By Roman Bharati
Since the end of World War I in 1918, the United States has emerged as the world’s preeminent superpower and global hegemon. Through its economic, political, and military might, the US has exerted unprecedented influence on the international stage for over a century. Its economy has been the largest in the world since the mid-20th century, with the US dollar serving as the dominant currency for global trade and finance. The US has also been a major player in international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, shaping their policies to reflect its interests. Its military, with its vast network of bases and advanced weapons systems, has been a crucial factor in maintaining its global dominance.
All that is about to change.
In the span of three days, from March 20th to March 22nd, 2023, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, played gracious host to the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, within the opulent walls of the Kremlin in Moscow. As a testament to their shared amicability, Xi Jinping fondly referred to his visit as a “journey of friendship”, during which he signed a collection of documents, notably including the “Joint Statement on Deepening Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Entering a New Era” and the “Joint Statement on the Development Plan for Key Areas of Russian-Chinese Economic Cooperation until 2030”.
These two documents provide guidelines for the future of both nations, and aim to establish long-term goals for implementing similar tasks in comprehensive national development. They will impact the governments, businesses, and public sectors of both countries. To coordinate this ambitious task, the regular meetings of the heads of government will cover all areas of cooperation between Russia and China. The meetings are to serve as a mechanism to ensure the successful implementation of the set goals.
In 2022, despite the pandemic and sanctions pressure, Russia and China achieved a historically record high trade volume of $185 billion, which is expected to surpass the milestone of $200 billion this year. The trade turnover grew by more than 30 percent over the year. The conjugation of the Eurasian Economic Community and the initiative of the President of the People’s Republic of China “One Belt, One Road” provide additional opportunities for unlocking the potential of the economies. In the investment sphere, a large-scale package of 80 significant and promising bilateral projects worth about $165 billion has been formed in various fields. The energetic interaction is expanding, and Russia is a strategic supplier of energy resources to China. The total volume of gas supplies by 2030 will be at least 98 billion cubic meters plus 100 million tons of liquefied natural gas. The use of national currencies in mutual trade is increasingly encouraged, and two-thirds of the trade turnover between the countries is carried out in rubles and yuan.
According to Putin, the use of Chinese yuan in settlements between the Russian Federation and countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America is favoured. Industrial cooperation in civil aircraft construction, shipbuilding, and automobile production is deepening, and Russian support is available for Chinese businesses. Agricultural trade has grown significantly, with a 41.4 percent increase in volume and a value of $7 billion. The relevant ministries and departments are working to ensure product quality standards and mutual access to food products, which can lead to further growth in Russian food exports to the Chinese market and enhance food security. The proposal is to improve strategic sectoral partnerships to ensure technological sovereignty, combining Russia and China’s scientific potential and production capabilities to become world leaders in information technology, network security, and artificial intelligence.
Of course, the underlying context of the talks was dominated by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Though there were no pledges of lethal aid from China to Russia – something that was very strongly speculated to happen by so-called ‘experts’ – China will continue to trade with Russia primarily in their respective currencies.
So how is American hegemony being challenged through these talks? For nearly a century, especially post-WW2, the United States’ goal has generally been to keep Russia – then the USSR – and China more or less separated geopolitically and strategically. After all, those were the primary objectives of Nixon’s visit in 1972. One of the key objectives of the visit was to counterbalance the Soviet Union’s power and influence in the world. By forming an alliance with China, the US hoped to create a three-way balance of power that would limit the Soviet Union’s ability to exert its influence in the world.
After the fall of the USSR, Western allyship with Russia seemed more possible, with the Russian Federation and the US being official allies in the early 2000s. However, as is evidenced by the current geopolitical context, such is not the case today. The reasons for this are multidimensionally complex and best saved for another publication. Yet, one of the consequences of the very extreme anti-Russia line the US has taken in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is its movement towards China as an ally. These talks seem to be the next stage of progression in the Sino-Russian relationship.
Though it is far from certain that Russia’s and China’s combined forces – economically, militarily, or otherwise – are sufficient to overtake the United States in such realms, this combination would undoubtedly shift the world into a multipolar order as opposed to the unipolar order that has existed for the past 80 years or so. One of the world’s largest economies combined with the world’s largest land mass is certainly not something to ignore. The world is changing; time will tell whether for better or for worse.