How Russia and China Overtook the West
For the past year, Nato countries, led by the US, have strived to nudge the rest of the world into providing military aid for Ukraine and sanctioning Russia, in the hope of isolating the latter. They have, by and large, failed on both counts. Western officials might point out that 141 of 193 countries supported a recent UN resolution demanding Russia withdraw from Ukraine, but the 32 abstaining countries included China, India, Pakistan and South Africa — which alone account for around 40% of the global population.
Despite the West’s attempts to “globalise” the conflict, only 33 nations — representing just over one-eighth of the global population — have imposed sanctions on Russia and sent military aid to Ukraine: the UK, US, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan and the EU — in other words, those countries that are directly under the US sphere of influence, which in many cases involves a significant US military presence. The remaining nations, comprising close to 90% of the world’s population, have refused to follow suit. If anything, the war has strengthened Russian relations with several major non-Western countries, including China and India, and accelerated the rise of a new international order in which it is the West that looks increasingly isolated, not Russia.
Since the invasion, China has hugely increased its purchases of Russian oil, gas and coal, while exporting far more machinery, manufactured products and high-end electronics in the other direction; they have boosted their bilateral trade by more than 30%. The two countries have also committed to significant investment and infrastructure projects through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the world’s largest regional grouping in terms of geographic scope and population, which also includes India, Pakistan, Iran and all the major Central Asian republics. Moreover, as a result of Western sanctions, they have been forced to rely on rouble-yuan trade instead of using the dollar, which has enhanced the yuan’s reserve currency status.
Even more significantly, the two countries have increasingly been speaking with one voice about the need for a more balanced international order, explicitly framing their collaboration as one aimed at weakening the West’s dominance in global affairs. China, in particular, has implicitly embraced Russia’s view, espoused by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, that “this is not about Ukraine at all… It reflects the battle over what the world order will look like”. In this context, it should come as no surprise that Beijing and Moscow have maintained the steady pace of their joint military exercises, nor that Xi is due to meet Putin in Moscow today.
The problem for the US, and the West, is that this message is starting to resonate around the world. Many non-Westerners feel that the US is in no position to lecture other countries about the sanctity of sovereignty, territorial integrity, international law and the so-called rules-based order. They recognise that the US has violated these principles before — most recently with the disastrous invasions and bombing campaigns against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. This is why the West’s attempt to frame the conflict in Ukraine as a moral struggle of “good versus evil” elicits unease among many non-Westerners, especially in those countries that have been on the receiving end of Western colonial endeavours.