The US became the undisputed world leader, post the Cold War, giving it the opportunity to shape the world order. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the then US President said, “Now the world will be far safer place to live”; sadly, that has not been the case. Instrumentality of the US in the subsequent turbulence in West Asia is written in bold letters. The impact of Iraqi invasion and global war on terror post 9/11 does not seem to be over yet. Sanctions on Russia post annexation of Crimea has been counter productive. Russia also intervened in Syria and appears to have warmed up to Turkey despite its fighter aircraft having been shot down by the Turks. The Russian people have given a thumping mandate to President Putin in the recent elections, effectively endorsing his strong leadership.
Nationalism appears to be the keyword. President Putin desires to restore Russia’s great power status akin to Cold War; President Trump has vowed to make America great again; PM Shinzo Abe of Japan desires to make major amendments to its pacifist constitution; President Duterte of Philippines has cleaned up narcotic peddlers as also played realpolitik in the South China Sea, and President Erdogan of Turkey has displayed his mettle. So what about China, the elephant in the room?
While the US remained engaged in GWOT, its manufacturing units moved to China, which, on account of cheap labour, offered larger profit margins to big business houses. It also provided opportunity to China to piggyback the US in its energy and economy security. China is now set to displace the US as the largest economy of the world. It used the intervening period to engagein violation of intellectual property rights to rapidlyexpand its defence technology and manufacturing sector. Today, China is the largest trading partner of over 120 countries, having flooded the markets of many countries with cheap retail goods. Its economic influence and debt trap has taken the world by surprise. The land grab in South China Sea has spilled to the IOR, with Sri Lanka having become a victim already and Maldives is in a debt trap with a number of its islands have been bought by China under the pretext of development!
The Trump administration’s policies, or the lack thereof, have made the status of the US most uncertain in the world order. Two countries that have joined hands firmly, Russia and China, together are filling the vacuum. While China is concentrating on its economy and using military power to enlarge its economic influence, Russia is reinventing its technological prowess, particularly in the defence sector. Now that both Putin and Xi Jinping have tightened their grip on their administrative apparatus, the world is likely to see increased intervention of these two countries in world affairs, both economic and military. Realignments have already begun, mostly in Asia and Africa. With the perceived benefits of China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) having been sold to many countries, time is not far when Europe and Latin America too will see the Chinese trade and economic influence.
Australia is revisiting its policies on China and has banned foreign funding to political parties after a few political disasters which rocked the Australian system. The number of Chinese present in Australia has become alarming. This can be judged by the fact that over 50 newspapers in Australia are published in Mandarin. The universities are flooded with Chinese students. China has trade deficit with Australia and provides the Aussies handsome 27 percent lead in their total trade.The mining industry is virtually owned by China. The Chinese diaspora is increasing at rapid pace since the Chinese companies use Chinese citizens as workforce all over the world. Chinese Communist Party exercises hard-hold on the diaspora. It has acquired such importance that in the recent restructuring of the party, during National Party Congress, the charter of the United Front Work Department, which is responsible for its overseas liaison work, has been enlarged. It will now oversee ethnic and religious affairs as well. This is a step in the direction of China’s political infiltration in other countries. President Xi had, in 2015, said that rapidly changing internal and external situation meant that this department’s work had to be more coordinated. It is aimed at consolidating party’s direction on religion and ensuring religious activities were consistent with socialism. The State Ethnic Commission has been placed under this department and will be responsible for uniting the Chinese diaspora. Such is the reaction that an US congressman is drafting a bill to demand China’s cultural outposts such as Confucius Institute be registered as foreign agents.
China has realised the need to consolidate its domestic and international resources to project its influence as global power according to Liu Hong, chair of social sciences at NTU Singapore. Resurgence of Russia, renewed trust in the leadership (Putin’s re-election) and China’s turbulent rise, constitutional amendment to remove hurdles for the present leadership and an uncertain US on the other, is the time ripe for RUS-CHIN (Russia and China) to redefine world order in the next six years?
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff.