Nikolay N. Goryachev, CPA – Council on Pacific Affairs – Exclusive, February 13, 2022
Just a year ago, we were already wondering what the post-pandemic world order would be like. Now we can say that over the past few months in the geopolitical sphere there have been changes that could potentially change the existing architecture of international relations. Moreover, this potential is quite high. Perhaps these events will determine the new world order.
First, the middle of December of the past year (2021) was marked by several significant events. On the one hand, democracy itself as a form of social contract has become the subject of an ideological dispute. A dispute in which the opponents were the West (under the auspices of the United States) and those states that do not share America’s views on the interpretation of democracy as an institution. The United States held a “Summit for Democracy”, while the PRC announced the establishment of the Beijing Initiative of Global Think Tank Network for Democracy Studies. That being said, the event hosted by China was likely much more democratic than the Biden summit: The forum, held both in-person and virtually, brought together around 500 participants from over 120 countries and regions, including former leaders of governments, business leaders, heads of media groups, experts and scholars, as well as more than 20 representatives of international organizations. That is, not only the leaders of states, but also experts, opinion leaders, influencers – as I believe, the representation of the participants was the personified democracy as itself.
Second, On December 15, 2021, Russia abandoned its previous, restrained appeasement rhetoric towards the West, and handed over to the United States and NATO draft agreements on security guarantees for Russia. This had a great effect both in the West and within Russia. Indeed, such actions are quite atypical for the Russian foreign policy line. However, despite the fact that the text of the draft treaties themselves is quite understandable, the West has continued to stubbornly drive itself into zugzwang. From all sides, accusations rained down on Russia of instigating a war in Ukraine, of Putin’s imperial ambitions, of the desire to restore the borders of Russia in the form that they were in the days of the Russian Empire (or at least the USSR)… The list of such accusations is quite extensive, and there is no need to give here all the sins that both Russia as a whole and President Vladimir Putin were accused of. You can get acquainted with them by opening the news feeds of the Western media and think tanks.
But… The most interesting thing began to happen after the onset of 2022. It suddenly became clear that, firstly, without Russian gas in Europe, there is a risk of dark and cold times coming – no one can fill the market share occupied by Russian pipeline gas. Of course, they again tried to blame Russia for this, but the accusation hung in the air – the European states themselves form their energy policy, and only those who approved this policy are to blame for the increase in market prices for gas and energy crisis. And the rather cynical US request to Asian countries (including China) to stop buying LNG in favor of Europe shows that the US is not ready to end the European energy crisis on its own. Secondly, it became clear that Russia is hardly a pariah state in the sense that exists in the West. In other words, it is strange that the leaders of the “free Western World” are ready to meet with the leader of such an undemocratic (according to the West) state. Moreover, not just to meet, but to do it in essence on their own initiative. An example is the visit of French President E. Macron to Moscow. The French president himself said that the normalization of the situation without a dialogue with Russia and without the participation of Russia is impossible. At the same time, he also made an important reservation that the Russia-EU summit in 2021 is also proposed to be held at the initiative of France and Germany. It is quite likely that E. Macron and his team see in the situation around Ukraine a direct analogy with the events in Georgia in 2008. French President N. Sarkozy played the most important role in their settlement. Based on what was said by the leaders of Russia and France at a press conference following the talks, it is clear that both presidents are well aware of the seriousness of the situation. Neither side in Europe needs a military clash. The disunity of Europe (and NATO) in security matters has become noticeable more and more. Not everyone is ready to send troops to participate in it in the event of a conflict (for example, Bulgaria and Croatia), and not everyone agrees with the need to urgently supply Ukraine with various weapons systems. Germany, for example, refused this. Only the United Kingdom and the United States continue to inflame the situation with unprecedented enthusiasm. Therefore, the Ukrainian factor remains a key point for many processes that affect the geopolitical landscape. For the United States, as the leader of the West, that factor remains important as an inexhaustible reason for more and more new sanctions. The sanctions policy itself is already approaching the pinnacle of absurdity. According to the Russian ambassador in Washington, sanctions will still be imposed, regardless of whether there is an invasion or not. Mr. Antonov also noted: “What is happening today in Washington and what is happening today at the Capitol is very difficult to explain in one or two sentences,” he said. “It’s a contest among senators and congressmen in who is ready to hit Russia harder propose some kind of sanctions that would cause serious damage to the economic and political image of our country.”
In addition, against this tense background, the talks in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which took place before the grand opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, aroused great interest. Which, by the way, officials of some Western countries boycotted. As soon as it was announced that Putin would visit China, the content of this trip immediately provoked a lot of rumors and hypotheses. Some experts believed that Russia and China would announce almost a military alliance; others believed that statements about some kind of counter sanctions would be made on this summit. However, everything turned out to be much more interesting. Following the meeting of the two leaders, a joint statement was prepared. In particular, it contains not only the positions of the two countries on geopolitical issues, but also what is important directly for the Pacific region.
In the field of geopolitics, the parties clearly indicated a key point. “Some actors representing but the minority on the international scale continue to advocate unilateral approaches to addressing international issues and resort to force; they interfere in the internal affairs of other states, infringing their legitimate rights and interests, and incite contradictions, differences and confrontation, thus hampering the development and progress of mankind, against the opposition from the international community.” Despite the fact that there was no direct indication of who exactly represents such forces, I believe everyone understands whom the leaders of Russia and China had in mind. The leaders also confirmed that China-Russia relations are at an unprecedented high level. Moreover, considerable attention was paid to the Pacific region.
Firstly, the Russian side reaffirms its support for the One-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan. It is interesting that in Russia some «experts» met this statement with a certain amount of negativity. Because China did not express an unequivocal position on the issue of the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands, and therefore – “Putin should not believe China and support him in this matter.” However, it is hardly possible to compare the issue of Taiwan and the issue of the Kuril Islands, since these are problems of a fundamentally different level. Moreover, on a similar issue of the territorial dispute between China and Japan around the Senkaku Islands, the Russian authorities also remain neutral position.
Secondly, Japan’s plans to release nuclear contaminated water from the destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean and the potential environmental impact of such actions are of deep concern to the sides. The sides emphasize that the disposal of nuclear contaminated water should be handled with responsibility and carried out in a proper manner based on arrangements between the Japanese side and neighbouring States, other interested parties, and relevant international agencies while ensuring transparency, scientific reasoning, and in accordance with international law.
Thirdly, Russia and China are seriously concerned about the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (AUKUS), which provides for deeper cooperation between its members in areas involving strategic stability, in particular their decision to initiate cooperation in the field of nuclear-powered submarines. Russia and China believe that such actions are contrary to the objectives of security and sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific region, increase the danger of an arms race in the region, and pose serious risks of nuclear proliferation. The sides strongly condemn such moves and call on AUKUS participants to fulfil their nuclear and missile non-proliferation commitments in good faith and to work together to safeguard peace, stability, and development in the region. In this case, it is clear that fears about a military buildup in the Pacific region are not just lingering, but growing. And these questions excite Russia and China equally.
What is the result? We see that the Cold War rhetoric has not disappeared anywhere. It is constantly used by the West to achieve goals that are beneficial and acceptable by no means to all countries of the world. And it should be noted that this legacy of the Cold War could have been eliminated as early as the early 2000s. It was then, at the 43rd Munich Security Conference, that V. Putin expressed fears about the unipolarity of the world, and about what this could lead to. At the same time, the same issues that Russia has raised now were voiced – namely, security guarantees. Moreover, is still no official answer to the direct question: “Whom is NATO created against?”. Although, given what is happening now, it seems obvious. However, does this mean that there is no way out of the current situation? Probably not, it does not. Because the world has ceased to be unipolar. You can like it or not (not everyone welcomes the development of relations with China in Russia – this is a topic for separate reflection), there is China. By proposing to humanity a course towards the creation of a “Community of a Common Destiny”, China thereby designated itself as a geopolitical actor that offers humanity an alternative development scenario. A scenario that at least looks like a way for prosperity for all, and not as a dictate of one side over all.
Thus, we can concluded that the division of powers in the world has already occurred. The West, led by the United States on the one hand, China and Russia on the other. And when Europe finally decides which path is closer for it, we will see the finally formed geopolitical framework of the New World.