How a Russia, China-led world order might look
China recently put into operation a new 320-km section of the Power of Siberia natural gas pipeline. Moscow also announced that construction of Power of Siberia 2 would begin in 2024 and that the pipeline would be an alternative to Nord Stream 2, which faces uncertainty because of the West’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak stated that the two countries would soon sign a deal for Moscow to supply 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year through the proposed new pipeline. The suggested volume matches the decline in the volume of gas Russia will send to the EU this year.
At the same time, these economic dynamics fit the political context as, at last month’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “The world is changing rapidly, but only one thing remains unchanged: The friendship between China and Russia.” In turn, Xi Jinping said that China is “ready, together with our Russian colleagues, to set an example of a responsible world power and play a leading role in bringing such a rapidly changing world onto a trajectory of sustainable and positive development.”
What does such a model in bilateral relations mean and what type of world order does it offer? The answer is an order that challenges the well-established liberal order and its key components, which relies on the West. Another distinctive feature is a redirection of foreign policies primarily toward the East.
Their opposition to the liberal world order is linked with ending economic interdependence with the West. Since 2014, both Russia and China have been developing a so-called de-dollarization policy in order to stop using the US dollar in trade settlements in order to get around American sanctions against Russia. Along with signing a deal to use their national currencies in any settlements between them, the two states have also acknowledged the yuan as a possible replacement for the dollar. This is not unique to this alliance, as Russia and Iran in May agreed to use their national currencies in the fields of banking and energy, in addition to an agreement to integrate Iran’s Shetab and Russia’s Mir domestic payment systems. It is expected that Russia will make similar agreements with other Eastern countries.
Secondly, Russia’s energy deals will be further redirected toward the East. According to reports, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa, Sri Lanka and a number of Middle Eastern countries will buy Russian oil this winter, while the EU is in the process of canceling all dealings with Moscow. This adds to the redirection policy, as the East accepts deals with Russia based on mutual interests.
Moscow and Beijing’s opposition to the liberal world order is linked with ending economic interdependence with the West.
Dr. Diana Galeeva
One can expect to see an expansion of bloc-to-bloc cooperation among non-Western countries, especially further attempts to strengthen collaboration between the BRICS nations (China, India, South Africa, Russia and Brazil) and the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan).
During last week’s SCO summit in Samarkand, Iran — currently an observer state — signed a memorandum of obligations to join the organization. Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia are also observer states and there are dialogue partners, including Armenia, Cambodia, Turkey, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Azerbaijan. It is likely there will be further attempts to enlarge the organization so that it can act as a counterweight to US influence and well-established, powerful blocs such as NATO or the EU.
Finally, in contrast to the liberal world order, which is based on democratic states, the strong alliance of Russia and China further develops the possibility of the implementation of so-called sharp power. Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig defined the notion of sharp power in 2017. In contrast to soft power, it refers to the ability to influence others to get desired outcomes not through attraction, but via distraction and the manipulation of information. The distinctive feature of sharp power is that it is conducted by authoritarian states, with the authors specifically focusing on Russia and China. With their strong alliance, this sharp power is likely to be expanded toward other states, especially in the East.
To sum up, previous weeks have seen interesting political and economic developments with regard to further interpretation of the alternative world order that might await us in the future. Despite speculation, the liberal world order continues to dominate global politics, but it has been strongly challenged in recent years, especially by the alliance of Russia and China.
Whether this is really an alternative world order — with some attraction to the liberal order remaining for other countries — or whether one might expect further confrontational struggle between two different ideological views, one should wait and see (although perhaps it is happening now in Ukraine).
But without doubt, there are clear indicators of new dynamics that will shape the current world order, and new uncertainties and changes are anticipated. These include: A shift among the key energy suppliers worldwide as Russia chooses to deal with the East; the West looking to other states as alternative energy suppliers; a change in the choice of currencies, as some states de-dollarize while others do not; an expected growth in influence for international organizations that contain mainly Eastern states; and perhaps a spread of authoritarian sharp power.
- Dr. Diana Galeeva was an academic visitor to St. Antony’s College, Oxford University (2019-2022). She is the author of two books: “Qatar: The Practice of Rented Power” (Routledge, 2022) and “Russia and the GCC: The Case of Tatarstan’s Paradiplomacy” (I.B. Tauris/Bloomsbury, 2023). She is also a co-editor of the collection “Post-Brexit Europe and UK: Policy Challenges Towards Iran and the GCC States” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Twitter: @diana_galeeva