President Xi Jinping invokes Ming dynasty heroes, geopolitical development strategies and wild Asian geese analogies to portray China’s New Silk Roads initiative as the flagship of a trade-focussed new world order.
President Xi Jinping used the two-day New Silk Road international forum in Beijing to establish China as the flagship of a new, benign trade-focussed world order. This was, said Xi, a “new model of win-win and cooperation” that will prevail over gunboat diplomacy.
At the start of the conference, China’s state broadcaster Xinhua made clear that the initiative — officially first called One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and now Belt and Road (BRI) — was not “neocolonialism by stealth.”
“China needs no puppet states,” said Xinhua, while essentially repeating what Xi delivered in his keynote delivery.
“China is willing to share its development experience with the rest of the world” said Xi, “but we will not intervene in other nations’ internal affairs, export our social system and development model, nor force others to accept them.”
The Forum communiqué – a summary of the main points developed in Xi’s keynote speech – reported that the nations represented in Beijing had pledged to promote “practical cooperation on roads, railways, ports, maritime and inland water transport, aviation, energy pipeline, electricity and telecommunications”.
Big business too was represented and, reportedly, is enthusiastic.
Alibaba’s Jack Ma, so committed to advancing an electronic World Trade Platform, spoke to Chinese media at the Forum and hailed BRI’s “inclusion of young people, women, smaller enterprises and developing countries.”
On the final day of the forum, Beijing even engineered a sort of New Silk Road United Nations, in the form of a Leaders Roundtable, with the microphones open equally to all. The event was a nifty illustration of how Xi wants the world to see this initiative.
“The primary intention and the highest goal of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is to allow each member to jointly address global economic challenges, find new growth opportunities and drivers, achieve a win-win situation and keep moving toward a community with joint destiny,” said Xi.
Xi went onto offer exhortations for Ming dynasty navigation master Admiral Zheng He – as a “friendly emissary” – before delivering a metaphor for the new world trade order that he had just outlined.
“Wild swan geese,” he said of the large, rare and wild bird found in Asia but not in Europe, “are able to fly far and safely through winds and storms because they move in flocks and help each other as a team.”
The Iranian Parliament just hosted its annual conference on Palestine and, among the dignitaries – that included Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani – and the 700 foreign guests from more than 50 countries was Asia Times columnist Pepe Escobar.
he art of the deal, when practiced for 2500 years, does lead to the palace of wisdom. I had hardly set foot in Tehran when a diplomat broke the news: “Trump? We’re not worried. He’s a bazaari”. It’s a Persian language term meaning he is from the merchants class or, more literally, a worker from the bazaar and its use implies that a political accommodation will eventually be reached.
The Iranian government’s response to the Trump administration boils down to a Sun Tzu variant; silence, especially after the Fall of Flynn, who had “put Iran on notice” after it carried out a ballistic missile test, and had pushed the idea of an anti-Iran military alliance comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan. Tehran says the missile test did not infringe the provisions of the Iran nuclear deal and that naval drills from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, which began on Sunday, had been planned well in advance.
I was in Tehran as one of several hundred foreign guests, including a small group of foreign journalists , guests of the Majlis (Parliament) for an annual conference on the Palestine issue.
Not surprisingly, no one from Trump’s circle was among the gathering of parliamentarians from over 50 nations who attended the impressive opening ceremony in a crowded, round conference hall where the center of power in Iran was on display; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani.
Khamenei proclaimed that “the existing crises in every part of the region and the Islamic ummah deserve attention”, but insisted that the key issue remains Palestine. The conference, he said, could become “a model for all Muslims and regional nations to gradually harness their differences by relying on their common points”.
Khamenei’s was an important call for Muslim unity. Few in the West know that during the rapid decolonization of the 1940s and 50s, the Muslim world was not torn apart by the vicious Sunni-Shi’ite hatred – later fomented by the Wahhabi/Salafi-jihadi axis. The Wahhabi House of Saud, incidentally, was nowhere to be seen at the conference.
Hefty discussions with Iranian analysts and diplomats revolved on the efficacy of multilateral discussions compared to advancing facts on the ground – ranging from the building of new settlements in the West Bank to the now all but dead and buried Oslo two-state myth.
On Palestine, I asked Naim Qassem, deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah about the Trump administration’s hint of a one-state solution. His answer, in French; “One state means war. Two states means peace under their conditions, which will lead us to war.”
As with most conferences, what matters are the sidelines. Leonid Savin, a Russian geopolitical analyst, claimed that Russian airspace is now all but sealed with multiple deployments of the S-500 missile defense system against anything the US might unleash. Albanian historian Olsi Jazexhi deconstructed the new Balkans powder keg. Muhammad Gul, son of the late, larger-than-life General Hamid Gul, detailed the finer points of Pakistan’s foreign policy and the drive to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Pyongyang was also in the house. The North Korean delegate produced an astonishing speech, essentially arguing that Palestine should follow their example, complete with a “credible nuclear deterrent”. Later, in the corridors I saluted the delegation, and they saluted back. No chance of a sideline chat though to go over the unclear points surrounding Kim Jong-nam’s assassination.
Blake Archer Williams, a.k.a. Arash Darya-Bandari, whose pseudonym celebrates the “tyger tyger burning bright” English master, gave me a copy of Creedal Foundations of Waliyic Islam (Lion of Najaf Publishers) – an analysis of how Shi’ite theology led to the theory of velayat-e faqih (the ruling of the jurisprudent) that lies at the heart of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Every time I’m back in Tehran I’m impressed with the surprising number of open avenues for serious intellectual discussion. I was constantly reminded of Jalal Al-e Ahmad, the son of a mullah born in poor south Tehran who later translated Sartre and Camus and wrote the seminal Westoxification (1962).
He spent the summer of 1965 at Harvard seminars organized by Henry Kissinger and “supported” by the CIA. He pivoted to Shi’ism only toward the end of his life. It was his analysis that paved the way for sociologist Ali Shariati to cross-pollinate anti-colonialism with the Shi’ite concept of resistance against injustice and produce a revolutionary ideology capable of politicizing the Iranian middle classes, leading to the Islamic Revolution.
That was the background for serious discussions on how Iran (resistance against injustice), China (remixed Confucianism) and Russia (Eurasianism) are offering post-Enlightenment alternatives that transcend Western liberal democracy.
But in the end it was all inevitably down to the overarching anti-intellectual ghost in the room; Donald Trump (and that was even before he got a letter from Ahmadinejad).
So I did what I usually do before leaving Tehran; I hit the bazaar, via a fabulous attached mosque – to get reacquainted with the art of the deal, the Persian way.
That led me to Mahmoud Asgari, lodged in the Sameyi passage of the Tajrish bazaar and a serious discussion on the finer points of pre-WWI Sistan-Baluchistan tribal rugs from Zahedan. The end result was – what else – a win-win sale, bypassing the US dollar. And then, the clincher: “When you call your friend Trump, tell him to come here and I’ll give him the best deal”.
Pepe Escobar wrote his The Roving Eye column for Asia Times from 2000-2015. His books include Globalistan (2007), Red Zone Blues (2007), Obama does Globalistan (2009), Empire of Chaos (2014) and 2030 (2015).
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.
As President Putin, post-Brexit, rushed to discuss all matters pertaining to Eurasia integration with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, I embarked on a connected, parallel southern China journey.
From my base in Hong Kong, I set out on a Pearl River Delta loop, hitting Shenzhen and Dongguan and then Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Macau.
Why? Because this unprecedented, interconnected story of breakneck urbanization, technological innovation and post-modern megacity sprawl showcases no less than the future dreamed up by the collective leadership in Beijing. And it doesn’t hurt that southern China is the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road.
I was very privileged to visit Shenzhen and Guangzhou only a few days after the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping, then 88, embarked on his legendary six-week “southern tour” in January-February 1992. His target at the time was to turbo-charge the “get rich is glorious” Chinese manufacturing miracle, still in its infancy.
In the early 1990s, agriculture, mining and fishing were responsible for 27 percent of the Chinese economy, while manufacturing and construction accounted for 40 percent, and services for 30 percent, according to Hong Kong banking sources. At the start of the 2010s, agriculture was already down to only 10 percent, with manufacturing at 46 percent and services at 44 percent. A generation of business leaders often referred to as the “Gang of 92” – when many of them started – were imprinting their mark on a new China.
Now the Pearl River Delta – China’s number one hub of labor-intensive manufacturing – is in the process of replacing workers with robots on a large scale, a further sign that China is about to take off technologically, big time. And that’s all part of a “Made in China 2025” strategy announced only two months ago by Beijing, centered on relentless innovation – and commercialization. The China 2.0 new industrial revolution is a go – with a bang.
The megacity confederation
China today, on the ground, looks and feels like a confederation of megacities fiercely competing with each other for everything; investment (internal and foreign), industries, tech talent, global visibility. Beijing does support provinces and regions – much as the Song dynasty did – but up to a point. China, de facto, is already federalized. It’s up to each province to determine its own economic strategy.
That’s a long and winding road since the 1960s – when China was under the yoke of the Cultural Revolution (to seize the seismic shift, check out The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976, by University of Hong Kong professor Frank Dikotter, based on previously classified party documents). It’s also enlightening to compare it with the fact that the UN, during the 1960s, was starting to promote the concept of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) as an infrastructure and growth template.
Now there are more than 4,000 SEZs scattered all across the world – living and breathing experiments of strategic investment bound to absorb working masses and turbo-charge modernity. And Shenzhen, of course, is the mother of all SEZs.
For three days this month, June 16-18, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia. I’ve been in Russia many times since the Ukraine US-backed coup d’état of February 2014, and the deliberate escalations of NATO military and economic tensions and sanctions against the Russian Federation. This year’s forum, my second as participant, gave me a rare opportunity to speak with leading representatives from every sector of the Russian economy- from CEOs of the energy sector to the Russian Railways to the national Russia Grid electricity provider to numerous small and mid-sized businessmen, to a wide range of economists. It sharpened my perception of just how precarious the situation of Russia today is.
What became clearer to me in the course of the three days of discussions in St Petersburg is precisely how vulnerable Russia is. Her Achilles Heel is the reigning ideology that controls every key economic post of the Government of the Russian Federation under Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Under the terms of the Russian Constitution adopted in the chaos of the Yeltsin years and enormously influenced, if not literally drafted, by Russia’s foreign IMF advisers, economic policy is the portfolio responsibility of the Prime Minister and his various ministers of Economics, Finance and so forth. The Russian President, today Vladimir Putin, is responsible for defense and foreign policy.
Making the job virtually impossible of reviving credit flows to fuel genuine real investment in urgently needed infrastructure across the vast land expanse of Russia is the Central Bank of Russia. The Central Bank of Russia was given two constitutionally-mandated tasks when it was created as an entity independent from the Russian Government in the first months of the Russian Federation following the breakup of the Soviet Union. It must control Russian domestic inflation and it must stabilize the Ruble against major foreign currencies. Like western central banks, its role is almost purely monetary, not economic.
In June, 2015 as I participated the first time in the St Petersburg forum, the Russian Central Bank base rate, interest charged to banks, was 11%. In the peak of the so-called Ruble crisis in January 2015 it had reached 17%. Expectations last summer were that Elvira Nabiullina, the central bank governor since 2013, would begin to bring central rates rather rapidly down to manageable levels, especially at a time when central banks such as the European Central Bank, the US Fed and the Bank of Japan were lowest in some 500 years at zero or even negative. Further, since January 2016 oil prices, a significant factor in the Ruble strength as Russia is the world’s largest oil exporter, began a rise of more than 60% from lows below $30 a barrel in early January to levels near $50 six months later.
That lowering of rates by the Central Bank hasn’t happened. Instead it is slowly killing the economy. One year later, in early June, 2016 the Russian Central Bank under Governor Nabiullina made the first rate cut since June 2015…to a still-deadly 10.5%. Perhaps it’s notable that monetarist Nabiullina was named by the London Euromoney magazine as their 2015 Central Bank Governor of the Year. That should be seen as a bad omen for Russia. Equally ominous was the fulsome praise the head of Washington’s IMF had for Nabiullina’s monetarist handling of the early 2015 Ruble crisis.
For the week of July 6-10, the city of Ufa, Russia will have been at the center of the world, or more particularly the very center of the emerging multipolar world order.
Russia, with host and presidency duties of the annual heads of state’s summits of both BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), has taken advantage of the opportunity to hold both summits in concert.
The occasion is also being used to hold a meeting of the heads of the newly formed EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union). This is no coincidence or mere convenience – this is a definitive statement about world order and international relations.
Ufa was surely chosen by Russia for two reasons beyond simply pumping needed infrastructure money into the city. First, Ufa, as the capital of the Islamic majority Bashkortostan Republic will highlight the summits’ – and Russia’s multi-confessional – character.
Second, Ufa’s location in central Russia on the verge of the Urals – also stresses Russia’ enormous size, bridging both the West and the East.