The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) leadership still follows Mao Zedong’s prescription of ceaselessly looking for facts to understand a problem. It gets information from a multitude of sources, domestic and foreign, and winnows this into hypotheses, which then get examined and tested. There is a high premium on success and sometimes severe penalties for failure, unlike in countries where those who fail repeatedly in their tasks continue to ascend, provided they have the patronage of those much more powerful than themselves. Since the last three years, China has been functioning under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who was chosen to head both the state, government and the Communist Party for a ten year period.
Even a few days in China shows how much the country has changed during this time. Gone is the ostentation and luxurious mores of the past. These have been replaced by a much more functional approach that places emphasis on simplicity, even if this means that the numerous makers of global luxury brands are finding their once expanding markets shrinking. Across the country, officials have been made aware that any signs of corruption may result in dismissal and even imprisonment, and several tens of thousands have undergone this fate during past year itself China is no longer a fringe player in global geopolitics but is the other superpower, sharing space with the US. This new status was first recognised by the Clinton administration, who spoke of a G-2 comprising China and the US that would act in concert to ensure global stability. Of course, the problem with Bill Clinton was that he saw a “fair” deal as a transaction where his side got 90% of the benefits and the other had to be content with the remaining 10%. A wiser President of the US would have, for example, ensured that Russia after the 1992 collapse of the USSR would have been accommodated with respect within the international matrix of authority rather than sought to be pushed to the fringe with the assistance of the mafia elements surrounding Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It was Clinton’s unwise diplomacy that saw Moscow finally believe that there was no way that it would get the honour its size and the versatility of Russian people deserved, and carve out an independent foreign policy during second term of Vladimir Putin, easily most effective leader that his people have seen since 1945.
Interestingly, a G-2 has indeed evolved in the international arena, but this is the entente between Beijing and Moscow. Both Xi Jinping as well as Vladimir Putin have together become a global force that has both the will as well as the capacity to challenge the ability of the NATO member states to force other countries to their will. The successive defeats of NATO, even against ragtag forces such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, have combined with the 2008 financial crash to create a world order in which, within a few more years at the same pace, there will be equality of status between the NATO powers and the Moscow-Beijing G-2 fashioned by Xi and Putin.
This columnist is in Xining, in Qinghai province, which borders Tibet. Just two decades ago, this was a backwater, but is today a large city bustling with activity. The entire region, which was once largely ignored during the period in office of Jiang Zemin (who had time only for the east coast of the PRC and its string commercial and industrial base), has become a hub of activity. This “Look West” policy was introduced by Hu Jintao who was President for the decade before Xi took over in 2013,and is being strengthened by the new eldership of the CCP. The most ambitious project since building of Great Wall of China has been One Belt One Road (OBOR) project masterminded by Xi Jinping, and this will link Asia with Europe through a network of highways and other communication links built and financed by China.
Should Russia and South and Southeast Asia be fully brought within the ambit of the OBOR network, it would alter the economics of the region and create conditions for a common market. Those who are sceptical of the completion of such a massive project need to examine what is taking place in the west of China, where a network of roads and rail has been built across territory every vitas forbidding as that seen in any of the locations where OBOR is meant to reach. Xining has a modern airport with dozens of daily flights, as well as a rail terminus from where the train to Lhasa can be boarded. Incidentally, this takes four days to reach its destination from Beijing, and passes in its final stages through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Qinghai has changed and so has Tibet, because of the economic changes that are being caused by the expansion in infrastructure that has been the result of decades of work, and which are being accelerated by President Xi.
Although Washington is unhappy with the OBOR project, the reality is that the potential upside in terns of faster growth that it brings makes it very difficult to refuse for countries that are on the proposed routes. In the future, there may be other routes as well, leading both northwards and southwards from China, and overall the impact will be an integration of economic activity that would make the OBOR region a gigantic common market. In its approach towards the Asian Infrastructure Bank and other multilateral initiatives that have been initiated during Xi’s time, Beijing has been careful to not insist on the veto powers and the domination that the US has in the past insisted on in institutions where it is a participant. This has changed only under President Obama, who has accepted that his country can no longer be the fulcrum of the globe bit only one among its numerous poles. Obama has shown great wisdom in his second term in office, although at cost of support of those who have for decades been accustomed to a geopolitical control that is no longer possible.
The point about any negotiation is to know how much to demand and where to stop. In its interventions, the problem with NATO has been that it has not stopped where it ought to have, but has kept on seeking to swallow more than can be digested, and this fault has been evident especially during the terns in office of George W Bush and Tony Blair, who consequently did great damage to the interests of their countries and those other powers that trusted their policies. It is these mistakes that have resulted in rise of Beijing-Moscow entente. Once One Belt One Road approaches its full potential, including with corridors to Russia, world will change, and this during remaining years in office of President Jinping.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.