One defied diplomatic boycotts over its human rights record and welcomed the world to its first Winter Olympics. The other massed troops on its neighbor’s border and made demands of the United States and its allies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin stand side by side during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4. Their joint appearance not only delivered the most direct demonstration of Sino-Russian unity in decades, but also what observers saw as the clearest signal yet that the two intend to shape a new world order – one in which America’s postwar global dominance is receding and autocratic regimes can thrive in the space left behind.
“They see this as a post-Trump world where the Americans pulled out of Afghanistan in disarray, they can’t seem to deter the Russians, and they can’t even handle Covid,” said Steve Tsang, director of China China. Institute of SOAS University of London. “So maybe it’s not totally stupid and wrong if they say ‘East rises and West declines’.”
As democracy recedes globally, the resolve of Russia and China has been particularly strengthened by the perceived withdrawal of the United States from the world stage and the erosion of its own values at home, he said. -he declares. This has created a vacuum, in the eyes of some in Beijing and Moscow, that both countries are only too happy to step into.
This idea is not entirely new.
Since at least 2008, government officials and intellectual elites in China and Russia have been predicting or advocating the end of post-war American dominance. But a 5,000-word joint statement was the first time that these countries have together laid out their vision in such a comprehensive way for this “multipolar” future.
“A trend has emerged towards the redistribution of power around the world,” the statement said. This “new era” will “ensure peace, stability and sustainable development”, he added, rather than the “power politics” and “bullying” of US supremacy where “the weak fall prey strong”.
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Fundamentally, ending US rule would prevent the West from trying to “interfere in the internal affairs of other states, infringing on their legitimate rights and interests,” the statement said, repeating a longstanding complaint used to push back. Western calls for democratic, legal and economic reforms.
Without naming names, the message was clear: Washington has neither the power nor the right to act as the police of the world.
For China, that would mean less criticism over alleged human rights abuses against its Uyghur Muslim minority, which the United States and others say is subject to cultural genocide, its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong and his threats to invade Taiwan, which China denies.
Russia wants to silence critics of its interference in other countries’ elections, its invasion of neighbors, such as Georgia and Ukraine, and its silence on political opposition and freedom of expression at home, which she also denies.
The extent of the US decline has been debated for years in Chinese power circles, said Kingsley Edney, who teaches Chinese politics and international relations at the University of Leeds in England. Articulating it so strongly last week is “perhaps a sign and it’s something that’s becoming more of a consensus within the establishment,” he said.
Indeed, the rise of the East and the decline of the West have become a common refrain for Xi and his top officials – and not without evidence. China is expected to become the world’s biggest economy this decade and build the equivalent of France’s navy every four years, German and French officials have said.
The same cannot be said of Russia, which, though punching above its weight thanks to its large gas reserves and nuclear arsenal, remains a mid-sized economic powerhouse with a gross domestic product of less than that of Italy. But in China he now has a powerful partner who last week fell behind on several of his demands, including banning Ukraine from joining NATO.
Beijing is also now Moscow’s biggest trading partner, with nearly $150 billion in imports and exports last year.
Some scholars believe the world has already ceased to be “unipolar,” in which Washington’s dominance was built on what it likes to call the “rules-based order.” This value system is based, at least in theory, on democracy, human rights and international free trade.
In reality, America has often contradicted these ideals, from its own history of slavery and segregation to funding right-wing regime change in Latin America. But it was only relatively recently that foreign powers seriously challenged its economic, cultural and military supremacy.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, some thinkers believed that the western liberal model had prevailed for good: democracy had won a global victory and it was only a matter of time before the world’s authoritarians took over. line up.
“It gave the United States the ability and the opportunity to do what it saw fit on the world stage,” wrote Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign policy analyst who heads a body that advises the Russian government last year. Kremlin. “There were no more external constraints.”
Fast forward 30 years — through financial crises, several heavily criticized US invasions, and administrations that deviated from many foreign policy norms — and Washington’s place in the world is quite different.
Across 16 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in the spring of 2021, on average just 17% of respondents said the United States was a good model of democracy, and 57% said it had been before.
International confidence in the Western model took a hit after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the 2008 financial crisis. But Donald Trump’s election appalled longtime allies and shocked enemies like few others. Previous events had done so, especially his critics. of the very institutions on which post-war American power had been built, and his promotion of the conspiracy theory that he won the 2020 presidential election, which he lost.
President Joe Biden was seen by many as a relief. But America’s continued struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the false belief of many Republicans in Trump’s baseless claim that he has won have only deepened. these theories of declinism abroad.
It is unclear what the Sino-Russian partnership means for this stalemate on the margins of Europe. China has backed Russia’s demand that Ukraine should never join NATO, but experts believe it would not want a war because of its trade ties with Kiev.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday that an invasion by Russia could begin “any day,” something Moscow has consistently denied despite its massive troop buildup.
With tensions at their highest and Russia staging military exercises in the nearby Black Sea, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Putin on Monday and suggested the Kremlin continue its diplomatic road with the United States. United and its allies. The Kremlin also said Putin had approved his latest response in the back-and-forth with the United States over Moscow’s sweeping security demands, which would reshape the post-Cold War landscape in Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that relations between Moscow and Washington were “on the ground” despite a call between Biden and Putin on Saturday.
Russia moving so many military assets to its European flank is a sign of how comfortable it feels to leave its east side relatively undefended, according to Michael Kofmanresearch program director of the NAC’s Russian Studies Program, a Washington-area think tank.
Many experts say it is also a mistake to link the Ukraine crisis to Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province and has threatened to invade. Taiwan is far more important to the United States than Ukraine, both commercially and strategically, so it should not be viewed from the same foreign policy lens.
But SOAS University’s Tsang says he’s sure officials in Beijing will be watching the Western response to Ukraine closely. Although Washington and its European allies have stressed that they are all on the same page, there have been signs of division, with Germany in particular favoring a more moderate approach towards the Kremlin.
“If the Western democratic response to Ukraine is in disarray,” he said, “then it’s not unreasonable for the Chinese to assume that it would be a mess for Taiwan as well.”