China, at the centre of the multipolar world

Jun 22, 2023
Early morning view of China highlighted in red on planet Earth. 3D

Despite the great interest in and importance of US Secretary of State Blinken’s visit to China, there have been far more interesting things happening here for China watchers. They illustrate the continuing shift in geopolitical gravity towards China as the centre of the multipolar world.

To coin a sporting phrase, “it’s all happening here”. Here of course, is China. And there’s little doubt that things are happening, perhaps more than a casual observer might notice so here are a few things which are happening, have happened or are about to happen.

The world is paying most attention to Blinken’s visit. There was much speculation on how the meeting would go but the feeling on both sides is that it went well. The US team would have spent the afternoon tense and apprehensive then whooped, hollered and high-fived when it was announced that Blinken would meet Xi Jinping after all.

Expectations were low on both sides but low expectations produced a great result. After Blinken behaved himself for 7.5 hours with Qin Gang, on Sunday, he went on the following morning to a 3 hour meeting with Wang Yi and clearly that went as well as could be expected because at 4:07pm came the announcement that President Xi would meet with him at 4:30pm.

Chinese media blames the difficult situation leading up to these talks on USA’s “unilateral and erratic policies and actions” whilst citing fentanyl, unreasonable sanctions and suppression of trade as being stumbling blocks. China’s message however, is consistent; China is committed to a stable, predictable and constructive relationship with the USA, these words, from Global Times, can be found throughout Chinese media in China Daily here and People’s Daily here.

For the naysayers who disagree, consider this: China didn’t invite, but allowed Blinken to visit; they could have, but didn’t humiliate him; on day one of the meeting, they agreed to constructive, cordial and further dialogue; Qin Gang accepted an invitation to visit Washington later; and on day two of Blinken’s visit he met with Wang Yi and, then hit the jackpot with a handshake from the President.

If China wished to be obstructive, the meeting would not have happened, had they wanted to appear constructive whilst acting obstructively, the meeting results would have been different, clearly the message from China is strong, positive and now places the ball firmly into the US court.

There had been much speculation about whether or not Blinken might meet with Wang Yi, a member of the Politburo and Director of the Committee for Foreign Affairs. The fact that it was never announced indicates that it was probably unlikely had Blinken opened his part of the meeting with accusations, allegations, threats or posturing.

That a meeting with Wang Yi occurred was an indication that China is serious but a meeting with Xi too indicates even more strongly that China judged Blinken was more serious than in the past and that he had performed in a more diplomatic and reasonable manner. It’s likely that these two meetings were predicated on whether Blinken behaved within diplomatic norms or not, it seems he did and he was rewarded for doing so.

China has stepped back from the brink and it’s really up to the US to respond in kind, the coming days and weeks will demonstrate their sincerity, or otherwise!

Despite the great interest and importance of Blinken’s visit, there have been a lot of other things happening here that make the last month or two interesting to China watchers.

China also welcomed President Xiomara Castro of Honduras, their most recently added friend, who arrived to open an embassy. Relations between Honduras and China are set to move forward on a very strong foundation of mutual respect with the two countries signing up to partake in the Belt and Road Initiative and more.

A few weeks ago, the leaders of five East Asian Countries arrived in Xi’an, the beginning of the Silk Road for a meeting where mutual benefits for all were discussed, agreements signed and a positive future assured for China’s Western, and Russia’s Southern, neighbours.

China confirmed its support for Palestine by hosting President Abbas and making a commitment to work towards recognition of a Two-State solution to the Palestine Question. After the success of the Saudi-Iran talks just a few months ago, this is a welcome inclusion into a very difficult Middle-Eastern problem.

There are reports that President Macron of France would like an invitation to the next BRICS summit which followed his recent visit to China and, just announced is the news that Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez will visit China in the Autumn. Politically, there is no doubt, it’s all happening here!

But it gets better; business leaders are swarming in too. Elon Musk came, he had some criticisms of the way Chinese workers spend too much time in meetings, which anyone who has ever visited Chinese workplaces can attest to, but his overall opinion is that Americans are more likely to avoid work while Chinese employees won’t need to burn midnight oil; “they’ll be burning the 3am oil”.

Tim Cook of Apple went one step further and praised China’s innovation this must be a shock to the “they steal IP and copy” crowd who have not quite realised what the world’s leading CEOs have noticed. China is one step ahead in everything they are alleged to have stolen. The rest of the world is now playing catch up to China’s innovation. So much so that in the recently released World Rankings of Quality Research, China streamed ahead of Oxford, Cambridge and even CalTech with 22% more contributions to global research.

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan made two impacts: one with a statement that his company are in China for the long haul; and by bringing two former State Secretaries, Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger to a virtual summit in Shanghai along with a host of Chinese business names. He visited Taiwan immediately afterwards and, this caused no ill-feeling, since it’s business and China knows business there will complement, not compete.

And then Bill Gates dropped in to drink tea with his old friend President Xi Jinping, the first leading businessperson to meet with Xi Jinping since before the onset of the Covid Pandemic. Xi and Gates do have a history, they met in 2015 and have corresponded with each other, one known letter from Xi was in thanks for a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donation in the early days of the initial Covid-19 lockdowns.

Like them or loathe them, leaders and influencers of the world’s foremost organisations and institutions are beating a path to China’s door. Their reasons are not to criticise China for imagined human rights abuses, they aren’t complaining about imaginary military expansions and they aren’t suggesting that China is engaging in debt trap diplomacy. They’re here for a different reason.

Some suggest that China has invited them here to revive foreign business interests but that’s not the case. If it were, China would be visiting them. They’re here because they know this is where the future lies and they need to engage with China. The consequences of not being engaged with China, for them, are worse than any imagined consequences of China’s rise.

On a lighter note, the Argentinian football team were confined to their hotel for a while as Chinese fans, who, according to some critics, know nothing of the outside world, besieged the hotel in the hope of just catching a glimpse of their idol Messi, who almost didn’t make it into China as he thought, having visited Taiwan without a visa a while ago, the same would be true of Mainland China, fortunately, China did the right thing and issued him a visa at the airport.

It really is all happening here in China.

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