When Puyi—the last emperor of China—emerged from the Forbidden City in Beijing, he realized that he ruled over nothing. He was surrounded by a fractious republic; the world he thought was limitless and his was gone.
By 2022, the United States was emerging from the Forbidden City of Washington and finding itself geographically isolated: the Americas, once its bailiwick, were no longer in its grasp. The Western Hemisphere had moved significantly under the sway of that other “forbidden city,” Beijing.
Unlike Puyi, who had no control over his early upbringing and isolation, the United States almost willfully allowed the Western Hemisphere to slip from its influence over the past century, particularly after World War II. The Americas were taken for granted; they were not the focus of the first-rate political, intelligence, or security minds of Washington, nor of U.S. budgets or diplomacy.
The Monroe Doctrine’s hegemonic objectives were never replaced by an overarching U.S. strategy. The mechanisms put in place for the region, such as the Organization of American States (OAS), are not “front and center” in Washington.
Washington occasionally focused on the region to create the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) between Mexico, the United States, and Canada, and then the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which came into effect on July 1, 2020.
The Cold War forced some other concessions with Canada to create the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a defensive accord to detect and counter hostile polar strategic bomber incursions and incoming inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
NORAD may be one of the instruments to give the United States and Canada defense against polar orbit fractional orbital bombardment systems (FOBS) from Beijing’s Strategic Rocket Force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces.
Beijing uses ground-based space assets in South America, particularly Argentina, for its military space program to service its global position satellite networks (the BeiDou Navigation Satellite Systems).
Washington’s giveaway of the Panama Canal in 1977 did get some attention among U.S. officials, but only after it was lost. Beijing then gained dominant influence over Panama, with Panama ultimately recognizing Beijing as the government of China, replacing the recognition of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan's official name).
Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela announced the switch on June 12, 2017, but this was the result of years of Beijing's attempts to infiltrate Panama, even to the point of working through Venezuelan proxy militias to create a paramilitary force capable of either staging a coup in Panama or threatening the viability of U.S. control of the Canal. Even before 2017, the Panamanian government had been moving real asset control over the Canal’s infrastructure to Chinese dominance.
The United States and Panama in 1978 signed the Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal. But the reality is that, since 2017, the actual levers of control had moved increasingly out of U.S. hands, despite the fact that President Theodore Roosevelt built the Canal (completed in 1914) to ensure absolute U.S. strategic capability, particularly to move warships between the Atlantic and Pacific.
Under the 1978 treaty, the United States reserved the right to intervene militarily in the event that the neutrality of the Canal was compromised. But as successive blockages of the Suez Canal have shown, any rapid or preemptive steps to compromise the Canal would take weeks to years to remedy.
The fact that Washington did nothing to avert the Panamanian government’s move toward recognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC) showed that Washington did not understand the fact that the ROC—Taiwan—was a viable and valuable ally of the United States, and that U.S. support of Taiwan’s diplomatic posture was, in fact, of major importance to Washington.
Washington, since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, regarded the security partnership of the United States with Taiwan as a strategic burden when, in fact, it had been a significant contributor to U.S. security in many ways.
Meanwhile, China now dominates the Caribbean Basin, and from there mounts its intelligence and indirect warfare activities into the United States and Central and South America.
Beijing’s actions from the Caribbean often rely on the violation of U.S. laws by Caribbean political leaders, particularly Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
Dominica, with a population of some 70,000, hosts a Chinese Embassy staffed by some 200 officials (when the country no longer warrants even a small U.S. or British legation). China is an active participant in Dominica’s aggressive “passports for sale” scheme, including diplomatic passports. Beijing, significantly, grants visa-free entry into China for Dominican passport holders, a rare privilege. Canadian security officials have, in recent years, intercepted scores of Chinese holders of Dominican passports, traveling on questionable missions.
China also “influences” Dominican shipping registry operations, even though the Dominica flagging agency is based in the United States and is actively engaged in anti-U.S. sanctions-busting operations. The shipping of Iranian oil on Dominica-flagged tankers to China violates U.S. law, making the Dominican agency subject to U.S. law.
Dominica offers the Chinese intelligence and active measures agencies (such as the United Front Work Department) a safe haven for operations against the Americas.
Canada, too, is a key to the PRC thrust into the Western Hemisphere. There is a reason why the Australia-United Kingdom-United States treaty, AUKUS, did not include Canada and New Zealand, the other two partners in the Five Eyes (UKUSA Accords) intelligence pact.
The Canadian and New Zealand political leaders willingly compromised themselves to Beijing, to the point where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to attend the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Melbourne, Australia, on Feb. 13, 2020, because Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison was regarded as “conservative.”
Trudeau’s representative at the forum explained to the Australian audience that Canada felt itself invulnerable to threats from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because Canadian citizens had been with Mao Zedong during the “Long March” of 1934–35.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s engagement in Argentina is critical to its space and Antarctica strategies, and to cause a new Falklands distraction to the UK at an appropriate time. A revived threat by Argentina to “recover” the Falklands—which it calls the Malvinas—would necessitate a diversion of British military thinking and assets to the South Atlantic. This would play on the fact that the UK, like the United States, no longer has sufficient military assets to deal with more than one major crisis at a time.
The tide in the Americas continues to move out of the United States' grasp. There is a renewed move toward pro-Beijing governance in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. The Venezuelan example of President Nicolás Maduro thumbing his nose at an ineffective attempt by the U.S. government to remove him from office did not go unnoticed throughout the Americas, or the world.
Despite all this, the impact of nature and poor local governance has played a critical role in the threat to the U.S. southern border. Climate issues and poor local governance in Central America and Mexico have helped the Chinese regime, in particular, to facilitate the narcotics trade into the United States while assisting disheartened Central Americans to migrate illegally into the United States.
The Americas are thus a key battleground for the United States. China, even as it moves back into Maoist isolation, relies on degrading the U.S. strategic and trade posture. Even an isolated communist China in the future can continue to wreak havoc on U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere. And states in the Americas do not look to the United States for a model of governance or ethical standards.
So the analogy of Puyi leaving the Imperial Palace is apposite. The United States awakens and finds it has lost the world around it.