Russia, China Map Out New Economic Order in Beijing
History – complete with poetic justice overtones – presented us this week with the ultimate, glaring contrast between the geopolitics of the past, enacted in an incendiary corner of southwest Asia, and the geopolitics of the future, enacted in East Asia’s Beijing, one of the capitals of emerging multipolarity.
Let’s start with the future. The 3rd Belt and Road Forum in Beijing worked as a sort of road map for Eurasia economic/infrastructure integration. It was preceded by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China releasing on October 10 a quite detailed white paper on the New Silk Roads – or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the actual overarching foreign policy concept of China for the foreseeable future.
BRI, initially defined as OBOR (One Belt, One Road) was launched 10 years ago by President Xi Jinping, first in Astana, Kazakhstan (part of the “belt”, as in a series of economic belts) and then Jakarta, Indonesia (part of the “road”, as in the Maritime Silk Road).
Ten years, nearly 150 participating nations and over $1 trillion in Chinese investments later, the white paper summed it all up: BRI is steadily advancing as a multi-layered platform of international trade and connectivity; as a mechanism to develop vast swathes of the Global South/Global Majority; and as a practical counterpart to Western hegemony.
The bulk of BRI projects concern extractive industries and transportation corridors. It’s not by accident that key extractive industries are concentrated in Russia and the Persian Gulf – and that is intimately linked to Beijing’s complex strategic drive to bypass Hegemon containment and instances of Hybrid War.
Thus it’s no wonder that the guest of honor at the 2023 Forum was President Putin; and all discussions made it quite clear that Russia from now on will be even more of a key BRI partner – in line with the deepening of the Russia-China strategic partnership, whole leaderships are totally in synch.
Faithful to meticulous, symbology-heavy Chinese protocol, it was also inevitable that at the entrance to the Forum’s gala dinner, the first was guest of honor Putin. Right behind him were leaders from Central Asia (Tokayev and Mirziyoyev, from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) and Southeast Asia (Joko Widodo, from Indonesia).
Up Next: The Northern Silk Road
President Xi announced that participants of the business summit at the Forum clinched new infrastructure deals worth a whopping $97.2 billion.
That’s the new paradigm. Compare it with the old Forever Wars paradigm: the White House working on a $100 billion package to fund the Ukraine-Israel wars.
The 3-hour-long face to face meeting between Putin and Xi was crucial in more ways than one. It was a graphic illustration of Russia-China co-hosting the drive towards a multipolar world. And of BRI working side by side with the upcoming BRICS 11 (in effect on January 1, as Russia starts its BRICS presidency).
Putin, sly as a fox, commented that he could not tell us “everything” he discussed with Xi. What he could say is that they went through “the entire bilateral agenda, a lot of issues there: it’s the economy, finance, political interaction, and joint work on international platforms.”
Additionally, “we discussed in detail the situation in the Middle East as well. I also briefed the president on the situation on the Ukrainian track in detail. All these external factors are common threats (italics mine). They strengthen Russian-Chinese interaction.”
China-Russia signed the largest deal in their shared history for the supply of grain; 2.5 trillion rubles for 70 million tons of grain, leguminous and oilseed cargo delivered for 12 years.
That completely destroys serial US Think Tankland wet dream scenarios advocating a naval blockade as the key strategy for the containment of China, to starve it of food and raw materials.
On the energy front, Xi expected the extended Power of Siberia II, or Russia-Mongolia-China gas pipeline to make “substantial progress” as soon as possible.
As much as Putin stressed both Russia and China’s “respect for civilizational diversity” as well as the right of each civilization-state to its own development model, what really stood out was his detailed explanation of connectivity corridors.
Putin stressed how “a North-South corridor is being formed in the European part of Russia – from the Baltic to Iran. Seamless railway communication will be organized there.”
That was a direct reference to the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), whose main hubs are Russia, Iran and India. That will interconnect, in the medium and long term, with BRI’s central Eurasian corridors.
Putin added that “other sections will pass through Siberia, the Urals and Yamal. The Northern Sea Passage will be built – to the Arctic Ocean. The railway routes will run from central Siberia to the south – to the Indian and Pacific Oceans (…) A corridor will also pass from the Arctic to the south – a railway line from BAM to Yakutia will be built, bridges across the Lena and Amur, highways will be modernized, and deep-sea terminals will be created.”
Putin’s characterization of the Northern Sea Route is particularly crucial:
“All these transportation corridors from north to south in the European part of Russia, in Siberia, and in the Far East open up the possibility of directly connecting and integrating the Northern Sea Route with major logistics hubs in the south of our continent, on the coast of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. As far as the Northern Sea Route is concerned, Russia is not just inviting its partners to actively use its transit potential. Let me say more: we invite interested states to participate directly in its development and are ready to provide reliable ice navigation, communication and supply. As early as next year, navigation for ice-class cargo ships along the entire length of the Northern Sea Route will become year-round. The creation of the above-mentioned international and regional logistics and trade routes objectively reflects the profound changes that are taking place in the global economy.”
So here we have Putin personally inviting companies and businesses from all over the Global South to directly invest in Eurasia-wide integration. And for those who didn’t get the message, the Suez canal, for many across the Global South, will soon become a relic of the – geoeconomic – past.
Scythians on Horseback Go High-Tech
The Forum was a graphic illustration that BRI, an open platform – a concept unintelligible in the West – goes way beyond trade, infrastructure development and connectivity corridors. It is also about cross-cultural interaction and those notorious, Xi-defined “people-to-people exchanges”, setting an example when it comes to civilization coexistence.
Central Asians and Southeast Asians were fraternizing all over the place. Hungary’s Viktor Orban was delighted to talk to everybody without being branded an “authoritarian” contrary to EU “values”. The Taliban delegation upgraded their networking when they were not discussing Chinese investment in copper and building a new road through the Wakhan corridor directly connecting northern Afghanistan to Xinjiang.
It’s as if this was a high-tech remix of the spirit of the Ancient Silk Roads, when nomad Scythian horsemen, fond of gold jewelry and Chinese silk, opened a new commercial front by acting as middlemen facilitating trade across Eurasia between Asia and Europe.
Europe, by the way, and the whole collective West, were nearly invisible at the Belt and Road Forum.
Which brings us to the myth of a universalist West now lying in tatters.
The key inflection points, lately, have been the Hegemon humiliation in Afghanistan; the collapse of Project Ukraine – with the incoming, cosmic humiliation of NATO; and the collapse of allegedly incomparable Israeli intel in Palestine, blindly avenged via collective punishment.
Compare all that with Putin-Xi in Beijing. The accumulated debacles point to the inexorable dissolution of the “end of History” Western project. And it gets worse: the new geoeconomics paradigm discussed in Beijing will continue to speed up the pitiless, relentless overstretch, economic and geopolitical, of “the most powerful nation in the history of the world” (copyright The White House).
The Americans are absolutely terrified, among other instances, of the fact that now Iran and Saudi Arabia are strategizing The Big Picture together: the inevitable consequence of a détente first engineered by the Russians and then clinched by the Chinese.
The Americans are absolutely paralyzed by the fact that BRI and BRICS 11 are already engaged in the process of turning upside down the imperial, neocolonial Western business model.
Putin, Xi and the guests at the Belt and Road Forum made it quite clear this is essentially about new commodity supply chains; new and improved Maritime Silk Roads; and bypassing Western-controlled choke points – as the (attached) map shows. It’s all leading to an interconnected maze featuring BRI, BRICS, EAEU and SCO.
The Russia-China-led BRICS 11 – and beyond (Putin gave a hint that Indonesia will become one of the new members in 2024) is already turning all Mackinder-drenched fantasies upside down, on the way to uniting Eurasia and configuring Afro-Eurasia as an extended, peaceful, predominant Heartland.