Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises

June10, 2018

Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises

by Bunn

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.–Bunn Nagara

Image result for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, in Qingdao, China on June 10, 2018.

THE week that was ended with a significant non-Western event often ignored or misunderstood by the West: the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

The 18th annual SCO summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao this weekend is only the fourth held in China. Beijing is relaxed about its role in a growing organisation of eight member countries, six Dialogue Partners and four observer nations – a confidence that suggests considerable clout.

Image result for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao.--Xi and Putin
Tajikistan President Imomali Rakhmon, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk for talks at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong Province Sunday, June 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)


China and Russia are the two hulking members of a group that boasts formal parity, being the conspicuous “firsts among equals.” And as two consecutive US administrations unwittingly drive these giants closer than ever before strategically, Western attention is led astray.

Western reports track President Putin’s travel to Qingdao and the diplomatic niceties exchanged there. At the same time, Western commentators are tempted to dismiss the summit as yet another futile talk fest. Both approaches are wrong or misplaced. While Xi-Putin exchanges may not be the highlight of this year’s SCO summit, neither are they insignificant.

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.

The latest SCO summit reaffirms the trend but adds only marginally to it by way of atmospherics. There are more important developments visible at, if not represented by, the Qingdao summit.

It is the first SCO summit at which both India and Pakistan arrive as full members.

Beginning as the Shanghai Five in the mid-1990s, the SCO has grown steadily and now incorporates three giants – China, Russia and India – in the great Eurasian land mass where both the US and the EU have scant inputs.

With Pakistan coming in at the same time as India as an equal partner, the SCO should be free from any sub-regional turbulence within South Asia.

Turkey is also an SCO Dialogue Partner whose interest in full membership is not without broader implications for the West.

Turkey has considerable military strength and is also a member of NATO, hosting its Allied Land Command and a US air base in Izmir. However, Ankara’s years-long effort to join the EU has been snubbed by Brussels.

Image result for tayyip erdogan

Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has famously mulled over choosing between the EU and the SCO, reportedly preferring the latter. How would the West find a NATO member joining a non-Western group led by Russia and China?

Deep-seated discomfort would be a mild way to put a reaction in Brussels and Washington. To US policymakers, Turkey is a strategic country because of its location as well as its status as a prominent Muslim country.

Both China and Russia have sounded positive about Turkey’s prospective membership of the SCO. Nonetheless, SCO members share an understanding of sorts that Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

However, Beijing and Moscow may be less concerned than Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s SCO membership with its NATO credentials intact. That immediately makes Turkey more comfortable to be in SCO company.

Turkey has already received what amounts to special treatment within the SCO that no other Dialogue Partner has enjoyed. Last year it was elected as Chair of the SCO’s Energy Club, a position previously enjoyed only by full members.

Erdogan has called the SCO “more powerful” than the EU, particularly in a time of Brexit. Bahrain and Qatar seek full SCO membership; Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Ukraine and Vietnam want to be Dialogue Partners; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Syria want Observer status.

Iran already has SCO Observer status and had applied for full membership in 2008. Following the easing of UN sanctions on Tehran, China declared its support for Iran’s membership bid in 2016.

The recent US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) has further prodded Tehran to “look East.” These days that means China and a China-led SCO.

Iran already trades heavily with China with myriad deals in multiple sectors. Mutual interests abound, far exceeding the basic relationship of oil and gas sales to China.

As Europe treads carefully, mindful of possible new sanctions on Iran following the US cop out, cash-rich Chinese firms take up the slack. US policy is also pushing Iran, among others, closer to China.

Image result for Narendra Modi at SCO with Xi

Modi and Xi–A Strategic Partnership for development and progress

In preparing for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Qingdao on Friday, Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale said both countries were determined to work in close partnership and would never be split apart.

This echoed two main points already shared by Indian and Chinese leaders – that their countries are partners in development and progress, and what they have in common are greater than their differences.

All of this seems set to undo the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that groups the US with Japan, Australia and India, all boasting a democratic system in common in a joint strategic encirclement of China. But India’s relations with China have been on the upswing for half a year now.

The day before Modi arrived in Qingdao, a Quad meeting in Singapore closed on Friday with India expressing differences with the other members. Its Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said the Quad was not the same as its hopes for an inclusive “Indo-Pacific region” (IPR) that did not target any country.

He added that India wanted closer ties with Russia as well in an IPR. Just a fortnight before, Russia’s recent Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak said President Trump also wanted closer ties with Russia.

That was only a small part of the roller-coaster ride of international diplomacy in the first half of 2018.

In January Trump condemned the Taliban for a spate of attacks in Afghanistan, vowing that all talks with them were off. Until then, top US diplomats were carefully planning negotiations with the Taliban.

In March, US officials blasted Russia for allegedly arming the Taliban, which Moscow denied. The following month Nato voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to talk with the Taliban to “save the country.”

Meanwhile Trump’s ramparts of trade barriers in the direction of a trade war would decimate allies from East Asia to Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a European position in reaching out to China on climate and security issues.

By March the EU had dug in, preparing for the worst of US trade barriers while vowing retaliation. The WTO also warned Washington that it was veering towards a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium.

In April, China’s new Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Wei rubbed it in for Washington, publicly announcing that his visit was to show the US the high level of strategic cooperation between China and Russia.

Two days later the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia expressed similar sentiments. They championed negotiations and sticking to pledges while weighing in against the unilateralism of a unipolar power.

Where China has the SCO, Russia has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

If any discomfort is felt in Washington, it is from acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.


7 thoughts on “Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises

  1. The ongoing trade war between the US and China has caught global attention. However, Donald Trump’s trade tantrums have put the world’s largest economy in conflict with other countries, too, like Canada and those in Europe. And some of them have even retaliated in kind, including India lately. In fact, Trump’s “America First” policy is against every nation in the world, but he includes a tech arms race against China in addition. Instead of “Make America Great Again”, Trump has achieved “Make America Alone”. The Chinese idiom that best describes Trump’s situation today is 眾叛親離, being isolated and forsaken by friends and allies.

    The US and China are moving to the brink of a trade war after the Trump administration announced a 25% tariffs on $50 billion Chinese imports would take effect from July 6. Trump vowed additional duties if China retaliated. In other words, Trump wants Xi Jinping to stand still for him to punch. But Xi dares the loud-mouthed bully to bring it on and Beijing immediately said it would charge tariffs of the “same scale and intensity” on goods from the US, adding that all trade commitments made during the previous weeks of negotiations are now off the table.

    Donald Trump has thrown the first punches and Xi Jinping is poised to match him blow for blow. The next move is Trump’s after Xi hits back in the trade-war opener. The next flurry of jabs may be imminent.

    I expect the confrontation to be a war of attrition. While China has shown a willingness to make a deal on shrinking its trade surplus with the US, it has made clear it won’t bow to demands to abandon its industrial policy, which the Chinese see as their national interests. But Trump’s aim is never about reducing American trade deficit with China. He is using trade as an excuse to contain China from moving up the technology ladder. I expect China will respond by trying to build ties with other nations, and buying technology from wherever it can.

    “China does not want the trade war, but facing a capricious Washington, China has no choice but to fight back vigorously in defense of its national interests, the trend of globalization and the world’s multilateral trading system,” according to a commentary in the state media Xinhua. The state-run China Daily said the nation’s response with tariffs would show the US the price of its actions. It added that “China’s stance has been consistent: It welcomes dialogue but is not afraid of a trade war.”

    The Chinese view the trade war with the US as an exercise in self-flagellation, meaning that the country that wins a trade war is the country that can endure most pain. China believes it can outlast the US. Unlike Trump, Xi doesn’t have to worry about a midterm election in November, let alone the presidential election two years from now.

    The next several weeks will be critical for determining how bad the tit-for-tat gets, which will rest crucially on the relationship between the two leaders, and how they perceive their advantages. Xi is not looking to escalate the trade dispute, but is not afraid to climb the escalation ladder with Trump.

    I read some simplistic arguments from Trump’s cultist followers that Trump would win the trade war because America has more Chinese import to slap tariffs on. But they forgot or conveniently left out the large American business investments in China, and China has very small business investments in America. Aside from slapping tariffs on American products, China’s arsenal of potential retaliatory measures is formidable, and it could inflict heavy punishment on the more than $200 billion of investment by American companies in China. Increased safety inspections and delays in approving imports are possible tools, as is consumer boycotts of American goods sold in China’s rapidly growing retail market, or stemming a flow of free-spending tourists to the US. China’s punishment of South Korea for allowing the US to station a missile defense system on the peninsula cost that nation billions of dollars, and it has used similar tactics against the Philippines and Japan as well. China also has a pivotal role in Trump’s goal of disarming North Korea because without its participation, sanctions have little chance of success.

    I concede America has legitimate reasons to be concerned about China’s trade practices. But the way to resolve this is not at the expense of American workers and manufacturers and farmers, by getting into a trade war that has potential, real global ramifications. In a longer-term, worst-case scenario, there also would be actions such as China selling down its massive stockpile of US treasuries or devaluing the yuan, moves that would send shock waves through global markets.

    Watch for Beijing to ramp up threats of informal retaliation against US businesses in China. It’s likely American firms will see some delays in various approvals in coming days. Tougher measures such as disruptive regulatory actions would follow, especially if Trump appears headed towards a second round of tariffs.

    In the mean time, more and more countries are hiking tariffs on American products. On June 16, India’s ministry for commerce notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it would hike tariffs on 30 imported American goods, by up to 50% over the current duties. These include motorcycles, heavy machinery, chocolates, almonds, and shrimps. India’s letter to the WTO has come amidst similar moves from Canada, Mexico, the European Union and China. US consumers will now have to pay more for imported goods from many parts of the world. This come after the Trump administration bumped up duties on metal bought from across the Atlantic.

    Donald Trump has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Wharton, but he knows nothing about economics. Is there any surprise when the late Professor William T. Kelley said “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had”?

    • //the late Professor William T. Kelley said “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had”?

      Trump: One suit which is stronger than other suits. The lowest ranking card of a trump suit beats the highest ranking card of any other suit. Trump suits are used in trick-taking games and are not found in true Poker games.

      Trump: ‘President Xi is a world-class poker player’

      I look at my nation. I look at my great-grandpa’s nation, and I look at the nation in which I refused to be borned as second-caste. 1 Trump bully world that we get to live to trump each other, for the sake of a mere few. It is one thing for others call you ‘pendatang’, it is another to call oneself a pendatang. There is a good reason to call ourselves ‘pendatang’. Both Trump, and Xi are winners. People of both nations are loser to these two.

    • Is Trump serious about a trade war? Or is this his usual bouts of wheeling and dealing? Talk tough first and depress the stock markets. Meanwhile his side-kicks and cronies start buying up the cheap stocks. Then he flip-flops and announce that there will be no trade war and that President Xi is his best friend. Stock prices bounce back up and Trump and his accomplices are richer by the billions.

  2. But again, as it stands today those countries that are doing ok are those that are committed to four freedoms of the individual.
    You can bring a horse to the water but you cannot make it swim on its back.

  3. Thanks LaMoy. But C hina, Japan, Korea, and EU have to open their markets a bit and not keep claiming infant status. It is now 73 years since World War II ended. It is about time.

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