian rimland despite any Chinese opposition. This has become the Biden foreign policy. China knows it. China really is pushing back.
But what’s very important and interesting to understand, and we’ve seen it clearly in the dynamics involving the Ukraine war, most of the world also does not want the U.S. as the global preeminent power. Most of the world wants a multipolar world, and is, therefore, not lined up behind the United States’ sanctions on Russia and so forth. And this was also the message of President Lula visiting China, saying to President Xi Jinping, “We, as Brazil, also want multipolarity, true multipolarity, and we want peace, for example, in the Russian-Ukraine war, that is based on not a U.S. perception of dominance — say, NATO enlargement — but rather a peace that reflects a multipolar world.”
This is real. It’s happening all over the world. And the fact of the matter is, the reason why this is a historic watershed is that the underlying economics and technological change have made it so. The U.S. is no longer the dominant world economy, and the G7, which is the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan, is actually smaller than the BRICS countries in economic size, which is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. So we really are, in fact, in a multipolar world, but in ideology, we’re in a conflict.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeffrey Sachs, I wanted to ask about that. You mentioned the BRICS. The BRICS bank, that is now in China — and President Lula has named Dilma Rousseff as the head of the BRICS bank — its importance in terms of this multipolarity in the world economies, the potential for even the creation of alternative major currencies to the dollar as a result of the BRICS alliance, the impact of that on world affairs?
JEFFREY SACHS: This is a big deal. And in fact, the United States is withdrawing — it doesn’t know it necessarily, our politicians don’t understand this, but our politicians are withdrawing from the world financial and monetary scene and opening up the space for a completely different kind of international finance.
I’ll give you an example. The U.S. was the creator of the World Bank. But now the U.S. Congress won’t put new money into the World Bank. And because of that, the World Bank is actually a quite small institution. It’s got a big name, but it’s a quite small institution in the financial scheme of things. The U.S. won’t put more money in. The Congress says, “No. Why should we waste our money internationally?” and so forth, and you get a lot of hubbub about that. So, China and the rest of the BRICS say, “OK, we’ll make our own development bank,” and they established the New Development Bank, or sometimes called the BRICS bank, based in Shanghai.
And that’s just one of the institutions that is really changing the scene. There’s the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, based in Beijing, in fact. There is, as President Lula said, and it’s happening also in the context of the Ukraine war, a move away from the use of the dollar, which the United States has thought, “Well, that’s our ace in the hole. You know, that is our ultimate hold on things, because we can use sanctions, we can use our financial control, to keep other countries in line.” But other countries are saying, “Eh, not so much. We’ll trade in renminbi. We’ll trade in rubles. We’ll trade in rupees. We’ll trade in our own national currencies.” And they’re quickly setting up alternative institutions to do this.
The United States doubles down: “We will confiscate your reserves. We will, if you don’t follow.” And the other countries are saying, “You know, if you want to go through the U.N. and get really multilateral rules, we’re with you. But if you want to just impose the rules, we won’t follow along.” And so, we have this very funny expression called a “rule-based international order.” The United States government uses it every day. But what does it mean? Who writes the rules? And what most of the world wants, in fact, is rules written in a multipolar or multilateral setting, not rules written by the United States and a few friends and allies.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — you’ve been an adviser to the United Nations for quite often. The issue of how much longer the permanent members of the Security Council can keep the number to five? Because, clearly, Brazil and other countries of the Global South have been saying the U.N. needs to be reformed, and countries from Latin America, specifically Brazil, and Africa should have representation on the U.N. Security Council, permanent members.
JEFFREY SACHS: Yes, you know, the P5, the permanent five, which is the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, was the World War II victor group in 1945. They wrote into the rules of the U.N., incidentally, that they would be the permanent Security Council members and have a veto over any change in the U.N. Charter. So it’s really a group that gave itself power that the other 188 countries of the world look on and say, “What is this? We need change.”
I would say the country that is most amazed and frustrated by this, in fact, is India. India is now the most populous country in the world. The United States has 335 million, roughly, in the population; Britain, France, roughly 60 million; India, 1.4 billion — not on the Security Council, a nuclear power, a world superpower, the president of the G20 this year, really not happy about that. Brazil, the large — largest economy of South America, similarly not on the Security Council. So, this has been an issue for more than 20 years. The P5, in various ways, have blocked particular countries, but, added up, the P5 have said, “You know what? This is our club. We want to stay as the permanent five.”
But I think as we really face the reality of a — it’s not just a post-U.S.-dominated world, but actually a post-Western-dominated world, because it was the U.S. as the dominant power among the so-called West, which means the U.S., Britain, European Union, and honorary Western membership, Japan, let’s say. But we’re post-Western, as well as post-U.S. in dominance. And these international institutions need to change, or they won’t function in the 21st century. And if they don’t function, it’s actually a disaster for us. If they didn’t exist, we’d have to make them, because we need them to function, so we also need to renovate them.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about China negotiating these various agreements. Let’s turn to Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva speaking before his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] What does Putin want? Putin can’t keep Ukraine’s territory. Maybe we don’t even discuss Crimea, but he will have to rethink what he has invaded. Also, Zelensky can’t have everything he wants to demand. NATO will not be able to set itself up at the border. So this is something we have to put on the table. … I think this war has dragged on for too long. Brazil has already criticized what it had to criticize. Brazil defends each nation’s territorial integrity, so we disagree with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
AMY GOODMAN: Because it looks like Ukraine is on the verge of a major counteroffensive against Russia, and, in order to do this, needs massive support from Western countries, meaning military weapons, can you talk about what China’s role is here, the peace plan it has put forward, but also these other deals that China is helping to negotiate, like the successful rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and then what they’re suggesting about Israel and Palestine?
JEFFREY SACHS: President Lula uttered, in a few words, the core of this issue, that our — most of our media dare not explain to the American people, and that is the expansion of NATO. This is a war fundamentally about the U.S. attempt to expand a U.S. military alliance to Ukraine and to Georgia. Georgia is a country in the Caucasus, also on the Black Sea. The U.S. strategy, going back decades, has been to surround Russia in the Black Sea, with Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia, all NATO members, surrounding Russia and its naval fleet in the Black Sea, with a naval fleet that has been the Black Sea naval fleet of Russia since 1783. Russia has said, “This is our red line.” And it has said that for decades. And it said this clearly in 2007, before George W. Bush Jr. had the — I’ll call it the harebrained idea to announce in 2008, and force NATO to announce, that Ukraine will be a member of NATO.
And this is what President Lula was saying and what President Xi Jinping of China has been saying: We can’t have a war that is essentially a proxy war between Russia and the United States over the expansion of the U.S. military alliance right up to a 1,200-kilometer and more border with Russia, which Russia views — and I would say understandably views — as a fundamental national security threat to Russia. Keep some space. Keep some distance. That’s President Lula’s meaning. That’s what China means when it says in its peace plan, “We want a peace plan that respects the security interests of all parties.” What that is is code word for saying, “Make peace. End the war. But don’t expand NATO right up to the border.”
The American people have not heard an explanation of this all along. It’s shocking to me, because as a close observer of this for 30 years, this has been the casus belli. And yet our newspapers won’t even report the background to this. But this is why China, South Africa, India, Brazil are saying, “We want peace, but we don’t want NATO expansion as the meaning of so-called peace. We want the big superpowers to give each other some space and some distance, so that the world isn’t on a knife edge.” That’s exactly what President Lula was saying, and it’s exactly what the meaning of the Chinese peace initiative is, is to say, “Yes, absolutely make peace. Protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and its security. But no to NATO expansion.”
But the Biden administration won’t even discuss this issue. That has been the major failing and the reason why we have not been able to get to the negotiating table, in my opinion, even when Zelensky said in March 2022, “Maybe not NATO, maybe something else.” Russia and Ukraine were close to an agreement, and the United States intervened with Ukraine and said, “We don’t think that’s a good agreement,” because the U.S. neocons, so-called, have been pushing for NATO enlargement as the core of this issue.
But this goes back to the more general point for us, which is that what is at stake in Ukraine and over Taiwan and many other issues, from the point of view of China or Russia or other countries, including Brazil, now Saudi Arabia, Iran and others, is whether the U.S. does what it wants to do or whether the U.S. respects some limits based on what other countries say, “Well, this is what we think, so that we need true multipolarity, not U.S. dominance alone, rules written by all of us, not rules written just by the United States.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeff Sachs, we only have a few — about a minute left, but I was wondering if you could comment on the parallels between this expansion of NATO further and further east in Europe — this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, of President Monroe declaring to all the European powers that the Western Hemisphere was off-limits to them coming, attempting to move their forces and their militaries into Latin America. And for these past 200 years, Latin America has essentially been the major sphere of influence of the United States. And yet, here we are, saying that Russia has no right to declare that its immediate — the countries on immediately its borders cannot welcome in NATO troops.
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, yes, a little empathy would go a long way, would have spared us, actually, a lot of wars. But for Americans, it would be useful to think: Suppose Mexico made a military alliance with China. Would the United States say, “Well, that’s Mexico’s right. What are we going to do about it?” Or might there be actually an invasion in short order or something like that? I would strongly advise to China and Mexico, don’t try it at home. Don’t experiment with this. But the United States government refuses that empathy, because — in other words, refuses to put itself in the position of the other side. That’s the fundamental arrogance of thinking that you determine the rules of the world. The problem with arrogance is not only the comeuppance from it, but you can’t — you stumble into terrible crises that you don’t even understand, because the United States has not been allowed — the public has not been allowed to even think from the perspective of the other side. So, the analogy is actually a very, very clear analogy. It is what China and Russia and others say all the time, is, “Why have those double standards? Why don’t we actually deal with each other with mutual respect, not with the rules that you write?”
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Jeffrey Sachs, for joining us, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. We’ll link to your new article, “The Need for a New US Foreign Policy.” Professor Sachs was speaking to us from Córdoba, Spain.
Next up, we look at the firing of Tucker Carlson at Fox News. Stay with us.