The Emerging International Order
Few recent meetings had been as highly anticipated as the meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. This meeting brought the leaders of two countries where Chinese President, Xi Jinping, told the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, that China was ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests. Xi called for both sides to strengthen coordination within the SCO, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, BRICS and other multilateral mechanisms to promote solidarity and mutual trust among related parties. He also said China and Russia should expand pragmatic cooperation, safeguard the security and interests of the region, and preserve the common interests of developing countries and emerging market countries. President Xi’s offers are being taken as an attempt to ‘create a new world order’ and ‘counter US dominance’ with the help of Russia.
Former Cold War allies with a tempestuous relationship, China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years as part of what they call a “no limits” relationship acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States. China’s intention to forge an even more closer relationship with Russia became clear in February this year when Chinese and Russian presidents met face-to-face – first time in more than two years – on the day of the Opening Ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. In this meeting, they declared triumphantly the arrival of a “new era” in international relations. According to an English-language version of the joint statement, “Xi stressed that in the face of profound and complex changes in the international situation, China and Russia are committed to deepening back-to-back strategic coordination and upholding international fairness and justice side by side.”
In a 5,000-word joint statement, the two leaders shared their vision for a new world order: it would better accommodate their nations’ interests, and no longer be dominated by the West. “The world is going through momentous changes,” their joint statement said, noting the “transformation of the global governance architecture and world order.”
Now, the two leaders have met again on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Samarkand at a time when Putin’s relations with the West are at the lowest over his war on Ukraine and, on the other hand, China’s anger over Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan is at its peak. During this meeting, Xi told Putin, “China is willing to work with Russia to play a leading role in demonstrating the responsibility of major powers, and to instil stability and positive energy into a world in turmoil.” President Xi noted that since the beginning of this year, China and Russia have maintained effective strategic communication, and that China will work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests, and deepen practical cooperation in trade, agriculture, connectivity and other areas.
In response, Putin expressed Russia’s support for the one-China principle, and denounced US provocations in the Taiwan Strait and its attempts to create a ‘unipolar world’. Putin said that the world is undergoing multiple changes, yet the only thing that remains unchanged is the friendship and mutual trust between Russia and China, and the Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is as stable as mountains. As uncertainty significantly increases in today’s international landscape, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has always been on course and has not lost momentum.
The bilateral relationship
China and Russia are each other’s largest neighbors, permanent members of the UN Security Council, and emerging powers. They also share a long border of more than 4,000 kilometres. The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era, which is based on the principles of “non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party,” has been subject to interference and provocation from third parties. Especially after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US has stopped putting on a disguise. Instead, it has openly threatened and discredited the normal and legitimate cooperation between China and Russia. Such a scenario is rare in the history of international relations.
The good thing is that both China and Russia are countries with strong strategic determination and autonomy. Moreover, bilateral relations have a strong internal driving force. They have not changed, and will not change, their initial intentions and course due to drastic changes in the international pattern or pressure from third parties. They will always maintain their own logic and rhythm. In particular, the heads of state of China and Russia maintain close contacts and strategic communication in various ways, always leading the ties between the two countries in the right direction of development. The independent and autonomous value of China-Russia relations is both a summary of historical experience and innovation in international relations.
The SCO summit
The recent SCO summit in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, has registered a landmark on the evolution of a new world order which witnesses the dwindling of American hegemony. The US clearly resents the revival of Russia under President Putin and the rise of China as a true Great Power. President Xi enjoys universal respect at a time when the US faces a decline. It remains a Great Power militarily and economically. But it visibly lacks the power it once enjoyed as other centres of influence arise to dilute its hegemony.
In this context, the Samarkand summit has been put forward as an alternative to a ‘Western-centric organisation’, at a time of increasing pressure on Moscow over Ukraine and growing anger in Beijing over Washington’s support for Taiwan, which was underlined earlier by US President Joe Biden’s offer of help to Taiwan in the case of an attack by China.
In the summit, President Xi told the leaders who had gathered that “it was time to reshape the international system and ‘abandon zero-sum games and bloc politics’.” Xi said that leaders should “work together to promote the development of the international order in a more just and rational direction.”
Putin, on his part, welcomed the increasing influence of non-Western countries outside the West, and criticised what he referred to as the “instruments of protectionism, illegal sanctions and economic selfishness”. He asserted: “The growing role of new centres of power who cooperate with each other … is becoming more and more clear.”
Putin said: “The world is changing rapidly, but only one thing remains unchanged: The friendship between China and Russia.” In turn, Xi Jinping said that China is “ready, together with our Russian colleagues, to set an example of a responsible world power and play a leading role in bringing such a rapidly changing world onto a trajectory of sustainable and positive development.”
The contours of the new order
It is an order that challenges the well-established liberal order and its key components, which relies on the West. Another distinctive feature is a redirection of foreign policies primarily toward the East.
The China-Russia opposition to the liberal world order is linked with ending economic interdependence with the West. Since 2014, both Russia and China have been developing a so-called de-dollarization policy in order to stop using the US dollar in trade settlements in order to get around American sanctions against Russia. Along with signing a deal to use their national currencies in any settlements between them, the two states have also acknowledged the yuan as a possible replacement for the dollar. This is not unique to this alliance, as Russia and Iran in May this year agreed to use their national currencies in the fields of banking and energy, in addition to an agreement to integrate Iran’s Shetab and Russia’s Mir domestic payment systems. It is expected that Russia will make similar agreements with other Eastern countries.
Secondly, Russia’s energy deals will be further redirected toward the East. According to reports, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa, Sri Lanka and a number of Middle Eastern countries will buy Russian oil this winter, while the EU is in the process of cancelling all dealings with Moscow. This adds to the redirection policy, as the East accepts deals with Russia based on mutual interests.
One can expect to see an expansion of bloc-to-bloc cooperation among non-Western countries, especially further attempts to strengthen collaboration between the BRICS nations (China, India, South Africa, Russia and Brazil) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Iran and Pakistan). Finally, in contrast to the liberal world order, which is based on democratic states, the strong alliance of Russia and China further develops the possibility of the implementation of so-called sharp power. Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig defined the notion of sharp power in 2017. In contrast to soft power, it refers to the ability to influence others to get desired outcomes not through attraction, but via distraction and the manipulation of information. The distinctive feature of sharp power is that it is conducted by authoritarian states, with the authors specifically focusing on Russia and China. With their strong alliance, this sharp power is likely to be expanded toward other states, especially in the East.
To sum up, recent weeks have seen interesting political and economic developments with regard to further interpretation of the alternative world order that might await us in the future. Despite speculation, the liberal world order continues to dominate global politics, but it has been strongly challenged in recent years, especially by the alliance of Russia and China.
Whether this is really an alternative world order — with some attraction to the liberal order remaining for other countries — or whether one might expect further confrontational struggle between two different ideological views, one should wait and see (although perhaps it is happening now in Ukraine).
But without doubt, there are clear indicators of new dynamics that will shape the current world order, and new uncertainties and changes are anticipated. These include: a shift among the key energy suppliers worldwide as Russia chooses to deal with the East; the West looking to other states as alternative energy suppliers; a change in the choice of currencies, as some states de-dollarize while others do not; an expected growth in influence for international organizations that contain mainly Eastern states; and perhaps a spread of authoritarian sharp power.
There can be no mistaking the radical change in the world order. China has emerged as a global player. Its presence is increasingly felt as it launches mega international projects. Russia is still a Great Power but a hugely diminished one. Gone is the empire in Eastern Europe; gone is the control over communist parties abroad — no funds for them; gone is also the very strict dictatorship of old.
America’s influence has waned. The Arab world is more assertive. So are South Asia and Southeast Asia. This is not the end. Assertion is now the norm in today’s world. Submissiveness is on the decline. The reaction is for governments to question or stand up to other states attempting to force their authority on them.
All in all, what is noteworthy is that the old global order is changing, though it is not easy to predict with any certainty or precision the shape the new order will acquire. The vague contours may be there, but with different stars in ascendance, and others dimming, it will be a while before a definite outline begins to emerge on the horizon.