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G2 World: West and China
April 3, 2023
In today’s Great Game of Geopolitics, Russia disqualifies itself as a superpower because of its inept armed forces, its war crimes, and the country’s economic implosion. By comparison, China grows in importance by shifting diplomatic attention to new, beneficial relationships in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and South America. This is China’s Great Pivot and it unfolded in March with three dramatic initiatives by its President Xi Jinping: On March 20, Xi met, then dispatched, Vladimir Putin by preaching peace, not pledging weaponry, and declining to sign a major Power Siberia pipeline deal; on March 16, Xi brokered an unprecedented agreement between arch enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, and, finally, Xi invited five Central Asian countries, that had been Russian vassals for decades, to meet for a summit in China, nicknamed the C + C5. He will meet in May with leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to discuss investments and expansion of their road, railway, and pipeline projects linking China to Europe and bypassing Russia. "I'm not sure this is greeted with enthusiasm in the Kremlin," commented a Swedish statesman sarcastically.
China’s foreign policy repositioning is transformative: It further distances Beijing from Putin’s “no limits” partnership and greatly enlarges China’s “soft power” reach. The aim is to enable trade and to tap into resource opportunities in Central Asia and the Middle East. China is already a trade powerhouse and has built a large navy, and port facilities, to guarantee safe shipping routes for its exports and imports. But China is also the world’s biggest consumer of energy, using roughly 25 percent of the global total. China’s new direction will also secure and diversify energy and commodity supplies.
By so doing, China builds influence and increases its status as the world’s second biggest economic power. The new World Order is now the G2 or Western hegemony versus Chinese hegemony. For centuries, China was the world’s “Sleeping Giant” while Europe and America expanded their economic “empires” globally. Central Asia has also lain dormant and suppressed for decades by Moscow and was the prize sought for centuries in the “Great Game” between Great Britain and Russia. The two European empires fought over India; Turkestan (now Xinjiang, a region of China occupied by Uyghurs); Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia which was taken over in the latter half of the 19th Century by Russia.
Today, China deploys economic incentives, not force, to woo regions into its economic orbit. In 2013, Xi launched China’s $1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative and also provides “aid” to potential allies. For instance, in early 2021, on the 30th anniversaries of Central Asia’s independence from the Soviet Union, Xi pledged to give the five countries $500 million over three years to improve their economies anyway they choose to do so. After the invasion of Ukraine, these Central Asian nations became increasingly open in their defiance of the Kremlin, led by Kazakhstan whose leader publicly condemned Putin’s invasion on a Russian television broadcast. Now they will, with China’s help, develop their economies.
Interestingly, China planned three “corridors” through Central Asia to provide “Eurasian connectivity”: One was sea-based and two were land-based. But because of Russia’s war, the land-based “Northern Corridor”, through Russia, will be scrapped in favor of the land-based “Middle Corridor” that passes solely through Central Asia to Europe via the Middle East.
What’s happened is that Putin has essentially decoupled Russia from the global economy with his vicious actions. America supports Ukraine, along with Europeans who also reject Russian energy and trade. China and India hollow out Russia’s resource wealth by buying huge amounts of energy and commodities at deeply discounted prices, as I noted in my “Chindia ruins Russia” newsletter last month. And China insures long-term access to Middle East oil with its Saudi-Iran deal last month while Xi establishes himself as a statesman who will play an important role with the West in determining Iran’s future.
Xi’s recent flurry of diplomacy is an extension of his colossal $1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that began in 2013. An estimated 147 countries, representing 40 percent of the global GDP, have signed on to its projects or are interested in doing so. Xi also courts Brazil, Latin America, South Africa, and other Global South nations and will be poised, by his refusal to arm Russia, to continue large-scale investments in Ukraine. Before the invasion, China had snapped up available Ukrainian farmland and invested in its industries. While the West will rebuild the country after Putin is defeated, China may be able to play a role, if only because it hasn’t provided weapons to Putin.
China’s new friends in Central Asia and the Middle East have said little about the crackdown by Beijing in its Muslim “Autonomous Region of Xinjiang”. But that may change. China is accused of human rights abuses against the population of 11 million Muslim Uyghurs or Turcic Central Asians and an estimated one million are incarcerated in “re-education camps”. To date, the five Central Asian leaders have been silent, as has Saudi Arabia, but that may not continue unless the situation is stabilized. Xinjiang is gigantic, and China’s biggest province, and borders several Central Asian nations.
What is clearer is the creation of a bipolar world order. China’s hegemony is rooted in money, as is the West’s, and in 2021 the G7 (which includes Western ally Japan) took a page out of Xi’s book. It announced its version of China’s Belt and Road Initiative called the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. Plans are to raise $600 million to build projects in developing countries over five years. The mission statement was: “President Biden and G7 leaders announced their intent to develop a values-driven, high-impact, and transparent infrastructure partnership to meet the enormous infrastructure needs of low- and middle-income countries and support the United States’ and its allies’ economic and national security interests.”
On March 30, the European Union’s top official, Ursula von der Leyen, also acknowledged that Europe must assert itself in light of the fact that China hopes to be the dominant player in the world. She said Europe must also be more assertive in defending its security and economic interests in future. Hopefully, the unfolding of a new diplomatic duality will be preoccupied with trade and prosperity, not Imperialism. And hopefully, Russia will be de-fanged permanently.