Attn woke and millennials. Systematic racism in America isn't your threat...Xi/Vlad are?
As the Great Depression kicked into high gear across the globe, few saw Hilter as a serious economic or military threat. Certainly not Lord Chamberlain (PM of Britain) or our ambassador Joe Kennedy (JFK's foolish dad). Anyone that doesn't see the existential threat posed by these authoritarian powers is similarly distracted by the mainstream media narrative & out to lunch.
Putin and Xi’s Bet on the Global South
As their relations with the West deteriorate, Russia and China are seeking to rewire global power flows in ways that will work to their advantage for years to come.
By Gerald F. SeibFollow
July 15, 2022 11:05 am ET
In a recent appearance before a Kremlin-friendly financial conference, Russian leader Vladimir Putin was typically direct and self-assured. Not only is his economy surviving Western sanctions, he declared, but the U.S. and its allies are missing a significant shift in the international alignment revealed by the world’s reaction to his invasion of Ukraine.
“They do not seem to notice that new powerful centers have formed on the planet,” the Russian leader said. “We are talking about revolutionary changes in the entire system of international relations. These changes are fundamental and pivotal.”
In many ways, that proclamation captures a giant global bet at the heart of Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He’s well aware that he’s lost a lot of ground, probably permanently, in traditional East-West relations because of the brutal Ukraine invasion. But he is gambling that he can make up for that by building a new diplomatic, economic and security network along a North-South axis.
His key ally in this enterprise is, of course, China, which has been working along this same North-South axis for years, showering trade and investment on Asia, Latin America and Africa, often in nations long seen as diplomatic backwaters. These nations aren’t big economic or diplomatic players, but many of them are rapidly growing markets positioned on strategic trade routes, and a number possess the critical minerals needed in the transformation to clean-energy technologies.
China’s Xi Jinping and Mr. Putin (center) meet with their BRICS allies in Brasilia, November 2019. From left, leaders Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Narenda Modi of India and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
PHOTO: KYODO NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Taken together, these efforts amount to an attempt by Russia and China to rewire global power flows in ways that will work to their advantage—and to the West’s disadvantage—for years to come. Success in this effort is far from assured, but it could represent one of the most significant long-term results of the Ukraine crisis.
Mr. Putin has some reason to feel good about his plan so far. On the economic front, he is making significant oil sales to India and exploring potential natural-gas sales to Pakistan to start making up for lost Western markets. On the diplomatic front, 35 countries—representing almost 50% of the world population—abstained or voted no on a March United Nations resolution condemning the Ukraine invasion, while 58 nations, including Mexico, Egypt, Singapore, Indonesia and Qatar, abstained from a later vote to expel Russia from the UN’s Human Rights Council.
On the 100th day of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Mr. Putin received a visit from Macky Sall, president of Senegal and current head of the African Union, who pleaded for more Russian grain and fertilizer. More recently, Mr. Putin received a warm reception from the presidents of China, India, Brazil and South Africa at a virtual summit meeting of the so-called Bric countries. That group, which includes four of the world’s 10 most populous nations, pointedly avoided any condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was shunned by Western nations at a meeting of top diplomats from the Group of 20 industrialized nations but found that his Brazilian, Indian and Argentine counterparts were willing to meet with him.
“I don’t think there’s a formal realignment, but I think the efforts to keep a lot of countries uncommitted are proving quite successful,” says Robert Gates, former U.S. secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The field is open for maneuvering partly because of a combination of recent American indifference and a perception of unreliability.
For their part, the Biden administration and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have focused more on how well Western unity has held up in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Certainly that effort has been a significant success. NATO has been revitalized, while the European Union seems newly relevant and has invited Ukraine to join. Western resolve to punish Moscow economically and to help Ukraine militarily has been broad and robust. Similarly, U.S. efforts to draw in Japan, South Korea and Australia to counter both Russia and China have borne fruit.
Yet China and Russia are calculating that this focus on Western cohesion represents old, Cold War-era thinking that simply isn’t as relevant as it used to be. That bet includes some wishful thinking, but it also reflects new realities.
In part, the field is open for Russian and Chinese maneuvering because of a combination of recent American indifference and a perception of unreliability. To some extent, the U.S. neglected swaths of the globe as it focused its energies and its budgets on the war on terror for the last two decades and, more recently, on the Trump administration’s trade battles with China.
From President Barack Obama to Donald Trump to Joe Biden, American foreign policy has gone through dramatic swings. The decisions to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran under one administration and then to abandon it under the next, followed by the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, have helped to sow doubts about American reliability. Meanwhile, the American public and the nation’s lawmakers have shown an inclination to turn inward.
Many nations receptive to overtures from Beijing and Moscow are acting out of immediate self-interest more than any love for China and Russia.
Russia and China are playing on the resulting doubts—and on the fact that many nations along the North-South axis simply have starkly different priorities from the West. Robert Zoellick, a former president of the World Bank and onetime U.S. deputy secretary of state, calls these nations across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America who have declined to join the anti-Russia movement “the abstainers,” and he says they have a range of concerns that explain their attitude.
“Their first aim is resilience amid big threats, including food and energy prices, high debt and interest rates, Covid and other diseases, and the costs of a carbon transition that these countries see as a legacy of developed economies.” Mr. Zoellick says. “In general, these countries want to avoid a new Cold War, especially with China. They value economic ties with China. They are wary of sanctions, which they fear will be applied to them.”
In a world economy already badly strained by the conflict in Ukraine, countries in Africa and Asia find that their appetite for energy from Russia has grown, not receded. And, amid a growing global food shortage, they badly need the grain that Russia both grows and now effectively steals from Ukraine.
There are other practical reasons that the “abstainers” want to stand to the side. India remains heavily reliant on Russian military supplies, which it considers essential amid its continuing tensions with both Pakistan and China. America’s closest Middle East ally, Israel, has been strikingly meek in its criticism of the Ukraine invasion, because it wants to keep cooperating with the Russian troops stationed next door in Syria as Israeli forces go after Islamic extremists there.
Some of these nations also are receptive to the claims emanating from Moscow and Beijing that American calls for adherence to an “international rules-based order” are essentially a U.S. ploy. To them, says Harvard University national-security expert Graham Allison, those calls merely represent a cosmetic effort to create a “U.S.-led international order in which the U.S. makes the rules and others obey its orders.” Beyond that, the rulers in some of these nations aren’t especially interested in rallying to the side of the world’s democracies, given that they are more drawn to authoritarian rule on the model of Mr. Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Mr. Putin actually began assembling this new international network well before the recent Ukraine invasion, says Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and author of a book on Mr. Putin’s diplomatic strategies. After Russian forces took Crimea away from Ukraine and moved into eastern Ukraine in 2014, she notes, Mr. Putin became more deeply involved in Syria, joined OPEC+ (a loose alignment with the global oil cartel), convened the first Russia-Africa Summit in 2019 and launched a new gas pipeline to China. “Putin methodically thought this through,” says Ms. Stent.
The February declaration that he and Mr. Xi were embarked on a “friendship without limits” might have been designed in part to enable Russia to take advantage of the considerable work China has been doing to build its own North-South muscles. Indeed, Russia is merely “riding the coattails” of China, says Mr. Allison.
Beijing has been working steadily in Africa and Latin America for the last two decades, largely out of the limelight. Its biggest effort has been the Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013, in which China is investing in trade infrastructure tying together 71 countries across Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Together, those countries represent more than a third of the world’s economic output and two-thirds of its population.
Beyond that, more than 10,000 Chinese-owned companies now are operating in Africa, a study by the Foreign Policy Research Institute shows. Between 2001 and 2018, China lent approximately $126 billion to African countries and invested directly some $41 billion. Greater investment has brought greater geopolitical cooperation. The FPRI study found “economic engagement with China yields greater political alignment between China and African countries,” as measured by votes at the UN. China has also built its first-ever overseas military base in Djibouti, in Africa.
Similarly, Chinese trade with Latin America has exploded since 2000. It now totals $450 billion annually and could exceed $700 billion by 2035. China is now South America’s top trading partner and the second-largest partner for Latin America overall, after the U.S. China also has become a leading Latin American lender and is now actually a voting member of the inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank.
Still, there are limits to how much lasting influence China and Russia can accumulate along this new axis, and the U.S. and its allies retain significant residual advantages.
In many cases, nations receptive to overtures from Beijing and Moscow are acting out of immediate self-interest more than any particular love for China and Russia. Both nations have proven better at buying cooperation than they are at winning real friends.
Some of the countries on the receiving end of Chinese aid and investment have grown resentful of the sometimes onerous conditions attached to the financial help they receive, including heavy use of Chinese rather than local labor and conditions granting China ownership of land and resources in the event of default. The FPRI study cites African “fears that China may use its increasing economic power to extract concessions that may be economically and politically detrimental to the continent.”
African nations are also unhappily bearing the brunt of a global food shortage created by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments to the rest of the world. And despite their decision to abstain from the West’s efforts to isolate Mr. Putin, some developing and non-aligned nations, themselves vulnerable to military intrusion from outside powers, aren’t comfortable with the ruthless precedent that he has set in Ukraine.
There is also a long history of tensions between Russia and China that likely limits their ability to cooperate in the long term. Mr. Allison notes that China has a far greater interest in maintaining long-term economic and trade ties with Western economic powerhouses than does Russia. “For China, a pillar of its grand strategy is to become the biggest trading partner and most indispensable supplier of key items in supply chains to all major economies—indeed, to all countries,” he says.
So what does the U.S. do to counter Russian and Chinese efforts along this North-South axis? “I think these are correctable problems, but only in the long term,” says Mr. Gates. “There’s no short-term fix at all.”
A new diplomatic game has begun—one that figures to play on even after hostilities in Ukraine fade away
He argues that since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has allowed its “nonmilitary instruments of power” to atrophy, for which it now is paying a price. The U.S., he says, hasn’t invested adequately in areas such as economic assistance to Africa and Latin America, security relationships and trade partnerships in the less developed world.
He calls for “creative ideas” on how the government and the private sector could cooperate in fostering investments in areas of the world where China and Russia are focusing their own efforts. The good news, he adds, is that there is at the moment a rare, bipartisan spirit in Congress to unite on a strategy in this area: “Xi and Putin have done something nobody else has done. They’ve brought Democrats and Republicans together on the Hill.”
Mr. Zoellick suggests that the U.S. do more to recognize the needs and frustrations of the “abstainers,” and work with international institutions to address them. Washington could find ways to build goodwill through help with vaccines and other health initiatives and to return to building better trade ties.
More than that, he encourages the U.S. to find ways to persuade China to differentiate itself from Russia, and for the U.S. to recognize areas where Washington and Beijing have mutual interests. “In sum, we need to avoid the instinct to treat Russia and China like a fusion from the 1950s,” he says. “We should differentiate and perhaps someday even again triangulate.”
In recent weeks, the Biden administration and its allies have gone on the diplomatic offensive to counter some of Russia’s and China’s moves. The U.S. recently hosted a Summit of the Americas meeting with heads of Latin America nations in Los Angeles, though the decisions of the leaders of Mexico and three Central American nations to stay away showed the challenges the U.S. faces in the region. The Group of Seven industrialized nations just announced plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects in developing countries, an obvious attempt to counter China’s parallel efforts. Mr. Biden also embarked on a visit to Saudi Arabia to persuade the kingdom’s leaders, who have been reluctant to criticize the Ukraine invasion, to ramp up oil production to offset Western cutbacks in purchases from Russia.
As this suggests, a new diplomatic game has begun—one that figures to play on even after hostilities in Ukraine fade away. “President Biden said Russia will be an international pariah after this war,” says Ms. Stent. “Well, it won’t be a pariah. We see that now.”
Mr. Seib, the former “Capital Journal” columnist and Washington executive editor of The Wall Street Journal, is currently a senior mentor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.