The Chinese remember something that has been mostly forgotten by other nations. Namely, that is only these last 150 years that the country has had the status of what we would call today a ‘developing’ or ‘emerging’ country. Therefore, from the point of view of both the government and its simplest citizens, the country is simply regaining its previous status of one of the world’s largest – if not the largest – economy and the world’s largest exporter.
Since it has done so, in part, by flooding the market with products sold at cut-throat prices, it has led to the destruction of millions of jobs in the ‘developed’ countries just as the Industrial Revolution destroyed millions of jobs in China and India.
Among its present accomplishments, China has the world’s largest population. Population growth has been a traditional characteristic of the country and has led, in the past to famines and the consequent social unrest. The one-child policy, now becoming a two-child policy with the long-term objective of becoming a three-child policy, is a direct result of this chequered history. Even with the present low-growth population, the country needs to create 30 million jobs per year to maintain the rate of economic growth it has known over the last 20 years. The inability of the economy to grow may well revert the country to social unrest which the government could attempt to prevent through the encouragement of nationalism, perhaps to the extent of starting a conflict.
China’s growth has been fostered essentially by the availability of abundant cheap labor which has attracted massive investments from foreign corporations. The salary increases, particularly in the coastal areas, and the migration of some of its workforce to Africa, have led both Chinese and foreign companies to either move their production sites inland, where salaries remain low, or to invest in Southeast Asia.
The Chinese economic model stands in a category by itself as state-run companies stand side by side with private enterprise. Both are export-driven and benefit greatly from the opening of world-wide markets that the United States and its economic allies put in place by fostering the globalization process through the GATT and later the WTO. One may wonder, however, if the model chosen – i.e. exporting low cost goods while importing raw materials at ever rising prices – is sustainable. Unless China will be able to innovate, particularly in high tech products, it will see a stunting of its growth. If, however, its industry does evolve into a high tech industry, it may face import limitations from countries that may suffer of a negative impact on their employment statistics.
President Xi’s ‘China Dream’, with a first time horizon of 2021 followed by a second one of 2049, is, in a first stage, to raise income levels to those of middle-income countries, and, in a second stage, to that of the most advanced economies. 2013 per capita GDP was of USD 6’800, about 20% of US GDP. This figure, however, hides a middle class of 200 million persons.
The country also suffers from a banking system burdened by bad debts estaimated to represent 60% of all outstanding loasn. Loans of government, central and local, represent 45% of GDP.
China’s economic power is felt throughout Asia, with all the countries of the continent economically linked to it and dependent on China’s sustained economic growth.
The present recession, leading to a major decrease in exports, has led voices to claim that the economy is on the verge of collapse due to a forthcoming banking crisis and a bursting property bubble. Should it coincide with a massive epidemic, it would grind the economy of the country, together with that of many of its trade partners, to a halt.
China has also become the world’s biggest lender with figures in the billions of dollars. Its lending activity in a large number of countries stretching from Africa to Europe while passing through Central Asia and Latin America, shows its ambition of replacing the domination of US and European institutions in the financing of infrastructure. Perhaps its most ambitious moves have been the creation of a banking initiative with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa and an Asian Development Bank. The latter with a capital of USD 50 billion and will be in direct competition with the official Asian Development Bank and even with the World Bank. China will contribute 50% of the capital, the remaining 50% being paid by 21 other countries including India, Singapore, Vietnam and Qatar.
President Xi has also put a proposal called the SREB, for Silk Road Economic Belt, which is a model for South – South development. While centered on Central Asia, it involves a large number of countries, including some in Europe.
Countries may have to make the difficult choice between Chinese capital and Western technology.
China also runs the world’s second largest military budget, with an emphasis on developing its naval capabilities – including submarines. It to not only wants to secure the hydrocarbon supply routes, but also aims to counter the US naval presence around its maritime borders. For the time being, however, it is not a credible threat to the US, particularly considering the latter’s nuclear capabilities.
China feels constrained on its naval borders by the presence of the US Navy as well as by that of Taiwan, a US ally which the US has repeatedly stated it would protect in case of an attack. The only possibility for China to successfully conclude a military invasion of the island would be for it to move extremely rapidly so as to reach its objective before the US would have time to intervene. It would have to hold US naval power at bay with the precision weapons it is presently acquiring.
Taiwan is not the only country with which it is possibly in a conflictual situation. It has extended its maritime sovereignty, in the hope of finding hydrocarbon deposits on a string of small islands and rocks. It has thus taken a threatening position with Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.
On its Northern border, lie the Central Asian states that were part of the Soviet Union. Their small population lies, for some of these countries, on major hydrocarbon reserves. They are natural suppliers of China and do not carry the risk of transport disruptions as is the case with the maritime routes. At least half of Kazakhstan’s oil sector is now owned by China which has also built a pipeline connecting to Turkmenistan with the potential of extending it to Iran.
Further north, Russia is a major oil and gas supplier. Russia uses this growing major partnership as a threat to the European Union that has applied biting sanctions.
Extending its reach even further, China has become a shareholder of Total, the Franco-Belgian oil and gas producer.
President Xi sees the rise of China as inevitable in view of what he sees as the irreversible decline of the West. China’s youth sees their future as ever brighter. Will the future include the Communist Party, at least in its present form?
Does a brighter future mean also the status of a world power and the demise of the United States as the hegemon?
Harsh Turkish condemnation of Xinjiang cracks Muslim wall of silence
In perhaps the most significant condemnation to date of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang. Turkey’s foreign ministry demanded this weekend that Chinese authorities respect human rights of the Uighurs and close what it termed “concentration camps” in which up to one million people are believed to be imprisoned.
Calling the crackdown an “embarrassment to humanity,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the death of detained Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit had prompted the ministry to issue its statement.
Known as the Rooster of Xinjiang, Mr. Heyit symbolized the Uighurs’ cultural links to the Turkic world, according to Adrian Zenz, a European School of Culture and Theology researcher who has done pioneering work on the crackdown.
Turkish media asserted that Mr. Heyit, who was serving an eight-year prison sentence, had been tortured to death.
Mr. Aksoy said Turkey was calling on other countries and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take steps to end the “humanitarian tragedy” in Xinjiang.
The Chinese embassy in Ankara rejected the statement as a “violation of the facts,” insisting that China was fighting seperatism, extremism and terrorism, not seeking to “eliminate” the Uighurs’ ethnic, religious or cultural identity.
Mr. Aksoy’s statement contrastèd starkly with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declaration six months earlier that China was Turkey’s economic partner of the future. At the time, Turkey had just secured a US$3.6 billion loan for its energy and telecommunications sector from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).
The Turkish statement constitutes the first major crack in the Muslim wall of silence that has enabled the Chinese crackdown, the most frontal assault on Islam in recent memory. The statement’s significance goes beyond developments in Xinjiang.
Like with Muslim condemnation of US President Donald J. Trump’s decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Turkey appears to be wanting to be seen as a spokesman of the Muslim world in its one-upmanship with Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree Iran.
While neither the kingdom or Iran are likely to follow Turkey’s example any time soon, the statement raises the stakes and puts other contenders for leadership on the defensive.
The bulk of the Muslim world has remained conspicuously silent with only Malaysian leaders willing to speak out and set an example by last year rejecting Chinese demands that a group of Uighur asylum seekers be extradited to China. Malaysia instead allowed the group to go to Turkey.
The Turkish statement came days after four Islamist members of the Kuwaiti parliament organized the Arab world’s first public protest against the crackdown.
By contrast, Pakistani officials backed off initial criticism and protests in countries like Bangladesh and India have been at best sporadic.
Like the Turkish statement, a disagreement between major Indonesian religious leaders and the government on how to respond to the crackdown raises questions about sustainability of the wall of silence.
Rejecting a call on the government to condemn the crackdown by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top clerical body, Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla insisted that the government would not interfere in the internal affairs of others.
The council was one of the first, if not the first, major Muslim religious body to speak out on the issues of the Uighurs. Its non-active chairman and spiritual leader of Nahdlaltul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization, Ma’ruf Amin, is running as President Joko Widodo’s vice-presidential candiate in elections in April.
The Turkish statement could have its most immediate impact in Central Asia, which like Turkey has close ethnic and cultural ties to Xinjiang, and is struggling to balance relations with China with the need to be seen to be standing up for the rights of its citizens and ethnic kin.
In Kazakhstan, Turkey’s newly found assertiveness towards China could make it more difficult for the government to return to China Sayragul Sautbay, a Chinese national of ethnic Kazakh descent and a former re-education camp employee who fled illegally to Kazakhstan to join her husband and child.
Ms. Sautbay, who stood trial in Kazakhstan last year for illegal entry, is the only camp instructor to have worked in a reeducation camp in Xinjiang teaching inmates Mandarin and Communist Party propaganda and spoken publicly about it.
She has twice been refused asylum in Kazakhstan and is appealing the decision. China is believed to be demanding that she be handed back to the Xinjiang authorities.
Similarly, Turkey’s statement could impact the fate of Qalymbek Shahman, a Chinese businessman of Kazakh descent, who is being held at the airport in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent after being denied entry into Kazakhstan.
“I was born in Emin county in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to a farming family. I wanted to go to Kazakhstan, because China’s human rights record was making life intolerable. I would have my ID checked every 50 to 100 meters when I was in Xinjiang, This made me extremely anxious, and I couldn’t stand it anymore,” Mr. Shahman said in a video clip sent to Radio Free Asia from Tashkent airport.
A guide for foreign businessmen, Mr. Shahman said he was put out of business by the continued checks that raised questions in the minds of his clients and persuaded local businessmen not to work with him.
Said Mr. Zenz, the Xinjiang scholar, commenting on the significance of the Turkish statement: “A major outcry among the Muslim world was a key missing piece in the global Xinjiang row. In my view, it seems that China’s actions in Xinjiang are finally crossing a red line among the world’s Muslim communities, at least in Turkey, but quite possibly elsewhere.”
Heartland Reunion: Geopolitical Chimera or Historical Chance?
Anyone who has at least some idea about the theory of international relations should remember the oft-quoted formula put forward by the father of British geopolitics, Halford Mackinder: “Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.” For those who are sceptical about geopolitical constructs and terminology, this logical chain may seem like a meaningless shamanic incantation. Over the course of a century, “Mackinder’s formula” was repeatedly criticized, corrected, repudiated, anathematized, parodied and ridiculed. And yet, strange as it may seem, not only has this formula survived an entire century, but it is also perhaps more relevant today than it was a hundred years ago.
Of course, the question hinges on how we understand the concept of Heartland. Mackinder interpreted it as the geographical centre of Eurasia, or, more precisely, as the massive central and north-eastern part of the Asian continent, which on the whole coincided with the Asian areas ruled by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Today, it seems obvious that the “Eurasian core” must be sought south of the harsh, poorly developed and scarcely populated Siberian plains and barren deserts of Central Asia. Just like in the days of Mackinder, Siberia and Central Asia remain repositories of raw materials and energy resources. Just like before, these lands may be considered the “great natural fortress” of the land peoples, adjusted for the new arsenal of means of projecting military power that appeared in the 20th century. However, these lands did not become a true “axis of history”: contrary to Mackinder’s prophecies, their transport infrastructure remained incomplete and disconnected, while their role in the development of the Eurasian continent over the past 100 years has shrunk rather than grown.
At the risk of incurring the righteous indignation of the current geopolitical orthodox, let us postulate that the Eurasian Heartland of the 21st century is actually what Mackinder saw as the “inner crescent.” Primarily China and India, in relation to which the rest of the Eurasian massif – Russia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and even the extended European peninsula of the Asian mainland – act as continental limitrophe states. Despite the undeniable significance of these border states to European history, politics, economics and security, the fate of Europe depends primarily on how relations in the new Heartland (that is, between China and India) unfold. And the future of the whole world to a great degree depends on the fate of Eurasia. This is one of Mackinder’s main points, and it is by no means outdated.
The Prerequisites for Consolidation
It would seem that there are no fundamental obstacles to the consolidation of the Heartland: the interests of Beijing and New Delhi coincide on most major international issues. China and India have much in common. Both countries are, in their own way, historically stable and internally cohesive alternatives to Atlantic civilization. China and India are, along with the Arabic East (and to a lesser extent Tropical Africa south of the Sahara), the two most important points of the crystallization of “non-western” ideals. The fact that China and India are growing stronger is the most significant indicator that the “western” stage in the development of the system of international relations has drawn to a close.
As powerful drivers of economic growth both in Eurasia and around the world, both China and India are currently experiencing a stage of long-term economic, cultural and civilizational upheaval. Neither has fully overcome the deep trauma of national consciousness caused by their status as outsiders in global politics in the 19th and 20th century, and this trauma continues to have an impact on the historical narratives that dominate China and India and the foreign policy ambitions that emanate from these narratives. Beijing and New Delhi are “revisionist” players on the global stage in the sense that both China and India are interested in revising the old rules of the game that serve the interests of the “collective West.” China is leading a broad economic and financial offensive – from Central Europe to Latin America. India, lagging behind China in terms of foreign economic expansion, is focusing instead on closing the political gap by laying claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The two countries are exposed to all the standard “growing pains” – the negative side effects of rapid economic and social growth. Both China and India suffer from severe environmental problems, a shortage of natural resources, growing social inequality and widespread corruption. In addition to this, there are pockets of separatism and terrorism in both countries. China and India are also witnessing a conflict between modernization and traditionalist forces. The concept of “national sovereignty” is paramount in both states, and any attempt to interfere in their domestic affairs is met with hostility. People in both countries question the stability of the current model of socioeconomic development, and many fear or predict inevitable crises and upheavals in the future.
Historically, relations between India and China have always been less conflict-ridden than, say, the relations between the Islamic and Christian worlds in the west of the Eurasian continent. In a sense, it is fair to speak not only of the economic, cultural and spiritual compatibility of these two ancient civilizations, but also of the fact that these aspects have penetrated the other country and even complement one another. There are numerous examples of this – from the epic history of the Great Silk Road to the equally impressive chronicle of how Buddhism spread across Eastern Asia. In essence, the consolidation of a China–India Heartland would not mean the creation of something fundamentally new, but simply the natural reunification of a torn Eurasia, the restoration of a recently lost continental unity.
Hence, there are objective prerequisites for the consolidation of a new Heartland. It is worth adding here that, while recognizing all the difficulties and tactical losses, such a consolidation would serve the long-term interests of both countries. The implementation of the joint China–India project would contribute to the stabilization of the geopolitical situation in the entire Eurasian space and open up fundamentally new opportunities for transcontinental cooperation in various fields.
It would not be out of place to draw a parallel with post-War Western Europe here, when the reconciliation between France and Germany led to the launch of European integration processes. In turn, it was ultimately France and Germany that benefitted most from this process: the political will and the willingness to compromise demonstrated by the leaders in Paris and Bonn paid off time after time in the following decades.
The numerous benefits of consolidating the Eurasian heartland are too obvious to not be a subject of contemplation on both sides of the Himalayas. Relations between Beijing and New Delhi have, for at least the past six decades, developed more along the lines of a rivalry than cooperation – and this rivalry has on more than one occasion turned into direct confrontation. Why is this the case? Could it be the subjective mistakes of the leadership? Personal ambitions of leadership? The underhand practices of internal forces? The tragic accidents of history? Or perhaps there are some objective “ force majeure circumstances” that stand in the way of a new Heartland coming together?
The Dimensions of the Eurasian Schism
Let us start with what everyone already knows – the two countries represent very different types of government. The differences between China and India today are greater than those between France and Germany 50 years ago. While China is much farther away from Europe than India, it is, on the whole, considerably closer in terms of being a nation state in the European mould. Despite the fact that there are a significant number of national minorities in China and substantial regional differences, ethnic Chinese (Han Chinese) are a single people and make up more than 90 per cent of the country’s population. Of the 34 Chinese provinces, including the autonomous regions and cities of central subordination, only Taiwan falls outside the vertical power system of governance, for obvious reasons.
India does not have a dominant national people. In terms of its ethnocultural and linguistic diversity, the Indian subcontinent does not resemble a separate European state or China, but rather the European Union as a whole. And in terms of religious diversity, the multi-structural nature of the economy and the regional disparities, India goes way beyond the whole of Europe put together. India is made up of 29 states and seven union territories, which exist in a state of complex political interaction. India is essentially a grandiose integration project in South Asia that is primarily turned inwards rather than outwards. If we stretch the analogies somewhat further, we can say that, as a single state, China has the same problems in its dialogue with the eclectic and insulated India that centralized Russia has in its interactions with the amorphous and insulated European Union.
Evidently, the historical trajectories of the two countries have also diverged greatly, especially over the past 250 years. India was a British colony, and the nearly 200 years of British rule left an indelible imprint not only on the country’s political system, but also on its culture. China, on the other hand, has never been colonized by a foreign country. While British democracy was a “system-forming” factor for independent India, communist China regarded the Soviet Union of the 1950s as a model to be emulated. Despite the fact that both countries have moved far from their original models of the mid-20th century, there are no grounds to suggest that their political or economic systems have drawn any closer.
In theory, the China–India partnership could even benefit from the fact that their political systems are so different: China would assume the main role in its interaction with various authoritarian regimes, while India would take the lead when it comes to developing ties with western liberal-democratic regimes. In practice, however, the dissimilarity of the systems hinders cooperation and, more importantly, mutual understanding. In is noteworthy that Beijing has found it far easier to establish relations with Moscow in the 21st century than with New Delhi, although the history of China–Russia relations is far more dramatic and controversial than the history of China–India relations.
Since China and India are the two largest countries in continental Asia, competition for natural resources, foreign markets, control of transport corridors and influence over common neighbours is inevitable. The close proximity of the two major powers gives rise to border disputes: the countries share 4000 km border, and the problem right now is not even about resolving territorial disputes, but merely about preserving the territorial status quo and preventing an escalation. The sides feel tempted to support various instruments of influence in each other’s territories. What is more, the question of what best meets the development needs of other Asian countries – Chinese socialism or Indian democracy – remains open.
Trade between China and India is growing at a rapid pace; however, both India and China are more focused on global markets than they are on each other. And for decades they have been purchasing the main resources needed for modernization – investments and modern technologies – from the West, often competing directly with each other for them. Bilateral trade remains asymmetrical, with Chinese exports to India far outweighing its imports from that country. Moreover, Chinese economic activity in India is far from always seen by the latter in an exclusively positive light.
A stable balance of powers between China and India in Asia is hindered by the fact that, right now, China is stronger than India both economically and militarily, and this asymmetry is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. A consolidated Eurasian Heartland would be less of an equal partnership than that of France and Germany in the second half of the 20th century.
India is still dogged by painful memories of the 1962 Sino–Indian Border Conflict. The model of Asia and a “closed” system is thus advantageous for Beijing, with China’s dominance in this system being in no doubt. For the same reason, New Delhi is interested in an “open” Asia, in which the asymmetry in the balance of powers between China and India could be compensated by introducing external players (who are, of course, on India’s side) into the mix.
The Interests of External Players
The interests of the United States in Asia are obvious and depend very little on the change of administration in the White House, although Donald Trump’s team has articulated these interests more clearly and more gruffly than its predecessors. Washington cannot but fear the consolidation of the European Heartland and will therefore continue to capitalize on the deepening contradictions in China–India relations. Naturally, it is trying to manage this process somehow without steering it towards a large-scale military conflict with unpredictable consequences.
Today we are witnessing an attempt by the United States to replicate the successful approaches of Henry Kissinger taken in the 1970s and to build a Eurasian geopolitical triangle. The difference is that the USSR is replaced by China, and China is replaced by India. This explains the increased attention of the United States to New Delhi and the persistent attempts to involve India in multilateral groupings that include allies of the United States that are located on the island periphery of the Eurasian continent, namely Japan and Australia (the concept of a “democratic Indo-Pacific”). If Washington had succeeded in achieving the sustainable institutionalization of these groupings in the form of a military-technical alliance similar to NATO, this would have created long-term guaranteed preventing the consolidation of the Heartland. However, at this juncture, any format of allied relations with Washington is politically unacceptable for the Indian elite, which is pushing for the preservation of the country’s strategic independence. What is more, India cannot sacrifice its continental Eurasian partners (primarily Moscow and Tehran) – not even for the sake of friendship with Washington.
The European Union is less interested in the preservation, much less the exacerbation, of the confrontation between China and India. Of course, the consolidation of the Heartland would present a serious challenge for Europe too, but one that is more to do with economics than geopolitics. The formation of a single Eurasian economic space would undoubtedly speed up the displacement of Europe as the economic centre of activity in Eurasia to Asia and reduce the role of the European Union in the Eurasian and global economies. On the other hand, China and India are two of the most promising foreign markets for the European Union, and the further development of these markets in line with the strategic interests of Brussels.
As far as the European Union is concerned, the main question is: On what basis can the consolidation of the Eurasian Heartland take place? Of course, Brussels would like to see Eurasian consolidation based on European standards, in compliance with European procedures and in line with European standards. The worst option for Brussels would be the gradual “economic absorption” of India by China and the implementation of the Eurasian integration process based on something that is entirely different from the European vision (for example, on the implementation of the One Road, One Belt initiative).
Russia’s interests in the various development scenarios for China–India relations are the subject of heated debates within the country’s expert community. On the one hand, it is often argued that maintaining tension in relations between Beijing and New Delhi makes Moscow a more valuable partner for both sides. Right now, Russia’s relations with China and India are better than those between China and India, meaning that it occupies the most advantageous position in this triangle. Based on this logic, we can assume that the consolidation of the Eurasian Heartland around the China–India axis would entail a further shift in the Eurasian centre of gravity towards the south of Russia’s borders. This would marginalize Russia even further as a participant in the Eurasian community.
On the other hand, it is safe to predict that attempts to capitalize on the contradictions between China and India will inevitably raise suspicions both in Beijing and in New Delhi, cause them to doubt the sincerity of Russia’s actions, etc. It is easy to imagine a situation in which Moscow will be unable to maintain its neutral position and be forced to choose between its two most important partners in Asia, and whatever choice it makes will inevitably entail major losses. Let us not forget that the escalation of the confrontation between China and India – a factor that stands in the way of the consolidation of the Heartland – would leave the door wide open for the United States, which is not likely to be among Moscow’s friends any time soon. Moreover, such an escalation is fraught with the risk of a major military conflict breaking out on the continent, and this would inevitably affect Russia’s security. To summarize the advantages and disadvantages of consolidation for Russia, the only reasonable conclusion is that the expected benefits of a consolidated Heartland clearly outweigh the potential costs.
Let us make it clear right away – whatever Russia’s role in the consolidation of the Eurasian Heartland, it will by no means be decisive. China–India relations have their own internal logic and their own dynamics that no external player (be it the United States, the European Union or Russia) can change. It would appear that, as the stronger party in these bilateral relations, China should go the extra mile to reduce suspicion and gain New Delhi’s trust. We could argue about what steps need to be taken and in what order, but this, strictly speaking, is not an issue for Russian foreign policy. However, this does not mean that Russia does not have a role in this most important issue.
On December 1, 2018, an attempt was made on the side-lines of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires to step up the activities of the mechanism of tripartite cooperation between Russia, China and India (the RIC countries) and resume the practice of regular high-level meetings after a 12-year hiatus. According to Vladimir Putin, these meetings should focus on various aspects of security and the fight against protectionism and politically motivated restrictions in international trade. Developing these ideas, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi identified four possible areas for cooperation: regional and global stability, economic prosperity, the exchange of experience in areas of mutual interest, and cooperation on how to respond to emerging challenges. Similar thoughts were expressed by the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, who stressed the special responsibilities of the three powers to support regional and global stability.
In recent years, the RIC format has remained in the shadow of the more representative five-party cooperation structure that includes Brazil and South Africa (together, the five countries make up the BRICS association). Without belittling the significance of the latter two countries, it is worth noting that the geographical expansion of RIC into BRICS entailed certain institutional costs: the two non-Eurasian countries had their own tasks and priorities that differed from the agenda of the original Eurasian members. The fact that the last presidential election was won by Jair Balsonara, a far-right congressman, the so-called “Donald Trump of Brazil” raises a number of questions about the future of the five-party structure. In any case, it would surely be a grave miscalculation for Russian policy to “dissolve” RIC into BRICS completely.
In all likelihood, in the near future, tripartite summits will be held on the side-lines of larger multilateral events (G20 summits, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Asia–Europe Meeting, etc.). However, if everything is limited to brief and infrequent interactions between leaders, statements of coinciding positions or even the signing of general political declarations, then this will do little in terms of the consolidation of the Heartland. It is necessary to articulate, in a frank manner, the existing differences with regard to the most serious problems facing Eurasia. The leaders of the three countries should focus on the problems that are standing in the way of consolidation of the Eurasian space.
At the same time, considering the fact that these trilateral meetings are inevitably short, the issues raised should be studied thoroughly beforehand by experts and the relevant ministries in the track 1.5 and track 2 formats and with a view to developing specific “road maps.” It is precisely the specifics that have traditionally been lacking in joint statements adopted at the end of the annual meetings of RIC foreign ministers. Another urgent task that could help solve the problem of trust between the Chinese and Indian militaries is the creation of a permanent tripartite mechanism for military consultations and the holding of regular military exercises.
A practical political trialogue could begin with an open discussion of such issues as the future of Syria and Afghanistan, which are of great importance for all three participants. Equally significant are the development of individual functional dimensions of the Eurasian Heartland – joint initiatives in the fight against terrorism, managing migration flows, food and energy security, issues of international information exchange and the development of artificial intelligence. It is from the widest possible set of such functional regimes, not from old or new rigid institutional blocs, that the new Eurasian Heartland should be built.
India and China are Arctic Council observer states. As one of the leading members of this organization, Russia could suggest to its partners that they discuss Arctic issues together so that none of them could have any suspicions about Moscow possibly harbouring a position on these issues that could be considered “pro-China” or “pro-India.”
And, of course, more active trilateral interaction on issues that go beyond the geographical boundaries of the Eurasian continent would serve as a powerful incentive for the consolidation of the Heartland. The future of multilateral arms control. The reform of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other global organizations. The development of international public law in the 21st century. Climate change and environmental issues. The management of technological progress. If Russia, China and India develop a united position on these and many other issues, it will carry far greater weight on the international arena than the individual opinions of each of these countries.
Ultimately, the Eurasian Heartland of the 21st century is not just a geopolitical, or a geo-economic concept. It represents, to a certain extent, common or similar views of leading Eurasian states on the future of the world order and a strategy for restoring manageability to a world that is coming apart at the seams. It is a joint sense of global stability and a common readiness to look beyond the narrow horizons of immediate national interests. It is only in the presence of such a community that the new Heartland can become the “axis of history” the illustrious father of British geopolitics and member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom Halford Mackinder wrote about, albeit in an entirely different context and according to a completely different logic.
First published in our partner RIAC
China, Europe and the G-Zero world
What does it mean to live in a world without global leadership? Where is the European Union heading? What impact will Trump’s “America first” policy and China’s Belt & Road Initiative have on tomorrow’s world order? Geopolitical reflections on the G-Zero world.
Donald Trump in the White House, China’s mega Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and, as a symbol of Europe’s identity crisis, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – those are just three examples of recent radical developments transforming our globalised world.
While the American president continues to pursue his “America first” policy, introducing punitive tariffs on Chinese imports and thus causing a massive trade conflict, China’s authoritarian political structures are growing ever stronger. Xi Jinping’s power has been expanded. He is the “president of all” and, as is again true of Mao Zedong, the centre of a pronounced personality cult. By introducing a Social Credit System (SCS), China wants to rate and classify its citizens in all areas of life. From creditworthiness to political and social behaviour, everything will be monitored. Total surveillance of this type is reminiscent of the methods employed by Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel 1984.
If all that were not enough, the European Union (EU) is stuck in an existential crisis. Geopolitical challenges thus abound and “interesting times” await.
G-2 and a multipolar world
Globalisation – the cross-border exchange and interaction of people, goods, services and communication – was a phenomenon already known in antiquity. A new aspect today is the increasing interdependency of its various actors. Nation-states, globally active companies, international institutions and nongovernment organisations are now closely linked. Since many actors are unaware of this, often their policy responses to globalisation (read: their internationalisation strategies) are neither coordinated nor consistent with each other’s.
The world without global leadership is a world in chaos, one in which each country and region tries to advance its own interests, thus accepting there will be disadvantages for others. Yet since, in the long run, no country or region is capable of playing a leading worldwide role on its own, the question remains of how long the world can remain in chaos and without global leadership. Are we on the road to a G-2 world, one in which everything depends on how relations between the US and China develop? One in which the EU, in particular, must take a subordinate position?
What would be preferable would be a world of cooperation (Banik, 2016, p.22),of peaceful multipolarity, one in which different actors compete with each other but in the spirit of global complementarity. It would be a new cosmopolitan (Nida-Rümeling, 2017, p.178)world order in which international standards are established and safeguarded and military conflicts are avoided – a world in which Europe, above all, has the chance to define itself strategically and realign itself vis-à-vis the US and China.
Following a brief introduction to the current geopolitical situation, this article examines the impact on the EU of the “China first” and “America first” policies. It concludes by highlighting the importance of viewing diversity as an added value and, especially for the EU, cultivating an identité de cœur (identity of the heart) as advanced by Jacques Ancel, a leading representative of French geopolitics.
Everything is geopolitics
Geopolitics is a multidisciplinary approach that analyses the relationship between power and territory. It thus sees all political decision-making and economic strategies as aiming to exert power and influence within a given geographic area. Eurasia currently plays a significant geopolitical role and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, as can be seen in China’s BRI. Although the interdependence of the various actors urgently demands cooperation and coordination to overcome global challenges, competition is the prevailing principle in today’s world order.
Key global challenges include:
- Climate change and its consequences
- Demographic change
- Increasing urbanisation
- Competition for the world’s natural resources
- Equitable food distribution (including access to drinking water)
- International terrorism (including cyberterrorism)
Because of globalisation and the deterritorialisation that results, various transnational forces have developed, including international organisations, interest groups, lobbying associations and globally active businesses. These transnational players act outside of the context of the constitutional nation-state and independently of it. Borders and the associated controlling mechanisms are disappearing. The political order of internally and externally sovereign nation-states according to the Westphalian model stands in opposition to these transnational forces, and vice versa. Moreover, the general public is becoming increasingly aware of globalisation’s negative consequences, such as non-transparent capital flows, global economic crime, corruption, money laundering, ongoing trade deficits, harsh competition and the exploitation of the world’s natural resources. The globalised world is producing winners and losers. Trust in the political elite is therefore declining among the public in the countries or regions that are losing out, a cohort that includes EU member states. The result is social conflict, political discontent and growing scepticism about the efficiency of today’s democratic systems and institutions. If one looks at China, the question arises of whether authoritarian structures might be the better response to global challenges. An affirmative response would be misguided.
Today’s world order, an aftereffect of the Second World War, is obsolete. Our international institutions are no longer capable of overcoming global challenges. The question of which world order will emerge in the future depends on geopolitical strategies, in particular on those pursued by China, the EU and the US.
Which ramifications does BRI have for Europe and its companies? This gigantic infrastructure project certainly offers opportunities for the EU, but it is and will remain a Chinese project that exclusively serves Chinese interests. Once constructed, it will be used first and foremost to control and ensure the transport of raw materials, above all from Africa, to China’s production sites. The same purpose will be served by expanding the railway lines, roads and ports included in BRI. And while local economies will benefit from this expansion, the participating countries will find themselves more dependent on China both economically and politically. These infrastructure projects are being financed with Chinese loans; in return, China is securing unimpeded access to crucial raw materials. Moreover, the projects often have no positive impact on employment in the BRI countries since most of the workers at the major building sites are Chinese– thus minimising the jobless rate in China.
Is BRI turning to a white elephant?
From the military perspective, BRI also has myriad implications. The People’s Republic maintains the world’s largest army as measured in the number of its troops. This army can easily monitor the building projects and transport routes (land/sea). Thus, BRI is expanding China’s military influence and driving the modernisation of its armed forces. China’s security strategy has changed. The army is evolving from a land-based military organisation to a naval power. In 2017, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army opened its first foreign base in Djibouti. This was a cause for concern for France, the US and, in particular, India.
BRI has, moreover, a very strong ideological component. National unity and stability are top priorities for the Chinese government. Begun in 1978, China’s economic opening – welcomed and supported by the West’s business community – largely served to avoid social conflict among the country’s population. Private property and entrepreneurship were encouraged, and farmers could retain any surplus production. All these measures were also meant to jolt the often inactive populace from its lethargy. The country’s citizens were used as a factor of production enabling the country to catch up technologically. Foreign investors endorsed this strategy.
With BRI, China is launching a new strategy for strengthening national unity and stability as a way of proactively preventing social unrest and the desire for democratic reforms. BRI is also being called the “path of Xi Jinping” and is meant to reinforce China’s power on the global level. One thing is certain: China is currently the only country in the world with a global strategy.
Analog American president in a digital world
The US president’s “America first” policy illustrates a different approach to globalisation’s challenges. Instead of opening to the world – as China is doing with BRI – “America first” focuses on protectionism. Trump is withdrawing from multilateral trade agreements in favour of bilateral pacts.
Although the US still evinces the qualities of a global leader in many areas, Trump’s unpredictable approach to governing is increasingly a cause for concern for the EU and NATO allies. What is at stake is the reliability of the US when it comes to Europe’s security interests.
Trump seems to be a president from another age. He appears completely unconcerned with globalisation and the interdependencies that have resulted for global actors. He seems to have no interest in acknowledging the world’s complex geopolitical contexts. On the contrary, he apparently still sees the world from the perspective of a real-estate magnate. Borders and walls are being rebuilt. The marketing of the “Trump” brand, moreover, must be visible to everyone.
Although Trump’s methods are very different from those of Xi, both have one thing in common: they are national strategies that strengthen the position of the country in question.
EU: lost dreams
From a global perspective, the European Union is hard to classify. It is neither a nation-state nor the “United States of Europe”. Until now the EU has not succeeded in becoming a political union. It lacks a joint strategy, particularly in terms of foreign, security and economic policies. This lack of a joint strategy is, geopolitically speaking, what prevents the EU from being an equal partner to the US and China. On the contrary, neither China nor the US wants a strong Europe. That is why they support individual member states, depending on which of their interests is at stake.
Europe’s vulnerability is particularly evident in the military arena. Since Trump has taken office, Europe can no longer rely on the US as NATO’s mainstay and main financial contributor. Now that America’s security interests in Europe are no longer a priority for the president, the EU is being forced to step up and take responsibility.
China is taking advantage of Europe’s strategic weakness as well. Chinese investments, especially those relating to BRI, are concentrated in Eastern Europe, and the 16+1 negotiations are further marginalising Brussels.
The world without global leadership is creating major challenges for the EU. Internally, member states are increasingly critical of the diktat from Brussels and are demanding a return to national sovereignty. At the same time, the EU has not been successful in responding to the needs and fears of its citizens – ie, unemployment, especially among young people, and a growing feeling of uncertainty caused by the loss of control in Europe. Borders and the reintroduction of national control mechanisms are again being discussed.
Externally, the EU finds itself facing increasingly dominant nation-states, including China, Russia and the US. The “age of the strongmen” seems to have dawned, strongmen who are unfailingly pursuing their own interests around the globe. If the EU is not successful in defining shared, uniform European interests – above all in the area of security, foreign and economic policy – the Union will sooner or later find itself relegated to geopolitical obscurity.
Cosmopolitan and multipolar
Globalisation does not mean that borders – and thus countries, territories, regions and communities – disappear (Zajec, 2017, p. 238).On the contrary, the more globalised the world is, the greater the sense of belonging people have for their country, region or area. When all is said and done, we want to remain who we are.
Personality cults, like those currently being cultivated in China and Russia, and projects and visions, like BRI and “America first”, not only define national interests, they also provide the strategic and ideological framework required for ensuring national cohesion. This is where the EU continues to come up short. Europe does not have a shared strategic vision, either internally or externally. Diversity is seen as a weakness rather than a strength.
This is where it is worth taking a closer look at the ideas of Jacques Ancel (1879–1943), a thinker who, from a geopolitical perspective, accords a central position to people while also introducing the concept of “identity”. According to Ancel, there are no natural borders, only those that people recognise based on shared memories, history, culture, language and the express desire to coexist. Thus, in contrast to the German geopolitical nation-state school, he represents a non-rational vision of the “nation of the heart” or an “identity of the heart”.
«C’est le cœur qui vaut et qu’il faut considérer avant tout» (Jacques Ancel)
In this sense, the EU could strategically position itself externally vis-à-vis China and the US as an avant garde actor while also responding internally to the public’s concerns. Nationality, national sovereignty and the shared European identity must be respected as complementary elements and not seen as mutually exclusive. Europe’s diversity must, in turn, be leveraged as a strength and not condemned in a hostile ploy against Brussels.
Geopolitically, this could serve as the EU’s contribution to a new, more equitable, cosmopolitan world order, one characterised by balanced and fair global trade, by a just distribution of the world’s natural and food resources, and by joint efforts to fight terrorism.
In our globalised world, the EU, China and the US are not isolated island paradises. No one is privy to the absolute truth. The challenges stemming from climate change, growing global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc), the rivalry between national and transnational forces and, above all, international terrorism are forcing us to face reality. The illusions underlying various ideologies must be relinquished. These include the Europe of elites; patriotic Chinese-style capitalism; “America first”; personality cults; and a return to revisionist power structures. Differences must be bridged (Banik, 2016, p. 127). The goal is a cosmopolitan world order in which human values take precedence in keeping with an “identity of the heart”.
Author’s note: this article was previously published in World Scientific, China and the World, Vol. 01, No. 04 (2018).
References (selected works)
- Ancel, Jacques(1938). La géographie des frontières, Paris, Gallimard.
- Banik, Katja (2016).Les relations Chine-Europe: à la croisée des chemins, Paris, L’Harmattan.
- Boniface, Pascal (2017).La Géopolitique, Eyrolles, Paris.
- Gauchon, Huissoud (2008). Les 100 mots de la géopolitique, puf, Paris.
- Juncker, Jean-Claude (2017).Discours sur l’état de l’Union 2017, Brussels, European Commission, 13 september 2017.
- Nida-Rümelin, Julian (2017).Über Grenzen denken, eine Ethik der Migration, edition Körber-Stiftung, Hamburg.
- Marshall, Tim (2015). Prisoners of Geography, Elliott and Thompson Ltd., London.
- The Economist (2018).“All under heaven:China’s belt-and-road plans are tobe welcomed – and worried about,”print edition, Leaders section.
- The Wall Street Journal (2018).“The global world order will outlast U.S. leadership” (James Dobbins), 24 July 2018.
- Zajec, Olivier (2016).Introduction à l’analyse géopolitique. Éditions du Rocher, Monaco.
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