The world media assessed the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco as cautiously optimistic, and I will not argue with this assessment. Biden and Xi managed to agree on measures to prevent uncontrollable military clash between the US and China.
However, many felt like being locked in Hotel California that they can check out any time, but can never leave…
Prisoners of their own device
In San Francisco, Biden and Xi openly demonstrated their differences in views on how international relations should develop, and both stood firm.
Xi Jinping tried to convince the American president of the need to change basic principles of relations between Washington and Beijing towards finding compromise approaches and eliminating possibility of confrontation.
Biden firmly defended the existing system of relations, insisting on the need to find and agree on mechanism that would reduce the risks of developing uncontrolled by the US confrontation in the Far East and Southeast Asia. Biden stood firm to maintain Washington’s weakening dominance in the political, economic and trade spheres of Eurasia, primarily in Southeast Asia, to weaken China and contain its development.
Thus, the US-China summit in San Francisco did not eliminate the possibility of conflict between to powers, but only reduced the risk of conflict for some time.
After the meeting in San Francisco, the continuation of the Great Game became inevitable, and that will be a tough fight between Washington and Beijing, similar to the one Britain fought with the Russian Empire in Asia in the 19th century.
At the same time, both powers will be preparing for military conflict, perhaps similar to what is going now between the West and Russia in Ukraine.
In fact, in San Francisco there was the open clash of two civilizational approaches thatrevealed inability of the two leaders to resolve main contradictions between Washington and Beijing.
Biden defended the existing model of world development and rejected changes and the model that Xi Jinping proposed. According to Washington, the two models cannot coexist and cannot be integrated into one.
So, here comes the question: What is the essence of the contradictions between Washington and Beijing that failed to be resolved?
Model that does not suit Beijing
The West views the world as arena for competition and fight for its interests and assumes that China, Russia and all other countries operate precisely in that paradigm of relations. On this assumption, the foreign policy of Washington, London and Brussels, as well as their allies, is built.
All attempts by China, Russia and other countries to propose new approaches and changes in the system of relations are considered “false narratives”, attempts to deceive the West and push Washington off the position of world leader.
The main task facing the US now is to maintain its dominance. According to Washington, in Europe the threat to US dominance comes from Russia, while in Asia China is striving to become the dominant force. Moreover, acting as single bloc, Beijing and Moscow strive to become the dominant force not only in Eurasia, but also in Africa.
The existing model of world relations is based on the right of everyone to compete and fight for their interests on the principles of Western democracy,that started being created by the signing “Magna Carta” by King John of England and his barons in 1215, as the result of the war launched against their king by the barons, who demanded to fix their rights and deprive the king of absolute power, in particular, to impose new taxes on barons.
The principles of Western democracy created as the result of the industrial revolution in Europe in the 18th century, and embedded in the existing model of world development remain unshakable for Washington and its allies. In this model, the right to compete, to fight for one’s own interests wherever there are opportunity and chance to win, is fundamental.
The right to compete and fight for one’s interests is supported by two other principles of Western democracy that enshrine
— legitimacy of compromises reached as result of struggle,
— right to use force, repel and suppress those who violate the laws that enshrine results and compromises achieved,
— right of the strongest to impose his will and to rule over the weakest.
It would seem that if the whole world has been acting and developing in accordance with this model for centuries, why can’t Xi Jinping simply accept the existing model as given and natural condition for the development of humanity and act within the framework of the existing model? Is Xi really talking about “community of shared destiny” as the future of humanity just to confuse and deceive Western politicians?
Why can’t communist China operate in the existing model, although Marxism with its class struggle, revolutionary theory, dictatorship of the proletariat appeared within this very model and corresponds to all its principles and precisely the Western worldview?
Why is Xi, having pushed aside Marxism, but leaving it as Beijing’s official ideological basis, trying to create some new model, although the Soviet Union, built by Russia on the basis of Marxism, acted within the old model and was destroyed from within in accordance with its principles by its mechanism of interactions?
Why is Xi creating his model not only for China, as the Chinese version of communism, but also for other countries that do not share his Marxist views? And why do countries and their elites that are far from communist ideas, support China?
Why do the existing model, born in Europe, and the principles underlying it, not suit China and its leader Xi Jinping, as well as those who stand behind him, in particular Russia, other BRICS countries and their leaders?
How is the model that BRICS is trying to create, fundamentally different from the existing model?
States and civilizations
At the beginning of the 21st century, especially in recent years, there was acceleration of qualitative changes in the international system of production, trade and logistic chains that were followed by changes in interstate relations.
Several important factors need to be highlighted.
First. Globalization of the world economy and transfer of production to countries with cheap labor, creation of scientific and technological centers in previously backward, but now most rapidly developing countries have led to qualitatively more interdependent and integrated world.
Second. In the middle of the twentieth century, the most advanced sectors of the world economy and the world scientific and technical centers began to rapidly move to new technological level that depends to much greater extent on human and artificial intelligence, moral values, creativity, culture and education, and that increased the role of civilizational factors in all spheres, including politics.
Civilizations as cultural and economic systems began to sharply gain strength, coming into conflict with state systems that had been created on principles that did not coincide, and in many states, including former colonies, contradicted values, moral principles and aspirations of their civilizations.
These contradictions grew not only in countries that were colonies, but also in former empires and independent countries that accepted the Western model and operated within it. Their state systems and bureaucracy increasingly acted against the principles and values of their civilizations, traditions and mentality of peoples.
It was these contradictions that led to the abandonment of Western European Marxism by Russian civilization and to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Third. The increasing role of civilizational factors has led to the emergence of macro-regions formed around the world’s main civilizations, and the new model for the development of mankind began to emerge, with civilizational macro-regions operating as organizational centers and basic blocks of new world order.
The world began to operate as system of interactions not only of states, but of civilizations.
Fourth. In XXI century, the pace of development of the West and its share in the world economy began to decline sharply. At the same time, China first emerged as economic and technological the most intensively developing state, followed by India.
China and India were precisely those countries that were the largest civilizations and economic centers of the world for thousands of years before the industrial breakthrough of Europe in the 18th century.
GDP of India and China have been several times the combined GDP of Europe for thousands of years. At the beginning of the 21st century, the relatively short, from the point of view of world history, three-century period of absolute Western dominance began to end.
From 2000 to 2008, Russia also tripled its GDP and began to revive its industrial and scientific potential, and therefore faced the need to restore its civilizational macro-region.
However, China, Russia and other BRICS countries, like many other rapidly developing countries, faced common problems.
Let’s take China as an example…
Interdependence against Dominance
China’s population is about 1.450 million. In terms of GDP by purchasing power, China became the world’s number one economy ten years ago. From 2010 to 2021, China’s GDP grew at average rate of 8% per year. In terms of industrial production, China has been ranked first in the world for about fifteen years. Currently, China’s share of global industrial production exceeds 30%.
China’s exports are about 4 trillion and imports are 3.5 trillion US dollars. To maintain its economy and its further development, China must increase imports and exports by at least 3% per year, and therefore China is forced to actively increase its presence in all regions of the world.
Over the past 15 years, China’s dependence on the situation in the world has sharply increased. Conflicts in the world are extremely disadvantageous for China. Any fighting or confrontation, or sanctions imposed against any major country of the world hits China. Any war, even a proxy one, or instability in a large region of the world strikes China, primarily its economy, imports or exports, and the logistics system that China uses. Wars in Europe, for example, in Ukraine, or in the Middle East, not to mention Central Asia, the Far East and Southeast Asia, inevitably lead or can lead to huge losses for China.
Beijing competes with other countries, and therefore it has to support the right to compete, but China does not need extremely tough competition that could lead to hostilities and sanctions that hinder the development of China and its main partners, including the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.
It was Western countries, primarily the United States, that were China’s main partners for thirty years. For twenty years, from 2000 to 2020, Europe was the main region of Chinese investments that reached $300 billion. It was the West that China turned out to be most dependent on, and the West, no matter how Washington, Brussels, and London tried to hide it or not notice it, turned out to be dependent on China.
Covid and the war in Ukraine have shown that China has become so dependent on the rest of the world that any serious disruption or major conflict affects China in the most severe way. If until 2022, for 10 years, China increased its GDP by 8% per year, in 2022, China’s GDP grew by only 3%.
Following China is India, whose population already exceeds that of China and its economy is growing at the fastest pace in the world. Industrial production in India is ranked third in the world and is approaching 10% of total world production. In the next 2-3 years, industrial production in India will exceed industrial production in the United States, as well as in Europe, even if the United States and Europe maintain current pace of development. And India’s dependence on the rest of the world puts it on par with China.
At the same time, India has serious contradictions with China, but their interdependence is also growing. China and India are actively involved in joint projects, including the North-South project that involves construction of energy and industrial infrastructure, energy and transport corridors, oil and gas pipelines connecting Russia through Central Asia and the Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan with China, Pakistan and India, with their ports in the Indian Ocean.
India and China are becoming the main investors in another Russian strategic transport, logistics, energy and industrial project — the Northern Sea Route, connecting Europe with the Russian North, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, the Far East, China, Korea and Japan, Southeast Asia with ports in the Pacific and Indian oceans, to India.
The population of Russia is only 10% of the population of China or India, three times less than the population of the European Union, and almost 2.5 times less than the population of the United States. But in terms of GDP in terms of purchasing power, Russia in 2023 came in fifth place in the world, and in terms of the growth rate of industrial production in 2023, Russia will take second or third place after India, competing with China.
At the same time, Russia has the world’s largest natural resources, territory and has retained part of the military-industrial and scientific potential of the Soviet Union that allowed Moscow to begin the struggle for leadership in strategic industries and to get ahead of China and even the United States in development strategic weapons, including hypersonic missiles, strategic nuclear missiles and nuclear engines for space stations, missiles and submarine drones.
However, the complex of internal problems and contradictions in Russia is growing, and in order to solve its internal problems hindering its development, Russia has to return to development on the principles, foundations and traditions of Russian civilization and to restore its civilizational macro-region increasing the population of the “Russian world” to 500 million people to become one of the leaders in the emerging model of world development based on the interaction of civilizational macro-regions.
Russia does not need to seize or incorporate former parts of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union or countries of the former socialist camp. In the new model, it is beneficial for the Kremlin that these countries are politically and economically independent, that their elites control the situation in their countries and bear full responsibility to their people. It is enough for Russia to have guarantees of security and preservation of the basic principles of relations and moral norms that are common to the entire Russian macro-region.
That is why for eight years, the Kremlin avoided interfering in the internal conflict between Kiev and Donbass in Ukraine and after nearly two years of war, is still trying to achieve regime change in Kiev, without seeking the maximum seizure of Ukrainian territories. It will be enough for Russia if significant part of Ukraine retains its independence, but becomes part of the Russian cultural and economic civilizational macro-region.
Thus, the growing interdependence of the world comprised of civilizational macro-regions that are forged not only out of political and economic interests, but by cultural and moral virtues, and peoples’ aspirations, has become one of the main reasons why the existing model that is based on laws of competition and fighting for interests for all, who has opportunity and chance of victory, has become categorically unacceptable to China, India, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and dozens of other countries.
The emerging civilizational macro-region have to escape from Hotel California. For them, the existing model of developments is the Road to Hell…
But there is another reason, the fifth factor that demands urgent change in the international affairs…
When fighting is more expensive than winning
Xi, Putin, Modi, da Silva, Ramaphosa and their allies reject the existing model and build a new system of relations because at the current stage of technological and social development, the existing model has become extremely unprofitable, costly and ineffective.
Costs and losses brought by struggle and competition, in the form that was legitimate, acceptable and even reasonable in the past, at the beginning of the 21st century began to exceed any possible benefits and gains in the event of victory.
In the 20th century, only global nuclear conflict was unacceptable. In the 21st century, it appeared that, in the modern world of increased interdependence, any conflict between leading powers, even in proxy form, leads to unacceptable losses.
Moreover, it turned out that victories, including past ones, including colonial conquests, bring delayed damage that catches up with the winner and makes him pay. Past sins intersect and overlap with present ones. Just look at how Africa is squeezing France out.
Responsibility, including for old deeds, does not disappear. It is transformed into mistrust, claims based on grievances, desires for revenge and even hatred that spill out by social tensions.
Conflicts lead to breakdown in relationships and damage to economies, and, consequently, to social upheavals, crises and political instability of states, including those that until recently were considered leaders of the world with highest standard of living and seemed capable of overcoming any crisis or difficulties.
The struggle between the West and Russia in Ukraine led not only to the destruction of significant part of Ukrainian economy, that even before the war was a pitiful remnant of the Soviet legacy, Soviet Ukraine that in terms of economic development in 1991, was one of the five most developed countries in Europe, but also undermined the economy of Europe that will inevitably and for long time bear responsibility for the future of Ukraine.
Ukrainians do not forget grievances, and this will affect not only Russia that exposed itself by starting aggression that already led to the loss of more than a million people in Ukraine killed, lost and heavily wounded, but also it will affect the West that uses the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in its own interests.
The recent interview with the Ukrainian TV channel “1+1” by the head of the faction of President Zelensky’s “Servants of the People” party in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, David Arakhamia, who led the delegation in Istanbul at negotiations with Russia on the cessation of hostilities in the spring of 2022, and who kept silence for seven months, came as a signal to the West that Kiev believes that the West bears responsibility for the results and consequences of the war between Ukraine and Russia. Arakhamia sent clear signal that Kiev does not intend to remove responsibility from the West.
Arakhamia said that the conflict in Ukraine could have ended in the spring of 2022, that Kiev agreed to its neutral status and refusal of Ukraine to join NATO, which were the main demands of Russia, that the agreement was ready for signing, but Kiev was forced to refuse the peace deal under pressure from Boris Johnson.
Arakhamia’s, and therefore Zelensky’s, attack was directed against Boris Johnson, who lost the post of prime minister, but the signal was given not to Johnson, but to Biden and the current leaders of Europe.
As they say in Ukraine and Russia, entry costs one ruble, but exit costs two rubles. And the exit from the war in Ukraine has not yet begun, and it will cost dearly, first of all, to Europe, and not only because European politicians played active role in this war, but also because Europe was and will always be close to Ukraine and close to Russia.
The European Union, including Germany that seemed to be the powerful stronghold capable of overcoming any difficulties and crises, has reached the point beyond which the uncontrolled degradation of the economic base, social and political systems of both Germany and the EU begins.
If before the start of the conflict in Ukraine, almost all Europeans, and especially the Germans, considered the UK’s Brexit, the decision to leave the EU, as “huge mistake”, now in Germany, France, and Italy the majority of the population believes that the British were “lucky” to leave the EU.
It turned out that the first to feel damage are precisely those countries that are the most developed, the main pillars of the old model. For decades these states have been donors to less developed countries, to which waves of losses reach with a delay. And this is explained precisely by the integration of developed states in the world economy and their dependence on the situation in the world.
At the same time, Russia, with its aggression, has put itself in a corner. Russia is forced, no matter what the cost, to bring the war to regime change in Ukraine, the elimination of Ukrainian nationalism and Ukraine’s withdrawal from the military-strategic alliance with NATO. This means that the conflict in Ukraine, if the current policy of Washington, Brussels and Kiev continues, cannot end in long-term peace and has little chance even for a short period of truce. Consequently, the fall of Europe will continue, and it will be extremely difficult for Brussels to stop the fall, acting in the existing model of relationships.
Moreover, fire that could cause irreparable damage throughout the world is also breaking out in the Middle East. The Israeli army that was considered one of the best armies in the world, with its military budget of 24 billion dollars, has already been fighting in an area half the territory of Bakhmut for nearly two months, fighting not with the army of some state, for example, Ukraine or Russia, but with detachments of non-state militants organization, with annual budget of 70 to 100 million dollars, and according to independent estimates, Israelis have already lost more than 70 Merkava-IV tanks, each costing $5 million, for total cost of $350 million, four times the annual budget of Hamas’s military wing, plus more than 150 other military vehicles and about 500 troops.
Moreover, information has emerged that the first seven weeks of the war have already cost the Israeli budget $53 billion, and Israel continues to lose billions of dollars each day…
And at the same time, the war is still going according to the scenario of the military wing of Hamas, and the Israeli army cannot defeat the militant groups. Tel Aviv is forced to make deals and agreements, and the war threatens to involve other parties, including the USA, NATO, who absolutely don’t know what to do…
The Secret “Oasis” error
The existing model became too costly and ineffective in the middle of the twentieth century for all developed countries, but the USSR was the first to feel and realize this.
Yuri Andropov, head of the Department of the CPSU Central Committee for relations with communist and workers’ parties of socialist countries (1957-1967), and his secret group «Oasis» were engaged in reforming Marxism and the Soviet system since the mid-1960s, seeing and realizing the growing costs of the Cold War with the West and ineffectiveness of the system and existing model of development in the USSR, whose economy was 80% tied to the military-industrial complex. The state sector of the economy that became swollen and extremely bureaucratic since Nikita Khruschev came to power, appeared to be increasingly ineffective, difficult to manage, slow and criminalized.
The mistake of Andropov, who in 1967 headed the KGB, and in 1982 was elected General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and became the leader of the USSR, and his “oasis” preparing perestroika, was that they considered the problem of the increasing inefficiency of the system created in the Soviet Union and socialist camp, in isolation from the crisis in capitalist countries.
Andropov and his “oasis” believed, in accordance with Marxism, that socialism and capitalism are completely different socio-economic systems, that the nature of crises in capitalist countries and in socialist countries was completely different. They did not come to understand the fact that the entire model of human development began to rapidly come into conflict with the level of development of the productive forces. The crisis was the same for everyone, but it manifested itself differently in the capitalist West and the socialist East.
An attempt to reform socialist system separately, but within the framework of outdated model of the world, maintaining that model, was inevitably doomed. That was precisely the cause of tragedies of Andropov’ “oasis” and Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the tragedy of the Soviet Union and Russian civilization that perestroika plunged into the largest crisis in its history, as well as the tragedies of countries and peoples of Eastern Europe, and the West too, because Europe and the United States still have to go through its “perestroika.”
(About the tragedy of perestroika, Andropov’s “oasis” and its key members with whom I was lucky to work and communicate personally in the early 1980s, and about Mikhail Gorbachev and his misunderstood legacy, I intend to write, because now all these topics are becoming extremely relevant — VM)
The collapse of the USSR and the socialist camp caused from within, but generated by the crisis of the model of relations and development of the mankind, made it possible for the West, the capitalist system, not only to obtain new markets and enormous resources extremely cheap, but also to freeze and delay its internal crisis for several decades.
China was not part of the Soviet bloc, and that made possible for China to look for its own way out of the crisis, including by analyzing and using negative experience of the USSR.
Now that crisis has returned, and it is impossible to overcome it within the framework of the outdated model without repeating the path of the USSR. And the main condition for overcoming the crisis with minimum losses for humanity is to secure participation of the West in the development and creation of new model. However, the meeting between Biden and Xi in San Francisco showed that this is not yet possible.
The main question arises: how to overcome the gap and misunderstanding between the West and BRICS?
What does BRICS offer?
Model that China, Russia, India, and the countries that follow them, offer to the West does not exclude competition, but place restrictions on it. Those restrictions are based on principle of priority of developing interactions and cooperation over achieving specific goals and defending interests. That principle becomes the main one, and exactly on this principle new model is formed.
In the old model, states set themselves specific economic and political goals that they intend to achieve, for which they are ready to compete, and if necessary, to fight for, and in accordance with their goals, states form and develop their relations with other countries.
In BRICS’ model, formation and development of relations and system of interactions becomes priority. Interactions are primary for the BRICS countries, and results of interactions are secondary.
In the new model, the power and advantages of civilizations and states are not disputed. Moreover, each civilization is to use its greatest advantages developed by its history, tradition, mentality and character of its people.
Advantages and strong features of every civilization are not only to ensure its own development, but also to help, provide support to other civilizations.
The new model does not exclude force, but if force in the old model gives the right to coercion, to impose power, and power gives the right to rule, in BRICS’ model force does not give the right to coercion, or to impose power, but allows to be protected from imposing power by other civilization or state. Force gives guarantee, protection from coercion and threat from the outside.
The BRICS countries began to form that model through development of relations among themselves, trying to achieve maximum results for all members, to promote their interests and to overcome the inefficiency of the existing model. BRICS members develop relations taking into account interests of all partners and accepting result as optimal and maximum possible in given specific historical conditions.
To do this, they develop maximum cooperation where the interests of the BRICS members coincide. Where the interests of the BRICS countries do not coincide, the members adhere to the principle of non-interference: they do not interfere with each other, providing opportunity and freedom of action to those who are most interested in their development in those areas.
Where contradictions arise, BRICS members avoid acting to the detriment of their partner and begin to search for compromise solutions, freezing the situation until compromise is worked out.
The world is now choosing whether to remain in the old model and move along the old path paved by Europe in XVIII century that allowed for great success and wealth to be achieved, albeit for minority of the population, or to follow the new path that major civilizations are embarking on.
This is the main question and choice of our time.
Exit from Hotel California
Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in San Francisco were unable to find compromise solution that would make it possible to move from confrontation to cooperation, to move into new development model or reform the old model so that it meets requirements of most countries and peoples of the world.
Thus, question remains: is it possible and, if possible, how to find that kind of compromise and overcome the existing contradictions between the leading world powers? Where is the exit from Hotel California?
Here, I would like to draw readers’ attention to three facts:
First. In San Francisco, Xi Jinping met not only with Biden, but also with top management of the largest American, Chinese and other APEC states’ companies and transnational corporations, and the businessmen greeted the Chinese leader with standing applause, showing that significant part of world business is committed to developing cooperation with China, and not to confrontation.
Second. After the APEC summit in San Francisco, Beijing took new measures to develop relations with the West, primarily in business and tourism. In particular, after Xi returned from the US, China introduced visa-free regime for citizens of Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Malaysia, and Chinese officials made several statements about Beijing readiness to further improve conditions for foreign companies to work in China.
For its part, the West continued “de-risking” that stimulates Western companies to reduce their production in China and imports of Chinese goods, and to switch to import from India and other countries.
Third. In November, Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmad Attaf, speaking in London at briefing organized by the Algerian-British Business Council (ABBC), and answering question about relations between Algeria and BRICS, noted two important points. First, Algeria considers all BRICS countries, including China and Russia, to be “friendly countries” and seeks to develop relations with them, hoping to eventually become member of BRICS. Second, Algeria has friendly relations with Great Britain and relations with London are also priority for Algeria.
At the same time, Great Britain is the birth place of the existing model, one of the most important powers in the Western block, and the leader of the Commonwealth of Nations that includes 56 countries of different continents, of different levels of development and political orientation, including India and South Africa that are members and founders of BRICS, and forging their own civilizational macro-regions. Great Britain is also the main ally of the United States,
What opportunities does this open?
The meeting in San Francisco showed that at state level, official negotiations (Track-1) at present can’t result in compromise between the West and BRICS and allow to work out mechanism for developing model acceptable for all major civilizations.
However, it is possible to organize Track-2 negotiation process with participation of representatives of the USA, Great Britain, Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa, China and, for example, Algeria.
Negotiations should begin under the auspices of UN headquarters in Geneva. It is advisable to carry out the first Track-2 negotiations in two stages: the preparatory stage in Switzerland, in Geneva, and the main one in Algeria, neutral country that has friendly relations with both the West, in particular with the UK, and with BRICS.
Algeria will be accepted as venue for the process by all participants, and the Algerian-British Business Council (ABBC) can act as the initiator and organizer of the first meetings.
To organize negotiations in Geneva and Algeria, along with ABBC, it is advisable to involve organizations and companies that have experience and were successful in organizing Track -2, and recognize the priority of relationships and interactions over political and commercial goals, for example, Relational Peacebuilding Initiatives (RPI), Initiative of Change (IofC), Russian foundation «Transformation through cooperation».
At the second stage, negotiations in the same or expanded format can be held, for example, in Turkey, member of NATO, on the one hand, and sharing many of the ideas and approaches of BRICS, on the other hand, seeking to create its own macro-region of Turkic civilization.
Compromise solutions for reforming the system of international relations found during the Track-2 negotiations in Geneva and Algeria can be presented as recommendations to the governments of all UN members.