October 31, 2022
This was a revealing month for the world.
In Beijing, President Xi Jinping presented to the Chinese Party Congress the report of the Central Committee in a two-hour-long speech.[i] Having secured a third five-year term as president, he is now regarded as China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Throughout his remarks, President Xi did not mention the US, the EU, NATO, Russia, or the war in Ukraine by name. But in an indirect reference to the West-advocated rules-based international order, he said that China stands firmly against all forms of hegemonism and power politics, the Cold War mentality, interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and double standards. He stressed that China is firm in safeguarding the international system with the United Nations at its core, the international order underpinned by international law; opposes all forms of unilateralism, and the forming of blocs and exclusive groups targeted against particular countries.
The question is what such a strong leader may wish to leave behind as his legacy. This is what he said about Taiwan:
“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan. Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese. We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary. This is directed solely at interference by outside forces and the few separatists seeking “Taiwan independence” and their separatist activities; it is by no means targeted at our Taiwan compatriots.
“The wheels of history are rolling on toward China’s reunification and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The complete reunification of our country must be realized, and it can, without a doubt, be realized!”
In Moscow, last Thursday, at the closing session of the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting, President Putin vented pent-up frustration and anger at the West.[ii] His opening remarks and responses to questions targeted the US, the EU, NATO, and although indirectly some European leaders. The theme of this year’s forum was “A Post-Hegemonic World: Justice and Security for Everyone”. He accused the West of seeking unconditional dominance of the global economy and politics through the so-called “rules-based international order”. Nonetheless, he said, “Humankind is at a fork in the road: either keep accumulating problems and eventually get crushed under their weight or work together to find solutions – even imperfect ones, as long as they work – that can make our world a more stable and safer place,” adding he is convinced that sooner or later both the new centers of the multipolar international order and the West will have to start a dialogue on an equal footing about a common future for all.
As for the Chinese-Russian relations, he said that they have reached an unprecedented level of openness, mutual trust, and effectiveness in recent decades; China is Russia’s biggest economic and trade partner; they cooperate in all spheres including the military; they conduct joint exercises and enjoy a level of trust previously unseen in military technology.
“My friend Mr Xi Jinping and I – he has called me his friend and I consider him as such, – we have set a goal to reach a specific trade volume level. We will certainly hit that target as we are moving towards it faster than planned,” he added.
Mr. Putin, in response to a question, criticized the West’s approach to China. He said:
“What is happening is a tragedy in Ukraine. The entire West has attacked us, trying to wreck our economy. It is supplying billions worth of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. This is a fight against Russia.
“But why spoil relations with China at the same time? Are they sane? It seems that this runs completely counter to common sense and logic. Why did this granny have to trudge to Taiwan in order to provoke China into some actions? And this is at the same time when they cannot settle relations with Russia due to what is happening in Ukraine. This is simply crazy.”
Some in the West may agree with him at least on that.
In brief, President Putin was supportive of China across the spectrum.
At the Chinese Communist Party Congress, President Xi was presenting a Central Committee report. He was not being asked questions. This was no media affair. In Moscow, President Putin was addressing a discussion club with international participation where, year after year, he expresses his opinions on domestic and global affairs and takes questions. In other words, the two were entirely different occasions. Nonetheless, since they closely followed one another, one may make a comparison.
In Beijing, President Xi Jinping, as one of the strongest leaders of the world’s number two global power, likely to become number one in the not too distant future, sounded confident. China’s position on the Ukraine conflict seems to reflect more its dissatisfaction with Western policies than the endorsement of the Russian invasion.
In Moscow, President Putin the leader of a major power, but also a country at war, possibly facing domestic challenges sounded frustrated and angry and in referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, mentioned her as “granny”. It was clear that China’s understanding and support in Ukraine are now of paramount importance to Moscow.
At the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting, President Putin had only words of praise for Türkiye and President Erdogan. He said:
“We have proposed building a gas hub in Türkiye for European consumers. Türkiye has supported this idea, of course, first of all, based on its own interests. We have many common interests in tourism, the construction sector and agriculture. There are many areas where we have common interests…
“Türkiye as a whole and personally President Erdogan are not easy partners; many of our decisions are born amid long and difficult debates and negotiations.
“But there is a desire on both sides to reach agreements, and we usually do it. In this sense, President Erdogan is a consistent and reliable partner. This is probably his most important trait, that he is a reliable partner.
And in response to a question, he said:
I have already noted that the President of Türkiye is not an easy partner, that he always upholds his interests, not his personal interests but the interests of his country, but it cannot be said that he has ever tried to get a free ride.
“He simply works towards a solution that is the best one, in the opinion of his government. We work towards solutions that will be the best for us. As I said, we usually find a solution even on very delicate issues, such as Syria, security issues and the economy, including infrastructure. So far, we have managed to do it…
“… The most important thing is reliability and stability in our relations.”
On October 29, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that following massive air and sea strikes by the Ukrainian armed forces, led by British specialists, using drones against the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s ships and infrastructure at the naval base in Sevastopol, the Russian side can no longer guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and will suspend its implementation for an indefinite period.
So, Ankara will now try, together with the UN, to put the grain deal back on track.
Turning to the West, one cannot but see the challenges facing governments on both sides of the Atlantic.
Last Saturday, Anthony Zurcher, BBC’s North America correspondent, reported that just a few hours after the assault on Paul Pelosi, the US government distributed a bulletin to law enforcement across the nation. It warned of a “heightened threat” of domestic violent extremism against candidates and election workers driven by individuals with “ideological grievances”. Everybody agrees that the upcoming midterm elections are going to be critical for the Biden administration, but the reference to “violent extremism” must be a source of greater concern.
President Macron and Chancellor Holtz met in Paris last Wednesday to iron out differences in energy and defense. But there was no joint news conference. Reportedly, Berlin had earlier announced that such a press appearance was going to be held but the Élysée Palace ruled it out. The French government spokesperson said the meeting showed that “this friendship is alive”, and “Today was a very good and important conversation on European energy supply, rising prices, and joint arms projects,” Mr. Holtz tweeted. But the meeting failed to meet expectations.
Moreover, inflationary trends and energy shortages in Europe are giving rise to growing discontent with governments creating more opportunities for the far right. In brief, challenges for the West are mounting.
Last Saturday was the 99th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic by Ataturk, the hero of our War of Independence. We as a nation are eternally grateful to him and must do everything in our power to be worthy of what he has done for his country.