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Igor Ivanov

President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

We are witnessing the ever-increasing efforts of leading states, either by themselves or with other countries, to promote various integration mechanisms that would satisfy their immediate interests and at the same time create a platform for their participation in shaping the future world order. The biggest and most ambitious of these projects is, of course, the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013.

Despite the cautious wording and the ostentatious flexibility and openness of the Chinese initiative, it nevertheless raised a great deal of suspicion. And these suspicions were voiced not only in the United States, but also in Europe, India and partly in Russia. Political leaders and corporate leaders across the globe felt that it was about more than just the implementation of a single, albeit extremely ambitious project, but rather about the onset of the reformatting of the entire world order. Sensing a threat to their interests and their positions in the world, some countries set out to boycott the Belt and Road Initiative, block the geographical expansion of the project and create a negative reputation surrounding it.

Such an obstructive approach appears counter-productive, primarily for those planning to boycott and sabotage the project. In the six years since the Belt and Road Initiative was launched, not a single significant alternative project has been put forward. What is more, over the years, the old Transpacific and Transatlantic integration projects have been shelved.

It is obvious that sabotage is not a constructive response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. Rather, a constructive response would be for other countries to develop their own projects, with the worthiest rising to the top. For example, Beijing’s far-reaching plans should push the European Union to finally move forward with concrete integration initiatives after years of fruitless discussions. On the other hand, critics and skeptics of the Belt and Road Initiative should become more involved in the project itself in order to lay down the rules of international cooperation together with China.


President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping and President of the United States Donald Trump met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29 to discuss the resumption of trade and economic talks between the two countries. The United States also promised that it would not introduce additional tariffs on Chinese goods. The world collectively breathed a sigh of relief, as the trade war between the world’s two largest economies is fraught with serious risks for global economic growth.

Time will tell whether these agreements will turn out to be the calm before the storm or whether the two sides will be able to find mutually acceptable solutions. However, no matter how the events that broke out between the United States and China in 2018–2019 occurred, the economic war gives us grounds to say that we have become witnesses to yet another manifestation of the gradual disintegration of the existing world order. This process is gaining momentum and directly affects almost every area of intergovernmental relations.

In these circumstances, we are witnessing the ever-increasing efforts of leading states, either by themselves or with other countries, to promote various integration mechanisms that would satisfy their immediate interests and at the same time create a platform for their participation in shaping the future world order. The biggest and most ambitious of these projects is, of course, the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013.

Without dwelling on the multitudinous interpretations of the Belt and Road Initiative, I will take the liberty of highlighting the international significance of this initiative. Let us recall that President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping first put the idea forward when the established world order was only just beginning to show signs of its obvious failures. The global economy struggled to overcome the effects of the global financial crisis in 2008–2009. In the Middle East, the seemingly unshakable authoritarian Arab regimes started to fall one after another. The “reset” of the Russian-American relations was spluttering, and a serious conflict was brewing around Ukraine. In short, the international system had entered a period of increased instability marked by reduced manageability at the global and regional levels.

No less obvious was the fact that the deepening disagreements between the two great powers and the emerging fragmentation of the international system made it practically impossible to reach any kind of common agreement on restructuring the decaying world order. For example, the repeated attempts to reform the United Nations invariably fell flat. By the same token, it was impossible to even start a serious discussion about revising the rules of the game on the global financial markets following the crisis in 2008–2009. Arms control mechanisms have also stalled noticeably.

In this context, the Belt and Road Initiative should not be viewed as an exclusively economic project (or perhaps not even as an economic project at all), but rather as an attempt to find an alternative approach to reformatting the world order. Not “from above,” that is, through the radical transformation of the old and the creation of new global governance institutions, but rather “from below,” through the consistent implementation of specific regional and continental projects envisaging the most diverse and flexible formats for getting potential participants involved. It is no coincidence that President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping has declared that the Belt and Road Initiative was intended to put his country’s idea of creating a community of common destiny for humankind into practice.

The Chinese initiative did not encroach on the fundamental principles of the liberal world order in any way. On the contrary, when delivering his keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in early 2017, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping stressed Beijing’s commitment to continuing the process of globalization and protecting the freedom of global trade from the looming protectionism.

Despite the cautious wording and the ostentatious flexibility and openness of the Chinese initiative, it nevertheless raised a great deal of suspicion. And these suspicions were voiced not only in the United States, but also in Europe, India and partly in Russia. Political leaders and corporate leaders across the globe felt that it was about more than just the implementation of a single, albeit extremely ambitious project, but rather about the onset of the reformatting of the entire world order. Sensing a threat to their interests and their positions in the world, some countries set out to boycott the Belt and Road Initiative, block the geographical expansion of the project and create a negative reputation surrounding it.

Such an obstructive approach appears counter-productive, primarily for those planning to boycott and sabotage the project. In the six years since the Belt and Road Initiative was launched, not a single significant alternative project has been put forward. What is more, over the years, the old Transpacific and Transatlantic integration projects have been shelved.

It is obvious that sabotage is not a constructive response to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. Rather, a constructive response would be for other countries to develop their own projects, with the worthiest rising to the top. For example, Beijing’s far-reaching plans should push the European Union to finally move forward with concrete integration initiatives after years of fruitless discussions. On the other hand, critics and skeptics of the Belt and Road Initiative should become more involved in the project itself in order to lay down the rules of international cooperation together with China.

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin welcomed the Belt and Road Initiative and noted that “combining the potentials of such integration formats as the Eurasian Economic Union, the Belt and Road Initiative, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could become the basis for a greater Eurasian partnership.”

Russia needs to clearly define its long-term priorities and interests within the project, taking its real possibilities and limitations into account, and then implement it together with China and the other participants in a coordinated manner. This task is far more complicated that any national project. But it is also far more important than any national project being implemented today.

Naturally, the foundation of the emerging new world order cannot be limited to the Belt and Road Initiative. This is just one example of the formats in which the new world order will develop. The main principle of building a new world order “from the bottom up” is the creation of regional and continental “coalitions of likeminded states” – states that share common approaches to various measures of international interaction. The Belt and Road Initiative meets these criteria, as do the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union and many other entities. Maybe something will come of the resurgent Russia–China–India triangle.

Countries will find it easier to protect their own interests as part of flexible and fluid coalitions dealing with specific issues. On the other hand, these “blocs” may later form the basis of the future world order. This process will, by definition, be slow and unequal, but there is simply no other realistic way of overcoming the current crisis of how to control the global system.

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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