How Russia and China are Building Eurasia Into a Geopolitical Powerhouse

How Russia and China are Building Eurasia Into a Geopolitical Powerhouse

How Russia and China are Building Eurasia Into a Geopolitical Powerhouse

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Halford Mackinder[1] said we don’t think of Asia and Europe as a single continent because sailors couldn’t voyage around it. Today the Northeast Passage, The Polar Silk Road, along Russia’s northern coast, links the Pacific and Atlantic coasts while a network of pipelines and air, rail, road and fiber routes are knitting Mackinder’s World Island into ‘Eurasia,’ despite Kissinger’s warning, “Domination by a single power of either of Eurasia’s two principal spheres–Europe or Asia–remains a good definition of strategic danger for America. For such a grouping would have the capacity to outstrip America economically and, in the end, militarily.”

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Together, Russia and China have outstripped America economically and militarily within Eurasia and are in the process of drawing the European Union into a vast, increasingly prosperous alliance as America pursues an increasingly dystopian future. Their leaders ares so dominant, their vision is so seductive, their alliance so strong, their weapons so advanced and their pockets so deep that their centripetal force is almost irresistible. Russia’s leadership–Putin, Lavrov, Nabiullina, Siluanov and Shoygu–is the best in the country’s history and, as President Trump observed, “China’s leaders are much smarter than our leaders. It’s like taking the New England Patriots and Tom Brady and having them play your high school football team.” President Xi has visited Moscow more than any other capital city and has met Vladimir Putin thirty times, calling him, “My best, most intimate friend.”

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Colonial nations lost their political and economic freedom because imperial centers of capital needed to control resources crucial for their survival, wealth, and power[2]. This is the real meaning of the terms ‘national security’ and ‘national interest.’ Powerful nations’ ‘national security’ is the control of an economic empire of subject states and the strategies through which this is carried out are their ‘national security secrets.’ They practice the antithesis of what they preach: their trumpeting of peace, freedom, justice, rights, democracy, and majority rule disguises those strategies for controlling other people and their resources be kept secret. The most pernicious is that multi-party democracy and a free press and must precede successful development.

In reality, such a combination ends all hope of development. No nation has ever developed under multiparty democracy nor, as Lee Kwan Yew[3] observed, with a free press,

The Philippines press enjoys all the freedoms of the US system but fails the people: a wildly partisan press helped Philippines politicians flood the marketplace of ideas with junk and confuse and befuddle the people so that they could not see what their vital interests were in a developing country. And, because vital issues like economic growth and equitable distribution were seldom discussed, they were never tackled and the democratic system malfunctioned. Look at Taiwan and South Korea: their free press runs rampant and corruption runs riot. The critic itself is corrupt yet the theory is, if you have a free press, corruption disappears. Now I’m telling you, that’s not true. Freedom of the press, freedom of news critics, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.

Russia and China offer an alternative to the imperialist model: security without coercion, aid without conditions and, instead of WTO agreements that prevent sustainable development, trade and development pacts to promote it. In addition to being permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, their executives head five of the UN’s fifteen agencies and China provides a permanent UN infantry battalion, the only country to do so.

The blocs in play are the European Union; The Eurasian Economic Union; The Shanghai Cooperative Organization; The Association of Southeast Asian Nations; The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership; The Belt and Road Initiative. After the 2019 Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan President Putin, before a beaming President Xi, stressed that all of them should be integrated.

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The European Union, occupying Eurasia’s Western peninsula, is tired of the status quo. President Macron said recently, “We are undoubtedly experiencing the end of Western hegemony over the world…Things change, and they have been deeply shaken by the mistakes of Westerners in certain crises, by the choices that have been made by Americans for several years..And then there is the emergence of new powers whose impact we have probably underestimated for a long time. China is at the forefront, but also the Russian strategy, which has, it must be said, been pursued more successfully in recent years…They think about our planet with a true logic, a true philosophy, an imagination that we’ve lost a little bit.” Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England added, “The world’s reliance on the US dollar won’t hold and needs to be replaced by a new international monetary and financial system… It is worth considering how an SHC [synthetic hegemonic currency] in the IMF could support better global outcomes.” Germany is completing Nord Stream II and installing Huawei systems despite US threats, and Poland, Greece, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland have joined the Belt and Road Initiative. One more downturn in the US economy (where manufacturing is already in recession) and the rest of the EU will follow. Turkey’s[4] President Erdogan, on NATO’s Eastern flank, said he bought Russia’s S-400 so his country could safely withdraw from NATO and he is already a dialog partner in the world’s largest security association, the SCO.

The Eurasian Economic Union (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, and Tajikistan, with Moldova in consideration) is devoted to free movement of goods, services, capital and labor and coordinated, coherent and common policies in all key economic sectors. In the past two years Russia’s EAEU trade has increased dramatically: with Armenia (30%), Belarus (10%) Kazakhstan (21%), and Kyrgyzstan (17%). China is negotiating product tariffs on its existing FTA agreement and, in the past two years its EAEU trade has risen rapidly, too: Armenia (29%), Belarus (35%), Kazakhstan (48%) and Kyrgyzstan (31%). Minsk and Moscow are seeking to unify their customs and energy policies by 2021 and the union’s state tax code is expected to be adopted by the Spring of 2021, and a single tax code, civil code, and list of foreign trade rules, in addition to unified oil, gas and electricity market regulators by 2022. In soft power terms, Russian remains the lingua franca in Mongolia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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The Shanghai Cooperative Organization, SCO. (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, China, and Pakistan; with Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia and Belarus as observers and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey as dialog partners). The SCO is the world’s largest security organization and counts four nuclear powers among its members. Its objectives are to (i) strengthen relations among member states; (ii) promote cooperation in political affairs, economics and trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres and in energy, transportation, tourism, and environmental protection; (iv) safeguard regional peace, security, and stability; and (v) create a democratic, equitable international political and economic order. SCO members have completed an intergovernmental agreement facilitating international road transport and are finalizing one on rail transport. The Bishkek Declaration, adopted by SCO members, emphasizes the security guarantees of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty, the ‘unacceptability of attempts to ensure one country’s security at the expense of other countries’ security,’ and condemns ‘the unilateral and unlimited buildup of missile defense systems by certain countries or groups of states.’ Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking to Presidents Putin, Xi, Modi and Imran Khan, blasted the US as ‘a serious risk to stability in the region and the world” and offered preferential treatment for all fellow SCO nations, companies, and entrepreneurs to invest in Iran’s market. Xi responded that Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran ‘no matter how the situation changes.’ After eighteen succesful years, the SCO is raising its game.

ASEAN. Established in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations–Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam–agreed to accelerate their region’s economic growth, social progress and cultural development through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community and to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. Russia and China are strategic ASEAN partners but, though ASEAN had a much longer dialog partnerships with the Western countries like America and the EU, none of them proposed a free trade agreement for ASEAN. China did so in 1988 and then concluded the ASEAN-China FTA in record time with the result that total trade between ASEAN and China, $8 billion in 1991, grew to $600 billion in 2018 with a goal of $1 trillion by 2024.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership[5], (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, with India undecided). The world’s largest trade bloc, the RCEP accounts for forty percent of the world’s economy. It is biased in favor of developing nations and excludes investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms (ISDS)[6] that advantage private corporations over states.

The Belt and Road Initiative. Scheduled to launch on June 1, 2021, the BRI integrates four billion people in one-hundred thirty countries across Eurasia, Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific. BRI focuses on policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people ties. It is building power plants in Pakistan, train lines in Hungary and ports from Africa to Greece, replacing Western institutions, refashioning the global economic order, forging new ties, creating new markets, deepening economic connections and strengthening diplomatic bonds. Iran is a key BRI node and Tehran sees it as the way to full integration into the Eurasian economic ecosystem. Cargo transiting from all over India via the International North-South Transport Corridor, INSTC, to Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas reduces shipping costs to Europe by forty percent and will soon merge with BRI’s global transport network.

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The BRI’s Eurasian Land Bridge exemplifies its cooperative model. Added value production, like assembling component parts from different origins, can be conducted tax free in its border Free Trade Zones, where wages are one-fifth of China’s. This allows for the addition of lower cost labor to be factored into the production cost rather than being exposed to one salary band in one country. Goods entering these FTZs attract no customs duty or VAT because they are considered to be outside customs borders, and companies operating within them are exempt from all taxes. The nodes: Huoergousi Export Processing Zone (China-Kazakhstan Border); Khorgos Eastern Gate Special Economic Zone (Kazakhstan); Aktau Special Economic Zone (Kazakhstan); Alat Free Trade Zone (Azerbaijan); Poti Free Industrial Zone (Georgia); Hualing-Kutaisi Free Industrial Zone (Georgia). Turkey’s East Anatolia Free Trade Zone is the most interesting, since Turkey’s Custom Union with the EU admits goods of Turkish origin free of tax. Over 6,300 trains made the journey last year, one every ninety minutes. Trans-Eurasia transit time has fallen from three weeks to two, and will reach ten days next year.

Ultimately, Russia aims to connect China’s northern provinces with Eurasia via the Trans-Siberian and the Chinese Eastern Railway. Chita in China and Khabarovsk in Russia are already totally interconnected. Across the spectrum, Moscow aims at maximizing return on the crown jewels of her Far East: agriculture, water resources, minerals, lumber, oil and gas. Construction of LNG plants in Yamal vastly benefits China, Japan and South Korea. The same applies to gateway Vladivostok, Eurasia’s entry point for both South Korea and Japan, as well as Russia’s entry point to Northeast Asia. Kazakhstan shows how Greater Eurasia and BRI are complementary: Astana is a member of both the BRI and the EAEU.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

The Polar Silk Road sea route, the long-sought Northeast Passage, five-thousand miles shorter than the Suez route, runs mostly in Russia’s coastal waters. In 2010 the first cargo ship sailed the entire route without icebreaker assistance and, in 2017, the Christophe de Margerie became the first ever ice-breaking LNG carrier to transport LNG from the Yamal peninsula through the Bering Strait and south to Japan and China. Russia’s Sovcomflot and Novatek signed an agreement with China’s Cosco Shipping and the Silk Road Fund to establish a Maritime Arctic Transport joint venture to manage an ice-breaking tanker fleet in the transportation of LNG for current and planned Novatek projects including Yamal LNG, Arctic LNG Two and others.

Pipelineistan. The IEA calculates that oil will remain the world’s dominant source of energy in 2040, accounting for one-fourth of global energy consumption. Russia accounts for fifteen percent of the world’s energy reserves and the Persian Gulf region for 65%. Russian and Chinese-built pipelines are distributing this energy wealth across the continent resurrecting the South Stream gas pipeline to supply Europe as an extension of TurkStream. Though the US has furiously opposed Nord Stream 2, it will begin delivering gas to Germany within six months. Russian gas will also start flowing to Turkey via TurkStream this year and Russia and Bulgaria have begun work on the Balkan Stream Pipeline to carry gas to southern EU.

The Global Electric Interconnect. Beijing launched GEIDCO in 2016, an ultra-high voltage grid to continually transmit clean energy around the globe, following the sun. GEIDCO has seven regional offices, forty global offices, six-hundred regional and national members and has invested $1.6 trillion in eighty generation and transmission projects across Eurasia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and North America.

The Digital Silk Road. The DSR is strengthening internet infrastructure, deepening space cooperation, developing common technology standards, and improving the efficiency of policing systems among Belt and Road countries. It gathers space-based remote sensing data for multiple projects along the BRI and China is promoting BeiDou-2, its global satellite navigation system as an alternative to America’s GPS. Pakistan, Laos, Brunei, and Thailand have already adopted BeiDou. Construction has begun on the Pakistan East Africa Cable Express, connecting Pakistan to Kenya and Djibouti. In 2012, under one percent of Myanmar’s population had broadband access but the country expects to launch 5G broadband service by 2025, leapfrogging the USA.

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The Russo-Chinese Electronic Funds Silk Road will replace the US-dominated SWIFT network.

The Silk Road International Bank, along with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, guarantees a trillion dollars annually in long-term, low interest loans for regional infrastructure, poverty reduction, growth and climate change mitigation and allows Eurasia’s four billion savers to mobilize local savings that previously had few safe or creative outlets. Nothing could be more sensible for the new Pipelineistan deal than to have it settled in yuan. Beijing would pay Gazprom in that currency (convertible into rubles); Gazprom would accumulate the yuan and Russia would then buy myriad made-in-China goods and services in yuan convertible into rubles. The merger of Russia’s Mir payment system and China’s Union Pay appears inevitable because their bilateral trade is growing by an astonishing half a billion dollars a month and Beijing’s fully convertible digital yuan may debut as soon as this year, adding to the fun.

Invulnerability to attack. In the past eighteen months, Russia and China have demonstrated their ability to defend themselves against any attack and, in turn, to destroy every city in the United States inside forty-five minutes. Russia is now helping China build her own Missile Attack Early warning System (SPRN).

Hegemony and Humanitarian Leadership. According to Chinese political scientist Xunzi[7], there are three types of leadership: humane authority, hegemony and tyranny. Humane authority begins by creating a desirable model at home that inspires people abroad. He proposed that, though hegemons know how to win wars, “The ruler who makes his own state act correctly will attain international primacy. The domestic determines the international and, since humane authority based on morality rather than power, is superior to hegemony it is more important to win over people than territory. States wishing to exercise humane authority must be the first to respect the norms they advocate and leaders of high ethical reputation and great administrative ability will attract other states. To be compassionate in great matters and overlook the small makes one fit to become lord of the covenants. Loving friends, being friendly with the great, rewarding your allies and punishing those who oppose you, the lord of the covenants has a definite duty and his moral standing should match it. Presiding over the meetings of other states grants international recognition of humane authority.” Two centuries later, Confucius summarized Xunzi thus, “Moral superiors and inferiors relate to each other like wind and grass: grass must bend when the wind blows over it”.

Godfree Roberts has been studying China since 1967 and is preparing a book, How China Works, for publication this year. His collected ravings can be found on the Unz Review, here.

Notes

[1] The Geographical Pivot of History, Royal Geographical Society, 1904, Mackinder extended the scope of geopolitical analysis to the entire globe.

[2] Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21st Century. By J. W. Smith

[3] A Third World Perspective on the Press. RH Lee Kwan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore. C-SPAN, APRIL 14, 1988

[4] President Erdogan said he bought Russian S-400s so he could withdraw from NATO and join the SCO

[5] According to PwC, RCEP member states GDP, PPP, will be $250 trillion by 2050, with the combined GDPs of China and India making up more than 75% of that. RCEP’s share of the global economy could account for half of the $0.5 quadrillion global GDP by 2050.

[6] ISDS clauses allow foreign investors to sue national governments for any measures that harm their profits. NGOs, trade unions, charities and faith groups say they are a threat to human rights, health and the environment.

[7] Hegemonic Stability Theory: An Empirical Assessment. Michael C. Webb and Stephen D. Krasner. Review of International Studies. Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Issue on the Balance of Power (Apr., 1989), pp. 183-198. Cambridge University Press

[8] Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power. By Yan Xuetong


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