Dissecting the rival blocks of the new cold war
The United States and China have rallied their allies for major summits in recent days, sending an ominous echo from rival Cold War-era blocs.
For his part, US President Joseph Biden met with other G7 leaders at Schloss Elmau in southern Germany, where they discussed common strategic concerns regarding Russia and China. Collectively, the seven major Western countries have pledged up to $600 billion to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the developing world.
The US President has made it clear that the recently launched “Global Infrastructure and Investment Partnership” initiative is not “aid or charity”, but rather represents a strategic investment so that countries developing see the “concrete benefits of partnership with democracies”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed Washington’s ideological line, saying the new initiative shows how “democracies, when working together, offer the best path to deliver results for our people. and the peoples of the whole world”.
On the other side of the divide, China hosted a virtual BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit, where President Xi Jinping pledged massive investments in South-South cooperation and called on other emerging powers to “support each other on issues concerning core interests” and “reject hegemony, bullying and division”.
In a thinly veiled swipe at Western powers, Xi criticized the “attempt[s] to expand military alliances to seek absolute security, stoking bloc-based confrontation by forcing other countries to choose sides, and pursuing unilateral domination at the expense of the rights and interests of others.
In a joint statement of over 7,300 words, the so-called Beijing Declaration, the BRICS powers effectively called for a new world order that better reflects the interests of emerging nations.
Faced with a barrage of sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia seized the event as an opportunity to push back against the West and, therefore, welcomed the potential membership of like-minded powers such as the Iran to power group.
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have a vision for the BRICS. Photo: WikiCommons
China has also invited up to 13 other developing countries including Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Malaysia and Thailand to BRICS-related events in the goal of projecting a united front against the West.
On closer inspection, however, it is clear that the G7 grouping is no longer as relevant or powerful as it used to be, nor is the BRICS a cohesive, unified power bloc.
Overall, European nations are divided on the extent to which they are ready to join a weakened America against a resurgent China, while emerging powers such as India are primarily interested in strengthening their own voice in the international system. existing.
During the previous Cold War, Washington and Moscow, both in possession of thousands of nuclear warheads, were rarely in direct competition but instead used proxies in the postcolonial world and rival blocs, namely the Treaty Organization of the North Atlantic (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, ushered in what conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer has described as “the unipolar moment,” where “[t]he center of world power is the undisputed superpower, the United States, assisted by its Western allies.
Academic Francis Fukuyama went further, arguing that geopolitics had arrived at “the end of history”, namely the definitive victory of capitalist democracy as the ultimate form of social organization.
It wasn’t long, however, before imperial hubris undermined America’s “hyperpower” status, especially after the George W Bush administration’s destructive neoconservative interventions in the Middle East. .
In fact, the 2000s were a golden era for non-Western powers. Between 2000 and 2005, gross capital inflows into emerging markets grew by an impressive 92%, which increased fivefold over the next half-decade.
As investment poured in and exports of manufactured goods and raw materials soared, emerging economies doubled their share of global gross domestic product (GDP) in just over a decade.
Recognizing the rapid re-emergence of non-Western nations, Wall Street gurus such as Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs Asset Management began to talk about the so-called “BRIC” countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China. .
What started as a catchphrase among investors soon turned into a true geopolitical grouping, with Russia hosting the first BRIC summit in 2009. Later, South Africa, another major emerging economy, was added. to the grouping, which now enjoys worldwide membership.
While leading experts such as Fareed Zakaria now speak of a “post-American world”, the G7 countries have decided to join forces with emerging powers to create the G20 group, which includes the BRICS countries as well as Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and Argentina.
The declining power of the G7: from left to right, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prime Canadian Minister Justin Trudeau, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a photo at Schloss Elmau castle in Bavaria, Germany, June 26, 2022. Photo: Pool / Agencies / Twitter
China, however, sensed a unique opportunity in making the BRICS a springboard for its global agenda, namely to challenge US dominance over the world order.
To this end, China has cemented strategic partnerships with other BRIC powers such as Russia and Brazil and even established the New Development Bank, formerly the BRICS Development Bank, as part of a system Beijing-backed booming international economy, which also includes the BIS and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
At the last BRICS summit, China tried to expand the group by inviting 13 other major developing countries, including Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Malaysia and Thailand.
As Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based Chinese military analyst, put it, “China has been trying to strengthen and expand the BRICS to help Russia, counterbalance the West, and offset international pressure…”
At the BRICS business forum, Xi accused the West of “[p]politicizing, instrumentalizing and militarizing the global economy by using a dominant position in the global financial system to impose sanctions without reason will only hurt others and hurt yourself, leaving people around the world to suffer.
During the high-level dialogue on global development, the Chinese leader promised to transform the “South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund” into the “Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund” by increasing the budget for initiatives at $4 billion.
A few days later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced that major emerging powers such as Argentina and Iran were also interested in joining the group.
“While the White House was considering what else in the world to disable, ban or spoil, Argentina and Iran asked to join the BRICS,” Zakharova wrote on her Telegram account. Yet BRICS powers such as India have fiercely resisted joint efforts by China and Russia to turn the group into an anti-Western bloc.
Ahead of the Beijing summit, Indian officials vowed to ensure that “any joint statement coming out of the summit is neutral and to prevent attempts by China and Russia to use the summit to achieve a propaganda victory over the United States and its allies,” according to a Bloomberg report. As a result, the final joint statement ended up being extremely watered down, avoiding hot issues altogether.
Wary of the rise of China, with which it has long-standing territorial disputes, India has insisted on maintaining strong strategic relations with the West. Meanwhile, other emerging powers such as Brazil and South Africa, which face enormous economic difficulties, are neither interested nor able to confront the West.
Both India and South Africa have eagerly welcomed their inclusion in the expanded groupings of the G7 Plus, otherwise known as the G11, which also includes South Korea and Australia.
As Shi Yinhong, an academic based at Renmin University in Beijing, has argued: “The split between China and India over border tensions left the BRICS largely a place of discussion even before the Ukrainian crisis when it comes to substantive cooperation rather than empty words.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a photocall during the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in Tokyo, Japan, May 23, 2022. Photo: Pool
He said the summit ended “heavy with principles and slogans, but failed to address or offer solutions to these dangerous hotspots of our time.”
On the other hand, the G7, which has lost much of its global influence in recent decades, is also internally divided on the China issue, with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo openly warning “.[ing] we turn our backs on China as we turn our backs on Russia.
As for its $600 billion infrastructure initiative, not only does it pale in comparison to China’s overall infrastructure footprint, it’s unlikely to make a big dent in the larger scheme of things. .
After all, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that developing Asia alone needs $26 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next decade.