This document is the grand strategic manifesto of a new world order and there is much more to be said about it than what follows. I believe that 4 February 2022 will be remembered as the proclamation of a new disposition of world power and relationships.
It is a truly new order of things, not the old “new world order” which was based on US supremacy. And it is most certainly not the so-called Rules-Based International Order in which one side makes up the rules, breaks them when it wants to and orders everyone else to obey. (A perfect example of the mutability of the “rules” is that gay rights are very important in Russia but not at all in Washington’s new “major ally” of Qatar.) The old “new world order” was always about making them conform to us: “The foremost goal of US strategy should be to cause China’s ruling elites to conclude that it is in China’s best interests to continue operating within the US-led liberal international order…”
The Russian-Chinese document speaks much of “democracy” but it’s a different vision than the one common in the West. The West today is focussed on the process of democracy – was the voting up to acceptable standards? Did the opposition have a fair chance? were there enough candidates? was the advertising even-handed? were “administrative resources” used to shift the vote? and like questions. Never mind that the West is often hypocritical in its discussion – microscopes analyse the treatment of dissidents in Russia and but the house arrest and treason charges against opposition figures in Ukraine are ignored – these are the metrics used in the West’s assessment of whether a country is “democratic” or not. Now it may well be that fifty or sixty years ago concentrating on the process of democracy was appropriate but it is very questionable whether it is today. This one graph, showing the relationship between productivity and wages and compensation shows that all is not well. Up until the late 1970s, the two curves kept step with each other – the “rising tide” was indeed lifting all boats. Afterwards, however, they diverge until today there is a considerable gap between the two “Productivity has grown 3.5x as much as pay”. The rising tide is floating only a few super yachts. The richest one percent owned six times as much as the bottom fifty percent in 1989, now it’s 15 times as much. A Princeton University study in 2014 concluded “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose“. These findings suggest that, however good the process may be, the δεμος does not have much κρατος.
The Russian-Chinese document speaks of the results of democracy.
The sides believe that democracy is a means of citizens’ participation in the government of their country with the view to improving the well-being of population and implementing the principle of popular government.
Note the purpose: “improving the well-being of population”. Whatever one may say about the process of the governance of China or Russia, no one can doubt that the well-being of the population has mightily improved in both countries. We shall see for the future how this holds up but the document describes a different approach to democracy: don’t concentrate on the process and assume the results will follow – which they are not doing in the USA in particular and the West in general – but instead never mind the process, ask whether the are results desirable? Throughout the document – fifty times – we see the word “development” (“развитие” in the Russian version).
The sides believe that peace, development and cooperation lie at the core of the modern international system.
A world in which everyone has a chance to get rich. And who can doubt that the government in Beijing knows how to do that? We will see, in the coming world competition of ideas, which approach is more attractive and successful.
A second theme, repeated throughout the document is that all countries are equal and they have their own ways of doing things, it is their right to do this, no one may preach to them and no one may interfere with them.
The sides call for the establishment of a new kind of relationship between world powers on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation.
This is what might be called a descriptive take on the world rather than the prescriptive take more common in the West. To explain what I mean, let us consider Soviet-Polish relations. Although it’s very unfashionable to admit it today, Warsaw, as the first country to form a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Germany and by its refusal to allow Soviet troops into its territory to fight Germany, played a consequential role in the outbreak of the war. Poland suffered terribly, losing 20-25% of its population and was liberated by the Soviet Army after immense destruction. Stalin then designed a Poland which, for the first time in its long history, included all of the historical Polish lands and no irredentist minorities. Then imposed the blessing – or so Moscow saw it – of socialism and transformed Poland into a loyal ally of the USSR. Except that, the moment it became clear that the tanks weren’t coming, Poland quit the alliance, threw off socialism and turned to NATO and the EU. All the “fraternal, socialist, ally” rhetoric turned out to be empty declarations of people compelled to say them. In other words, the lesson is that you can’t change a country except temporarily by force or very slowly over a very long time. Moscow has learned this lesson. Hence my use of the world “descriptive” – countries, quite simply, are what they are and outsiders can’t change them; therefore outsiders have to live with them. It’s that simple: the prescriptive notion – we have the truth and you should follow it (we must make Beijing follow the “US-led liberal international order”) simply can’t be done. Therefore, the emphasis throughout the document that countries are as they are and are to be treated as equals is firmly based on reality. You can’t make a particular country go along with your notions of propriety but you still have to deal with it: treat it as it is. The West has long lost sight of this despite its numerous failures of prescription: even if the Western ideas actually were “better”, you can’t bomb Afghans into accepting them. Therefore, this position in the document is quite simply realistic and practical.
I have said before that Russia, in the communist days, was an “exceptionalist state” and so was China under Mao. They then regarded themselves as a pattern for others to follow – a pattern that others should follow – and the USSR imposed that pattern on many of its neighbours. Both Beijing and Moscow have learned that exceptionalism is a route to failure. Therefore, what I am calling a “descriptive” approach to world variety is the result of the failure of trying a prescriptive approach. This is not, therefore, a point of view adopted to gull people into acquiescence, it is one that is based on cold, bitter experience. It is a lesson that Washington has not yet learned: exceptionalism is a road to a blind alley, as Putin put it a quarter century ago. It is, in fact, something the West should remember: “Westphalianism” is the principle of cuius regio, eius religio adopted after Europeans had torn themselves apart trying to impose religion on each other. Not uniformity, but variety. The China-Russia manifesto is rooted on a truth that not only they, but Europe as a whole, have learned the hard way.
The Chinese-Russia relationship is described as follows:
They reaffirm that the new inter-State relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era. Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ”forbidden“ areas of cooperation, strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the changing international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries.
Time will show just what is meant by this but it is clear that it is a relationship both deep and wide. A complete commonality of interest which is not uniformity of interest. (It will be amusing to watch Western “experts” fail to get that distinction.) And not one to be easily split apart as some naïve people in Washington think. They trust each other and neither trusts Washington.
Finally, the new world order that they are calling for is described as:
The sides reiterate the need for consolidation, not division of the international community, the need for cooperation, not confrontation. The sides oppose the return of international relations to the state of confrontation between major powers, when the weak fall prey to the strong. The sides intend to resist attempts to substitute universally recognized formats and mechanisms that are consistent with international law for rules elaborated in private by certain nations or blocs of nations…
A new world order for all, not just those who accept “the better way”.
I would expect, as details are filled in at the “strategic” and “operational” level, that this “grand strategic vision” will prove to be widely attractive across the globe. Washington and its allies will, no doubt, concentrate on the many criticisms of its behaviour, but the manifesto is positive in tone.
People are attracted to success and the West doesn’t project that any more.