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US politics

Joe Biden’s worst nightmare

President Biden’s virtual summits with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

While the Chinese panda prowls ever closer to Taiwan, the Russian bear is stalking Ukraine – and Joe Biden’s “worst nightmare” is that they pounce at the same time, says Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald. You can tell he’s worried because he’s held crunch summits with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin within three weeks of each other “to avert disaster”. The stakes are high: war games conducted by the Rand Corporation show that the US could defeat Russia or China singly, but “gets its ass handed to it” in simultaneous conflicts.

Chinese military aircraft made 159 intrusions into Taiwan’s airspace in November, which, in the words of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, “looks like a lot of rehearsals”. At the same time, the US estimates that Russia is aiming to assemble up to 175,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and invade by early next year. Xi and Putin could be bluffing: both are “masters of ‘grey zone’ war, using all means short of combat”. Also, a co-ordinated double strike suggests an unlikely degree of collaboration between Beijing and Moscow. A more likely scenario is that one strikes its target and the other takes advantage of the ensuing chaos to mount a separate attack. Were that to happen, says former Swedish PM Carl Bildt, it would sound “the death knell for diplomatic and security arrangements that have underpinned global peace for decades”.

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