Although the ordinary reader of the western media would scarcely be aware of it, the rest of the world is making fundamental changes to economic and political relationships. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the greater Eurasian region. This area of land encompasses four of the worlds officially acknowledged eight nuclear armed powers of which the eighth, Israel, is of the region geographically, but through its attitudes, policies and behaviour effectively operate outside the fundamental shift occurring in the region. While not part of those far-reaching changes occurring in the region, Israel actively does its best, as with Syria and Iran, to actively sabotage and undermine the tectonic political shifts that are occurring.
The changing geopolitical world was never more apparent then in the rapid development of civil political and economic groupings that have emerged in the past decade and a half, the existence of, let alone knowledge about, is largely unknown to the inhabitants of most western nations. Insofar as their existence, or at least the activities of two of the most important of these new groupings, Russia and China, are concerned, the western media dialogue where it exists is mostly disparaging, inaccurate and hostile.
A brief survey of these groupings reveals the geographical breadth and their growing political and economic influence. Although not geographically confined to the greater Asian region, that geopolitical entity is economically, and increasingly politically, the central powerhouse of world geopolitical change.
In chronological terms the first of the major groupings was the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) founded in 1961 when the relevant countries were economic minnows in comparative terms. The original 10 countries had a population of about 650 million, but with the addition of the associated states of India and China, plus the Association of Australia and New Zealand it no accounts for about 40% of the worlds population. One of its unusual features is the inclusion of two nations more commonly counted in the US/European political block, Australia and New Zealand, although the latter country has shown more sensitivity and awareness of its geographical and geopolitical realities than Australia.
The second major grouping worthy of mention is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which was founded in 2001 with five original members, including Russia and China, and three former member States of the USSR. It is now arguably the most important regional organisation in the world, in terms of its population (including as it does both India and China), its military power (four of the worlds eight known nuclear powers) and an agenda that embraces economic, social, technical, cultural and security cooperation.
The western media, that is fond of accentuating rivalry between some of its members, notably India and Pakistan, who nonetheless both joined the SCO at the same time, significantly understates the role this organisation is increasingly playing not just regionally but in terms of a global impact.
One illustration of this is the willingness of countries such as China, Russia and India to ignore the economic and political hostility of the United States towards Iran. China’s President Xi has publicly stated that he intends to ignore the illegal sanctions and related hostility of the United States and its allies towards Iran.
It is this writers understanding that the American military bluster and planned military retaliation against Iran following the latter’s shooting down of an unmanned US spy plane was stopped by timely warnings from both Presidents Putin and Xi.
Iran is also a key participant in the Indian based North South economic route, originally providing economic links from India to Europe via Iran and Russia, but now being expanded to incorporate other key regional countries including Afghanistan. The latter country has endured 18 years of US led invasion and occupation, but thanks to recent significant economic moves by China is on the cusp of finally escaping the unwanted attention and occupation of the United States and its allies.
It is now well established that the invasion of Afghanistan was decided upon in June 2001 and was closely related to the decision by Afghanistan to favour BRIDAS Corporation for construction of the oil pipeline from the Caucasus region, and reinstating the heroin production virtually abolished by the Taliban, than it did with the ostensible excuse of the events of 11 September 2001. That the occupying powers, including the United States and Australia, are still there more than 18 years later, speaks volumes as to the true motivation.
Perhaps the most wide ranging and geopolitically significant development in recent years has been China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), first outlined by President Xi in 2014 but now a program that encompasses 150 countries and organisations in Asia, Africa, Europe and South
America. The sheer size, scope and geographical spread of this voluntary association of so many nations is unprecedented, let alone the speed with which the relationships formed.
New Zealand was the first non-Asian country to sign a memorandum of understanding with China, another signal that differentiates it from its Australian neighbour whose attitude towards the BRI fluctuates between indifference and hostility. It is worth noting that the Australian State of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have both signed memoranda of understanding with China against, it must be noted, the hostility of the Federal government.
That ambivalence by the Federal government reflects a broader sociopolitical attitude that characterises Australia’s relationship with China, not withstanding the latter’s role as Australia’s largest trading partner by a very significant margin. Australia’s trade with China by way of simple illustration, is nearly 3 times the size of that of its next largest trading partner, Japan. Australia’s trade with China is approximately 10 times the value of its trading relationship with the United States.
China is also Australia’s largest source of foreign students; foreign tourists; and it’s third largest source of foreign investment. It would be difficult to nominate a more potentially self destructive policy than Australia’s risking of its China relationship for the sake of the dubious commitments from the United States to act as its security guarantor. Just ask the Kurds how reliable US commitments are!
Ironically, Australia works co-operatively with China in ASEAN and the regional collective economic partnership (RCEP) yet it maintains a degree of hostility and suspicion towards the BRI that simply does not accord with the geopolitical reality. The hostility and suspicion portrayed at the official level undoubtedly has its origins in the ongoing adherence to the United States view of the world, graphically illustrated in recent weeks by the embarrassing behaviour of Australian Prime Minister Morrison’s visit to the United States.
There has never been, to this writers knowledge, a rational argument advanced in the Australian media as to why 150 countries and international organisations should welcome and eagerly embrace the BRI and the opportunities it represents, with none of them sharing the Australian paranoia about alleged Chinese machinations to dominate the world, with the BRI being its alleged chosen vehicle.
The reality is that China does not dominate, bully or otherwise exploit its relationship with its BRI partners. This is never more evident than in its relationship with Russia, the development of which is one of the outstanding geopolitical features of recent years.
The concept of having a mutually beneficial relationship with other countries and one not based upon exploitation and/or bullying, is clearly a concept that is foreign to the psyche of many western nations. As is well documented the relationship of western nations with the developing world over the past 300 years has been one of exploitation and that is now rapidly coming to an end, not least through the role of the above-mentioned international organisations. One of the most difficult concepts for the western political leadership to grasp is that the era of their dominance is rapidly coming to an end. The alacrity with which literally scores of nations have grasped the alternative models represented by the multilateral organisations referred to above (and that is a far from exhaustive list) is convincing evidence that those nations are tired of the exploitation of their resources, and are manifestly seeking a better alternative.
That transition will not be an easy one as it would be naive to assume that the major western powers will readily cede the dominance they have enjoyed in recent centuries. Therein lies a huge potential danger.
The Chinese “win-win” model has shown that there are viable alternatives to the exploitative and destructive western versions. The data, largely ignored by the western mainstream media, clearly shows that the Asian focused model is a viable alternative. It is a model that has transformed and is transforming the lives of literally billions of people.
It is long past the time that the western nations recognised that reality and adapted its behaviour accordingly.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.