by Salman Rafi Sheikh, New Eastern Outlook:
The context for changing the order of world politics has never been more suitable than it is now. For one thing, the decline of the West is due to the massive breaches that internal strategic disagreement over issues ranging from Paris Climate agreement to Iran-nuke deal have caused in the post World War Two system that the US had built. But what has really been the cataclysmic event is the magnificent rise to power of China and Russia from the East in the international arena, having the ability to both challenge the US, the self-declared champion of global politics and economics, and also establish an alternative world order through different regional and extra-regional configurations, showing their ability to not only to integrate the world into the new order, but also steer the conflict ridden regions to peace and stability.
The recently held Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok brought, one again, the prospects of greater Eurasian integration a big step closer to realization. While a number of different aspects, ranging from integration of the Russian Far East with Eurasia to building the Trans-Korean railway network and Russia-Japan partnership, featured the Forum this year, there is no gainsaying that the underlying objective that features in all of these different ventures is the greater Eurasian integration through a potential joining of China’s Belt & Road initiative with the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN.
At the heart of this integration plan is the Sino-Russian strategic partnership and the bid to establish an alternative world order as riddance to the US-led, with US dollar as its central piece, decadent world order.
The symbiosis is, however, not just economic, it equally involves military power. Running almost parallel to the Eurasian Forum meetings are the biggest war games kicked off in the Vostok 2018 war exercises, bringing together thousands of troops from Russia, China and Mongolia, adding substantial symbolic substance to the significance of the configuration that China and Russia are at forefront of. Significantly enough, these games involve all forms of military apparatus, which is in itself an effort directed towards bringing on the cutting edge military coordination, a need of the contemporary world and an essential part of Russia’s counter-manoeuvres vis-à-vis NATO.
Of course, none of this could have been possible if Russia and China had not founded their relations anew, burying the rivalry that marred all possibilities of such cooperation during the Cold War era. This has been most vividly evident through a massive rise in their bi-lateral trade. The turnover between Russia and China soared about 50 per cent only in the first half of 2018, the Russian President said. “We had the turnover of $87 billion in last year and it rose by 50% at once during the first half of this year, and we will most probably reach the trade turnover of $100 billion this year,” Putin added.
This was straightforwardly corroborated by the Chinese president who not only praised Putin’s interest in greater Sino-Russian cooperation but also said that “amid the quickly changing international situation and the factors of instability and unpredictability, the cooperation of Russia and China takes on greater and greater importance.”
The message is, therefore, clear for the US and the rest of the world: the Sino-Russia duo will be leading the new regional and global configuration, progressively shrinking the space for the US, ultimately forcing it into retreat. Asia is offering the opportunity.
As it stands, president Trump is going to skip two major summits in Asia this November, giving the Sino-Russia duo the leeway to open the gateways for themselves and make fresh commitments to the ASEAN and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation.
While Trump, who is busy preparing a fresh round of tariffs for China, will be absent from the APEC event, China’s Xi will not only attend the summit but will also be holding his own summit with the Pacific leaders to advocate trade and development with China and Belt & Road Initiative.
While president Trump wouldn’t be the first US president to miss APEC summit, there is no gainsaying that the presence of the president would have added a lot of symbolic substance to the US’ “Indo-Pacific” strategy and enabled the countries to reflect more closely on how serious and committed the Trump administration is to the region. In the president’s absence, however, the question of a potential US exit would become a lot more plausible than would have been the case otherwise, and the question of Eurasian integration a lot more significant and prominent than would have been the case had the US president been here to present their case.
What all this potentially means is that the space for greater Eurasian integration continues to widen on an unprecedented scale both economically and strategically. And, as Xi confirmed, China and Russia would promote “the political resolution of hotspot issues, resolutely upholding the UN charters and principles and standing firm against unilateralism and protectionism to construct a new type of international relations and a community of shared future for mankind.”