Banda, Bertje – The Green Amsterdammer
There’s really no New World Order so you can read the signs not only in grand gestures and high drama, but also in small swishes in the margins. When Chinese President Xi tells his Russian counterpart that “we are now seeing changes not seen in over a century, and that we are pushing these changes forward together,” as he did on the Kremlin stairs last week, that is not necessarily true. But when Europe’s most powerful politicians are working on their next career move by getting a white foot in Beijing, that’s saying something.
It was the talk of the week in Brussels: growing annoyance about Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, was spilled in an exhibition in Politico magazine. Michel, according to many colleagues, is bad at his job and works a lot on himself. For example, he is committed to closer ties with China – according to critics because he wants a high job at the United Nations. You used to be in Washington for it, but now you’re in Beijing. Michel loves to come there.
It is a glimpse into a world whose leadership lies in China. According to Shi, he had already reached this world. China prefers to explain its essence in the simplest possible terms (“countries that recognize each other’s legitimate interests” reject “countries and blocs seeking benefits,” and such statements). But this essence is the rejection of American hegemony. China does more than just talk vaguely. For example, Beijing has built this strong position at the United Nations for years, supporting Russia against Western sanctions and working on a new international trade currency. The “R5” or “BRICS Currency” (named after China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa) aims to break the dominance of the dollar.
The Chinese attack on the US-led world order has become more overt, hasty and less discreet with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not everyone in Beijing is happy about that. More cautious diplomats believe Xi is taking a big risk.
The credibility of China as a protector of states’ “inviolability” and “international consensus”, for example. Supporting an invasion that three-quarters of all countries condemn erodes your moral appeal.
A world led by China does not mean a new freedom
However, China has a good story. For example, the European Union envoy Josep Borrell said that the Russian story about Ukraine, with the support of China, has reached the world well. It lies on a fertile bed of discontent with American and Western hegemony, and its renewal again on the twentieth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Even if China is not morally right, Beijing holds that trump card. It brings unexpected bed partners to Beijing. For example, Iran and Saudi Arabia allowed China to act as the official mediator in an agreement – not because China had done so much for it, but to be able to hold the United States together.
However, China has also acquired an Achilles’ heel. The country is so big that any “alliance” it joins is effectively the others’ subordination to China. Even China alone accounts for three-quarters of the BRICS economy. For partners, it resembles the words (possibly apocryphal) attributed to Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha: “Albania, together with China, makes up a quarter of the world’s population.” Fun as self-mocking, and less fun if you want to remain your equal.
There is Russia’s pain in “eternal friendship” with China. Analysts questioned last week whether China or Russia was the “winner” of Xi’s state visit. In the current situation, they were both. But the visit was especially revealing because of the visible eclipse of Russia in relation to China, which is ten times larger in terms of population and economy.
In recent years, the “partnership” between the two has developed increasingly in the direction of Panda and Beertje. That stage has now been reached. China even became a partner in the development of Russia’s Far East, something that Russia once fought with pogroms and mass killings and that Moscow’s political elite vehemently opposed.
So Xi’s state visit showed that a world led by China does not mean a new freedom for those who join it, but a new dependence. This does not make China’s challenge to the United States unfair. Explain what that means.
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