In his excellent work, The New Silk Roads, Peter Frankopan makes the salient point that “The decisions being made in today’s world that really matter are not being made in Paris, London, Berlin or Rome — as they were a hundred years ago — but in Beijing, Moscow, in Tehran and Riyadh, in Delhi and Islamabad, in Kabul and in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, in Ankara, Damascus and Jerusalem.”
What Frankopan here describes is a multipolar world in all but name, one in which China and Russia sit at the apex as cultural, geo-strategic, economic, and increasingly military counterweights to the hitherto unipolar reality led by the US.
In the West, particularly when it comes to London and Washington, hysteria and blind panic has colonised the collective hearts and minds of their respective ruling establishments, made up of men and women who are no longer able to comprehend a world that is shifting beneath their expensively clad feet. And it is the extent to which these ruling establishments refuse to accept that the old world is dying, along with it the assumptions it rested upon, and the new is being born that we are witnessing now the friction and increasing hostility between both.
What is clear is that Beijing has assumed the mantle of global leader vacated by Washington under a Trump administration that is the acme of caprice and dysfunction. In a society polarised as none in the world today, sick with institutional racism and white supremacy, the other side of China’s ascent is US imperial decline.
Peter Frankopan reveals that at end of 2015 “the Export-Import Bank of China announced that it had begun the financing of what it expected to number more than 1000 projects in forty-nine countries as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.” Three years later and over eighty countries were included in Beijing’s burgeoning Belt and Road Initiative, a staggeringly ambitious project of interdependence encompassing countries located in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
As to Moscow’s deepening ties with Beijing, in a recent article for the US think tank, the Center for Global Policy —‘The Sino-Russian Partnerships Gains Momentum’ — Jeff Hawn writes:
In view of the perceived U.S. threat, China and Russia have capitalized on their mutual interest and increasingly strong personal relationship between their current leaders. Using the forum of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as bilateral cooperation, the countries have gradually increased security cooperation both in extensive, well-publicized exercises and smaller, but perhaps more significant, deepening of the military-to-military relations. This has happened in conjunction with increased collaboration and exchanges on scientific and technical issues.
Compare and contrast the interdependence and multilateralism catalysed by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation since its foundation in 2001, with the retreat from same embodied in Brexit and in Trump’s rigid opposition to multilateralism, starting with his withdrawal from the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) in 2018 and most recently his withdrawal from the World Health Organisation over Covid19.
These are the actions of declining powers ruled by yesterday’s men offering yesterday’s solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.
The West only has itself to blame. Vladimir Putin, it should be borne in mind — focusing for a moment on Russia’s trajectory under his stewardship — rose to power in the Kremlin committed to fostering a close a mutually beneficial partnership with the West, going so far as to ask then US President Bill Clinton on a visit to Moscow if Russia could join NATO. That was in 2000. By 2007 Putin had awoken to the fact that so far as Washington and its allies were concerned, Russia had lost the Cold War and to the victor the spoils.
At the Munich Security Conference of the same year, the Russian premier sounded a harsh warning as to the consequences of one power, or one constellation of powers, arrogating to itself the right to run its writ in every region regardless of the preeminence of international law and national sovereignty enshrined in the UN Charter.
We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?
The moral panic that’s been whipped up in Westminster over the long awaited Russia Report into the alleged attempt by the Kremlin to influence the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, and likely also — even if denied by Boris Johnson — the EU referendum of 2016, merely confirms that the UK political class has chosen to embrace the delusions of British exceptionalism at the expense of the harsh realities of British perfidy on the world stage. Clearly, and understandably, the British political establishment is held in icy contempt by its Russian counterpart, viewed as a second rate power using the umbrella of US hegemony to masquerade as a first rate one.
And, too, there is a marked difference between interfering in the internal affairs of other countries on the level of trying to influence the result of elections, and doing so on the level of bombing them to smithereens, killing and uprooting millions of people, and midwifing into existence in consequence the monster of Salafi-jihadism.
In other words, states that have been party to the destruction of Iraq in 2003, the destruction of Libya in 2011, and which helped to prolong the suffering of the Afghan people over the same period, have no right to lecture any country on anything at anytime. Further still, states which count among their closest longstanding allies the apartheid State of Israel and a medieval barbarous Saudi kleptocracy possesses zero credibility on the issue of human rights in China.
The world has changed, and changed utterly, and no amount of bluster in Washington and London can reverse it. The period we are living through now is consonant to an interregnum between the withering away of the old and the coming into being of the new. It is therefore a period pregnant with the risk of conflict and conflagration.
As things stand, though, the internal social convulsions underway within the US itself, exacerbated by the Trump administration’s catastrophic mishandling of Covid19, may well do more to speed Washington’s decline than anything without.
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