In Xi’an, a meeting of five Central-Asian leaders marks a changing world orderMay 23, 2023
It’d be fair to say that there are two competing entities on the world stage right now. One composed of the G7, and the other a less structured group of countries that were once exploited by the G7.
I left Wuhan on Wednesday morning this week, on a train which terminated at Xi’an but was destined for Luoyang in Henan, on Friday, I left Luoyang by train heading to Xi’an. On both occasions I was subject to intense security at several checkpoints. My well-thumbed passport was inspected at least 10 times in four days. Travelling on what is an efficient but bureaucratically heavy system requires a little more patience when heading towards o Xi’an at the moment. But, given what’s going on there, it’s definitely necessary and, as far as I’m concerned, worth the trouble.
Currently, a meeting is taking place in Xi’an. As I write this, I’m hurtling towards that city at over 300 kph for an entirely different reason but very interested in what’s going on in my destination city.
It’d be fair to say that there are two competing entities on the world stage right now, composed of the G7, and a less structured group of countries that were once exploited by the G7.
The Group of Seven or G7 as it’s more widely known have had, for the last several years, a rather unsuccessful agenda of containing, managing or adapting to a “threat” they perceive China poses. What this threat consists of is not entirely clear, but seems to be China’s economic growth, rather than any military threat posed.
In terms of nominal GDP, China has usurped all but one of the G7, and is poised to usurp the last one in just a few years. But even the mighty USA, has been overtaken in every other measurable metric except military power. And, while China has indeed developed and expanded its defence capabilities, it has shown no inclination to use them for the same purposes as those members of the G7 nations have historically done.
China is dealing, on economic terms with countries that were once colonial subjects of the G7, in Africa, Latin America, other Asian countries and even the Pacific Island Nations. What China has done with all its dealings is showing the world there is an alternative to coercive and exploitative power.
China has never asked any of these countries to choose between the G7 or them, nor has it sent a military presence to enforce or encourage locals to remain subservient to them. As was succinctly, and virally, pointed out by the President of Zambia’s Socialist Party, Fred M’membe, it hasn’t killed their leaders and tried to impose their form of democracy on any African nation.
What China has done, is installed infrastructure where there was none, provided business opportunities where there was exploitation and, as other African leaders have also pointed out, built much needed institutions where they were once given churches and chains.
What’s happening in Xi’an, a meeting of five Central-Asian country’s leaders, is unrelated but strongly connected to what will happen in Japan when the G7 leaders meet just a few days later. The future of the world is changing, it isn’t going to be dominated by the same few countries which dominated in the last 500 years. People talk of Multi-polarity and a changing world order, this meeting in Xi’an, which may seem unimportant on the basis of current GDPs is a very significant signpost to a very different future.
There will be people in the world who have never heard of some of these five countries involved in the meeting. So, let’s look first of all at who’s involved, other than China
Tajikistan is currently a poor region, it is landlocked but has reserves of gold, silver and uranium. More importantly, a great deal of water which can be harnessed for electricity generation and. As the Vice President of the USA said just a few short months ago, reiterating what the United Nations has been saying for a long time – Water is scarce, there may be wars over it in the future.
Kazakhstan is even better blessed with natural resources and could become one of the top 10 producers of oil and gas in the world if properly developed, it’s number 11 now. It too has rich mineral deposits such as silver, and deposits of Uranium likely to be the second largest in the world.
Kyrgyzstan is the poorest of the five countries but holds many billions of tons of excellent high-quality coal, something that China will need in the lead up to Carbon-peaking in 2035. It also has reserves of oil and gold and, again, an important but less considered resource of ample arable land and an abundance of water.
Much of Turkmenistan is desert and, just like the Middle East, the desert covers huge reserves of natural gas and oil.
Uzbekistan is the world’s 7th largest producer of gold but also has reserves of oil and gas.
These 5 countries combined, their GDP is currently less than that of Canada, but would amount to about number 10 in the world at current numbers if combined; and combining is what they are doing.
Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan all share a border with China, while Turkmenistan borders Iran and Afghanistan.
Geopolitically informed readers can see the significance of this; there are trains running through Xinjiang in Western China all the way through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan into Turkmenistan and terminating in many European destinations but also, importantly, Tehran.
Tehran is sanctioned by the G7 but has a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, of which two of these countries, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, along with Russia, are members and a third, Uzbekistan, has observer status. All are neighbours or near neighbours of Afghanistan and Pakistan, China is opening the China Pakistan Economic Corridor to build a link from Xinjiang through to the Arabian Sea at the port of Gwadar.
This is the first meeting of its kind; it indicates there’s a change in the air. Central and Eastern Asia are not only joining China economically, but physically with trains, roads, gas and oil pipelines, communications infrastructure as well as improving security and economic agreements.
While the G7 harangues its “international community” to join forces against China, China is doing exactly what the G7 doesn’t want them to do by consolidating relationships and sharing economic benefits with the very countries the G7 have historically exploited.
The benefits of roads and trains running through these landlocked countries, the benefits of gas and oil pipelines pumping fuel to power the economy of China and out to the world through ports such as Gwadar and the fact that each of these countries has aligned itself with China to capitalise on their resources and do business, must surely be causing the G7 much consternation.
The easiest way to disrupt the phenomenal potential of the region, would be to create instability. When we consider who benefits from that instability, we know it’s not people who live there. Countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan have all recently seen instability, China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a victim of destabilising efforts and no one in any of these locations has benefited. But other people, in their modern, developed international communities certainly do.
The Central Asian leaders, as they discuss trade, security and infrastructure in this meeting will be well aware that there are factions in the developed world who do not want them to improve, do not want to congratulate their successes and most assuredly, do not want them to participate in a collaborative global leadership that brings benefits to billions rather than bringing billions to their benefit.