Home » Xi Jinping “snatches” Central Asia from Putin: here is a price for support for Ukraine | Federico Rampini

Xi Jinping “snatches” Central Asia from Putin: here is a price for support for Ukraine | Federico Rampini

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Xi Jinping “snatches” Central Asia from Putin: here is a price for support for Ukraine |  Federico Rampini

This text anticipates the «Global» newsletter, signed by Federico Rampini: to subscribe and receive it every Saturday morning, just click here

While the Japan chairs the G7 summit in Hiroshima, the Chinese host or prepare gods international counter-summits with all those who are not represented at the G7.

These alternative summits foreshadow the world that (perhaps) will come: the Sino-centric world that Xi Jinping it wants to replace the American-centric global order.

The first of these summits shortly preceded the G7, it is the one that brought together with China the leaders of five Central Asian states: an area of ​​the world that once belonged to the Soviet Union. The second vertex, even more important, is that of Brics (Brazil Russia India China South Africa) scheduled for August: South Africa chairs it and Vladimir Putin himself could participate.

Because the G7 is no longer representative

The varying geometry of these vertices reflects changes in the international balance of forces. The G7 is a creature of the Cold War and the first oil shock (the OPEC embargo of 1973). It was born as the club of the richest countries in the world: in the 1970s they were all Western, with the exception of Japan. The members of that club have remained the same, though meanwhile the GDP ranking is no longer represented within the G7: China is world number two, India and South Korea could in turn replace Italy and Canada. In short, if it were to reflect the hierarchies of GDP today the G7 would be much more Asian, only America and Germany would certainly save their seats there, while France and the United Kingdom would go to a playoff.

At its birth, the G7 brought together almost two-thirds of the world‘s GDP. Its economic weight still increased until it reached up to 70% of global GDP at the end of the eighties. Since then the decline has begun, today it is at 45%. Measured at purchasing power parity, the GDP of the BRICS – thanks to China – today would have exceeded that of the G7. An interesting aspect is the tightness of America. America’s GDP was a quarter of the world‘s in 1990 and still is thirty years later, despite China’s rise. US GDP was 40% of that of the G7 in 1990, today it has risen to 58%. So the relative decline of the G7 relative to the rest of the world is due more to the disappointing economic performance of Europe.

The fact is that the G7 has long ceased to be representative of the global economy. Already in 2008, faced with the shock of the financial crisis, in order to agree on an international response, Barack Obama wanted to shift the center of gravity of the consultations between governments in favor of the G20, which played a positive role in buffering the banking crises of the time. The problem is that in the G20, in addition to China and other large emerging nations, there is also Russia. This makes it unusable as a post-Ukraine decision-making forum. Hence the relaunch of the G7 in its more political and strategic vocation. This format is once again useful as an «alliance of liberal democracies». But for the same reason there is growing interest in other international architectures, where the rest of the world finds space: in particular that global Great South which has avoided taking sides on the war in Ukraine, tries not to take sides with one or the other another of the blocs, refuses to apply sanctions, even if in some cases (India, Brazil and South Africa to speak of the BRICS) it is governed by democratic systems.

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Great Global South, an arena for Xi Jinping

The global Great South, as we know, is a geopolitical concept, not a geographic one. Many emerging countries located north of the equator are also part of it. Unlike the “non-aligned” Third World of the first cold war, which was marked by underdevelopment, this geopolitical Great South is full of emerging countries … already quite emerged (India, Indonesia, Mexico) and some even very rich, like the Saudi Arabia. It is a terrain in which Chinese diplomacy is proving to be hyperactive. The Arabian-Iranian diplomatic thaw was a success for Xi Jinping that boosted his credentials in that world.

The Central Asian summit that was just held on Chinese initiative is another important moment. It was attended by the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. The place chosen by the Chinese landlord for this episode of the summit is symbolic: Xian, known worldwide as the capital of the “terracotta army”, was also the original terminal of the ancient Silk Roads, those which inspired the gigantic infrastructure investment project called Belt and Road Initiative. From the imperial capital of Xian, Chinese influence has radiated to Asia for millennia. That place contains a message dear to Xi Jinping: the People’s Republic is recovering the role that was its for most of human historyas the most advanced and richest civilization on the planet, the center of the world.

The Central Asian summit is a challenge for other superpowers. America has left a vacuum in that part of the world when she withdrew (badly) from Afghanistan, and she certainly isn’t happy to see that void being filled by her most formidable rival. But the most disruptive challenge is to Russia. Those five Central Asian republics they were once part of the Soviet Union. Even after the dissolution of the USSR, they continued to gravitate towards Moscow. Today Russia is too weakened by the war to exercise its hegemony over Central Asia, which turns to a much stronger protector.

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To underline the robbery done to Russia there is a 4 billion euro investment project for a new railway network that would connect China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to Europe, without passing through Russia. Here is how Xi Jinping is starting to collect the claims he accumulated against Vladimir Putin with economic support during the war: he slips away the ex-colonies. Putin wanted to go back to expanding his sphere of influence to the West, and instead he lost it to the East. Absorbed by the disastrous Ukrainian adventure, he gives up pieces of his empire which are sliding at great speed towards China.

There is a queue to join the BRICS

As an anti-G7, as an alternative summit representing the global Great South, the best container is the acronym Brics.

Strange story: the acronym was invented by an economist at Goldman Sachs at the beginning of the millennium, to indicate to American investors a new category of countries to invest in: the emerging ones. At the time, it seemed like bold advice to place capital in such exotic destinations. In the beginning they were Bric, the S of South Africa was added later. She liked the assonance with the name “bricks” which in English means bricks. They liked it so much that for some they became the bricks of a new geopolitical building, the architecture of a different international order from the American-centric one.

The BRICS became attached to the idea of ​​Goldman Sachs, they began to get together (it’s a story I told in detail in my book “The Long Winter”).

The summit has become a real institution, complete with a secretariat and rotating presidency, like our G7. One weakness is its political heterogeneity. It is not enough to be ideologically anti-Western, or in any case allergic to East-West alliances, to get along. The most striking case is the coexistence within the BRICS of China and India, two powers that have few interests in common, a lot of rivalry, and even a territorial dispute that occasionally pushes their two armies to collide on the border. India in the BRICS appears almost as a pro-American infiltrator; however it maintains excellent relations with Russia, it does not sanction it, on the contrary it buys oil and gas galore.

The Brics club attracts converts: there is a long list of nations that would like to be admitted: from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, from Argentina at the Nigeria. If the BRICS said yes to everyone they would quickly become another G20. Enlargement will be one of the topics discussed at the August summitunder the presidency of South Africa. A summit surrounded by enormous expectations, and high tension. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has managed to sharpen all the suspicions of America and the West towards him, with a series of acts in favor of Russia as well as China. First of all, joint military maneuvers were held in February between the South African, Russian and Chinese armed forces: practically coinciding with the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. Then Washington revealed that South Africa sold arms to Russia, which the Pretoria government was unable to deny.

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Arrest Putin?

In the end there is the possibility that Vladimir Putin will want to appear in person at the BRICS summit in August.

In theory, South Africa should arrest him and hand him over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, in execution of the arrest warrant, because Pretoria is a signatory to the articles of association of that court and recognizes its jurisdiction. Ramaphosa went so far as to announce his country’s withdrawal from the Court, then took it all back, creating a great mess. It is reasonable to predict that he will figure out a way not to arrest Putinas it did for former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir when he attended another summit in South Africa while he was indicted in The Hague.

Maybe even to make her forget gaffeRamaphosa has announced that he will lead a peace mission with other African leaders, an unlikely attempt at mediation between Russia and Ukraine. Along with South Africa are Congo, Egypt, Senegal, Zambia, plus a non-African country, Saudi Arabia. If you take away Riyadh, which thanks to oil and the leadership of OPEC can have an influence on Moscow, the others are not able to exert effective pressure.

The initiative seems to have been dictated by the economic hardships that the war continues to cause, in particular through food price inflation. Skepticism about this mediation is legitimate. But even this initiative adds to a scenario in which the rest of the world wants to mark its autonomy from the West; while he doesn’t have the same anxiety about distancing himself from Moscow and Beijing. The ability of the West to react and regain the initiative is limited, among other things, by the approaching presidential election in America. Joe Biden had to shorten his trip, limiting it only to the G7 in Japan. He has cut out of the itinerary a tour of the Pacific islands which are important for military reasons, and are being courted by China. Biden anticipated his return to Washington where difficult negotiations on the US federal debt ceiling are underway with the Republican majority in the House. Even if the hypothesis of a US sovereign default remains unlikely, the very fact that it is talked about is a sign of the damage that polarization inflicts on America and its image in the world.

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