Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping seem to have switched roles. They managed to turn summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand, from a predictably boring gathering of several Asian authoritarian regimes (plus India, which is still a democracy) to an almost symbolic event.
Putin is weakening, Xi is gaining strength
Previously, Putin’s role was to frighten SCO members with descriptions of insidious plans for the enslavement of their countries by the West. Chinese leaders, on the contrary, acted as pragmatists, promising loans (usually enslaving), investments (to implement the infrastructure projects Beijing needs) and technical assistance (to keep these projects afloat). This time it was different.
Putin promised the participants of the SCO summit to supply fertilizer to poor countries and invited the leaders of the organization to jointly organize a major sporting event. President Xi resolutely tried to make the already anti-Western summit even more radical. He urged the organization’s leaders to rebuff the so-called “color revolutions”. The Chinese leader predictably said that the people who organize them are inspired and guided from abroad. Who exactly, the participants of the meeting did not need to explain.
Xi’s solo in Samarkand is one of many signs of Russia’s waning prestige and influence, even in the Central Asian states where it has traditionally been strong. This is the result of a political catastrophe, which has become for the Kremlin a new stage of aggression against Ukraine.
The Chinese regime now seeks to bring the SCO under its full control and turn it into an Asian counterweight to the US in politics and security. Two days before the summit in Uzbekistan, Xi gave Putin a nasty surprise. He visited Kazakhstan, a traditional regional ally of Russia. There, the Chinese guest spoke about China’s desire to support and strengthen sovereignty and security of the countries of Central Asia. It sounded like a clear warning to Russia not to try to annex the regions of northern Kazakhstan, where many Russian-speaking citizens live. Many in the country are afraid of this, especially after February 24th.
Beijing, openly, offers the governments of the countries of Central Asia to gradually replace Russia as the main guarantor of their safety. “Ukraine continues to drain Putin’s military, political and economic resources. As a result, Russia will continue to lose its influence in the region. This process is now irreversible,” Dospym Satpayev, a Kazakh political scientist, said. I heard this opinion more than once during my recent trip to Central Asia.
China offers SCO “to be friends against America”
China’s obsession with America is increasingly reminiscent of Putin’s. And, most likely, it will have the same disastrous result. An attempt to mold the Shanghai Organization into an anti-Western, anti-American bloc will end in failure. SCO member countries may not like the US and the West, but the differences and even conflicts between them are often much more acute than their hostility. India and Pakistan are the best-known, but far from the only, examples.
Moreover, even if some SCO governments are willing to do business with China, their citizens often have a different opinion. In Kazakhstan, for example, citizens do not like the Chinese influence on the economy and, indirectly, the country’s politics. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and his team cannot ignore these sentiments. On the other hand, the West’s support for Ukraine against Putin is a prime example of solidarity. The public and politicians of many SCO countries see this and will draw their own conclusions, which Beijing may not quite like.
Finally, major Western alliances such as NATO and the EU are like-minded alliances. They are firmly rooted in the shared values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for the rights of citizens. This does not mean that their participants do not have problems and even mutual claims, but it is much easier to resolve them when the philosophy underlying the unions is common. There are no common values at the heart of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Being against something is a short-lived strategy. You can’t buy solidarity either. And many of the regimes that Beijing intends to save from revolution will collapse, no matter how much influence China tries to buy in their countries.
Xi Jinping thinks he will soon rule the roost in Asia. He is wrong.
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