by Pepe Escobar, Asia Times:
Ahead of the crucial Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Qingdao this coming weekend, three other recent events have offered clues on how the new world order is coming about.
The Astana Economic Forum in Kazakhstan centered on how mega-partnerships are changing world trade. Participants included the president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Jin Liqun; Andrew Belyaninov from the Eurasian Development Bank; former Italian Prime Minister and president of the EU Commission Romano Prodi; deputy director-general of the WTO Alan Wolff; and Glenn Diesen from the University of Western Sydney.
Diesen, a Norwegian who studied in Holland and teaches in Australia, is the author of a must-read book, Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia, in which he analyzes in excruciating detail how Moscow is planning “to manage the continent from the heartland by enhancing collective autonomy and influence, and thus evict US hegemony directed from the periphery.”
In parallel, as Diesen argues, Moscow aims “to ensure the sustainability of an integrated Eurasia by establishing a balance of power or ‘balance of dependence’ to prevent the continent from being dominated by one power, with China being the most plausible candidate.”
In a nutshell; this New Great Game installment revolves around “Russia’s strategy to enhance its bargaining power with the West by pivoting to the East.”
Concerning Astana, Diesen told me that the AIIB’s Liqun “took the hardest stance in defense of diversifying financial instruments, while Belyaninov was very critical of anti-Russian sanctions.”
Diesen argues that: “The emergence of economic mega-blocks actually improves economic relations by creating more symmetry. For example, China’s CIPS (Cross-Border Interbank Payment System) undermined the ability of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) to be used for economic coercion, while CIPS and SWIFT still cooperate. Similarly, the EAEU [Eurasia Economic Union] gets its strength from the ability to integrate with other regions as opposed to isolating itself.”
And here’s the clincher: “China’s cooperation with the EAEU mitigates Russian concerns about asymmetries, and enables greater EAEU-BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] integration under the stewardship of the SCO. Also, unlike the EU, the EAEU provides great benefit to non-members (non-zero sum) by creating an effective transportation corridor with harmonized tariffs, standards, etc.”
Diesen remarked how Liqun, a key character in the whole game, “is very positive about the Eurasian Economic Union and insistent on the positive-sum game of integration of regions.” Liqun is “direct, honest and forceful” and does not refrain from criticizing the Trump administration, arguing “there is not a trade war between the US and China, it is a US trade war against the world.”
Add to the debate the crucial Astana headline, ignored by Western corporate media: Iran signed a provisional free-trade-zone agreement with the EAEU, lowering or abolishing customs duties, and opening the way for a final deal in 2021. For Iran, that will be a golden ticket to do business way beyond Southwest Asia, integrating it further with Russia and also Kazakhstan, which happens to be a key member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
All about Eurasian integration
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is the annual Russian equivalent of Davos. Predictably, coverage on Western media was appalling – at best rehashing bits and pieces of the joint press conference held by presidents Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron.
There was no mention, as Asia Times previously reported, of how Moscow was instrumental in ironing out differences between North and South Korea at the Far East summit in Vladivostok last September, impressing the need for a win-win regional business plan; the integration of the Trans-Siberian with a future Trans-Korean railway, a key plank of Eurasia integration.
When it comes to tracking Eurasia integration, SPIEF is invaluable. The St Petersburg get-together has also been a traditional forum for key SCO discussions. One panel illustrated how the Shanghai forum is fast advancing on the trade and economic front; new members India and Pakistan are now very much active in the SCO Business Council. The discussion of the business, industrial and technological agenda for observer states was also important; that’s where Iran, a future full SCO member, fits in.
Eurasia integration also featured on another panel about new logistical routes opened by international transport corridors – very much the stuff BRI and the EAEU are made of.