Will #Eurasian continent shape future of the world?

| June 13, 2019

On 6-8 June, the former Russian imperial capital, Saint Petersburg, turned into one of the world’s political and economic centres. Politicians, businessmen, analysts and journalists from 145 countries gathered there in a rebuttal of the myth that Russia and Vladimir Putin have been isolated by the international community, writes James Wilson.

The Saint Petersburg Economic Forum is an annual event whose success grows year by year. There are pragmatic people who see ways to take advantage of the unfavourable environment in which Russia has found itself. The 2019 Saint Petersburg Forum set a record in terms of participation and the number of business deals concluded (their total value exceeded $47 billion). Apparently, since hosting the elite G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg 13 years ago, Russia has become even more appealing to different global actors.

Vladimir Putin has consistently advocated building an alternative post-American world order based on different globalization principles. While only a few would heed his calls a couple of years ago after the annexation of Crimea and the imposition of sanctions against Russia, today’s trade wars and selfish protectionist policies incline more and more enquiring minds to share Russia’s approach.

The strategic turn towards the East announced by the Russian president immediately after Russia’s “divorce” from Western democracies started taking shape, with the Saint-Petersburg forum serving as an annual opportunity to showcase the country’s achievements.

The 2017 Forum featured India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its chief guest. In 2018, the Japanese delegation headed by Shinzo Abe was the highlight. This time, XI Jinping was the top guest, who said the Russian president was his closest and most reliable friend. This warm friendship between China and Russia should be a wake-up call for the supporters of the current world order.

This has nothing to do with Russia’s and China’s attitude to human rights and freedoms, of which neither seems to be ashamed. Since 2013, the leaders of the two giants of the Eurasian continent have met 29 times, with each meeting strengthening their union still further. Post-communist Russia and communist China share much more than a lengthy geographical border. They have a common ideological past, a dynamic economic energy and, apparently a future promising a political and military alliance.

According to official data, last year, the trade between Moscow and Beijing reached $108 billion, having increased by 24% from 2017. Certainly, Beijing’s trade with Washington far surpasses this figure, but Russia does have a trade surplus with China, so much sought by Donald Trump, who is unhappy with the fact that the US import of Chinese goods exceeds its exports to China several times.

The Russian President’s keynote at the forum focused on trade. He stated that the crisis in world economic relations was brought about by the increasing incompatibility of the global development model shaped in the 20th century with today’s reality. Global instability is caused primarily by attempts to monopolize the new wave of technology. Putin directly pointed at the United States, and the attempt to oust from the global market China’s Huawei, which has recently become one of the leaders of the market forcing Apple, the US technological flagship, into third place. Russia responded by letting the Chinese telecom giant build its 5G networks, demonstrating to the world that Russia considers that the company’s products pose no threat to its national security.

In his speech, Putin also called for rethinking the role of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency since it has allegedly become a tool used by the United States to put pressure on the rest of the world. He argued that global confidence in the dollar has declined. In fact, President XI and President Putin have already signed an agreement to move away from the US dollar and promote settlements in ruble and yuan.

Talking about Europe, the Russian President pointed out that the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline fully meets the national interests of all participants and attacked opponents to the project such as the US with its shale gas ambitions in the European energy market. It is quite a paradox. While China’s CNPC and Russia’s Gazprom signed a 30-year gas contract back in 2014 involving construction of a major pipeline, which may be completed by the end of the year, Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and destroyed any hope for a free-trade agreement with the European Union.

Now, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are discussing a possible linking of their continent-wide integration projects – Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Now that we see this synergy in economy, energy and logistics, it seems that the Bear and the Dragon have a shared military and political future.

The two states pursue similar approaches to dealing with many contemporary international crises—from Syria to Venezuela. With NATO modernizing its infrastructure in the East and the US conducting regular “manoeuvres” in the South China Sea, Russians and Chinese consistently demonstrate their growing unity.

Chinese troops took part in Vostok 2018—the largest military exercise on Russian territory since 1981, and most recently, from 29 April to 4 May, the two countries held another joint naval exercise near China’s Qingdao port involving ships, submarines, planes, helicopters and marine troops. It was no surprise when China’s defence minister, WEI Fenghe, speaking at the Moscow Conference on International Security, made an unprecedented statement that the two countries have a great number of mutual interests, and they cooperate more closely than any other major states.

Russia has certainly grown stronger militarily (according to US generals, Russia is ahead of the US in some areas) and China, immune to any historical shifts, has year by year improved not only its car industry but also its armaments. On top of that, China buys Russian weapons. Meeting with the Russian top brass last year, General XU Qiliang, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, made it clear that the two parties had reached understanding on issues of military technical cooperation and commended the great contribution made by his Russian counterparts to their common cause.

Immediately before the Saint Petersburg Forum leaders of France, the US, the United Kingdom and Germany gathered in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. For some reason, Russia the country which suffered the biggest losses in World War II, was not invited. Whatever the reason, this was an oversight. At the end of WWII, a new world order emerged. Western at its core, it has been in place for half a century. But we ignore the East at our peril. Moscow and Beijing are steadily working to shape their own world order with the Bear and the Dragon emblems on their banners.

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