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Although Russia and China, the two largest countries of the non-Western bloc, have been moving closer for more than a decade, the visit of President Xi Jinping to Moscow (March 20-22, 2023) has been widely perceived as heralding the end of the US-led Western domination of the world and the global institutions erected after World War II. While a new multipolar world is still taking shape, American hegemony could not last even a century, despite its formidable economic and military might. As President Xi said, “Now there are changes that have not been seen for 100 years. Together we are driving these changes.” With this, all Western attempts to diplomatically isolate President Putin have come to nought.
A non-Western economic order was launched with President Putin endorsing the Yuan as a settlement currency for Russian oil in Asia, Africa and Latin America. At the same time, work on a new reserve currency backed by gold and/or commodities is underway. Recently, Russia and China have launched a diplomatic blitzkrieg in West Asia and Africa, with South America veering away from US hegemony.
Russia was expelled from the international banking mechanism, SWIFT, in May 2022 as part of escalating Western sanctions against its special military operation in Ukraine in February 2022. However, the event was not entirely unexpected, as NATO’s unrelenting expansion eastwards and provocations in Ukraine had made Russian action a matter of time; Western retaliation was inevitable.
Hence, as a prelude to long-conceived Eurasian integration plans, Moscow and Beijing began building up their gold reserves with a view to ultimately challenge the hegemony of the US dollar. Beijing set up the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) for yuan-ruble payments in 2012. This was followed, in October 2015, with the China International Payments System (CIPS), which has an agreement with SWIFT, to help countries sanctioned by Washington.
Though planned in advance, President Xi’s visit came close on the heels of the International Criminal Court in The Hague issuing an “arrest warrant” against the Russian President for “abducting” children from the war zone (actually taking them to safety). The ICC warrant is a symbolic political salvo from the West, as Russia, like the United States, does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction.
President Xi did not moot an early conclusion of the operation in Ukraine but presented a 12-point action plan for settling the conflict. This was immediately dismissed by the White House that viewed it as supportive of the Russian position in the conflict and was welcomed by President Putin as worthy of consideration. He said that many of its provisions “are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and in Kyiv.” The Russian Foreign Ministry declared that the US, UK, France, and Germany would not be permitted to mediate in any future Ukraine negotiations as they are not seen as neutral.
However, Ukraine also repudiated Beijing’s proposal, pointing out that it did not ask Moscow to withdraw its troops. Beijing indicated that President Xi would speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by telephone in the coming days, though no dates have been specified so far.
In a joint statement, the two leaders accused the West of undermining global stability while NATO was forcing its way into the Asia-Pacific region, but said their partnership was not a “military-political alliance” (i.e., on the lines of NATO). The statement said “the parties are opposed to any states and their blocs damaging the legitimate security interests of other states in order to obtain military, political and other advantages. The Chinese side positively assesses the willingness of the Russian side to make efforts to restart peace talks as soon as possible.” This was an explicit endorsement of Moscow’s position on Ukraine and NATO expansion to Russia’s doorsteps.
The Kremlin website stated that the two nations “are working in solidarity on the formation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order, which should be based on the central role of the UN, its Security Council, international law, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on March 21, 2023, tweeted disapproval of the United States intimidating nations with sanctions: “In the past decades, the US imposed unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction on Cuba, Belarus, Syria, Zimbabwe and other countries, placed maximum pressure on countries including the DPRK, Iran and Venezuela, and unilaterally froze US$130 million in military aid to Egypt under the excuse of the country’s lack of progress in human rights. Such actions have seriously damaged the economic development and people’s livelihood in the countries concerned, and jeopardized the right to life, the right to self-determination and the right to development, constituting a continual, systematic and massive violation of human rights in other countries.”
Beijing and Moscow intensified their economic cooperation with 79 projects valued at over US$165 billion, covering LNG, aircraft construction, machine tool construction, space research, agro-industry and improved economic corridors. A key agreement pertains to the construction of a pipeline to redirect Russia’s gas from Europe to Asia (‘Power of Siberia 2’) that would deliver 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas per year to China via Mongolia. Equally significant is the move to set up a joint working body to develop the northern sea route.
As Moscow and Beijing openly flex their muscles to lead a new world order, President Xi invited President Putin to visit China later this year. The two leaders are expected to meet at the BRICS Summit in South Africa in August 2023 and the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit in New Delhi in September 2023, where this movement would gather more heft. India is currently leading the G20, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and is a core member of BRICS; as a leading member of the non-aligned movement, it has long contributed to the struggle for a more equitable world order. New Delhi led by example in the matter of vaccines and food grains during the COVID pandemic.
The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Kiev on March 21, and met President Zelensky. He visited Bucha, the Ukrainian town where Russian forces are alleged to have killed civilians and interred them in mass graves. The same day, the International Monetary Fund announced a preliminary agreement with Kyiv for a four-year loan package of $15.6 billion.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the US would escalate the delivery of 31 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, to autumn.
Moscow hosted 40 delegations from Africa on March 19, 2023. The parliamentary conference, “Russia-Africa in the Multipolar World”, is a prelude to the second Russia-Africa summit in July. Announcing that ties with Africa are a “priority” for Moscow, the President wrote off more than $20 billion in African debt, and said Russia is prepared to deliver free grain to Africa.
The Russian President said, “Our country is determined to continue building a full strategic partnership with our African friends, and we are ready to shape the global agenda together.” He said Russia, like Africa, “defends traditional moral values” by “resisting the neo-colonial ideology imposed from abroad.” He announced plans to increase cooperation with African countries in energy and medicine and to double the quotas of African students in Russian universities. The joint statement at the end of the meeting denounced “political diktats and monetary blackmail.”