Thoughts on the Bishkek Summit

Is a new anti-American alliance taking shape? TNI editor
Nikolas K. Gvosdev
gives China’s perspective while

The current issue of The National Interest, with its essay "The World Without the West" by Steven Weber, Ely Ratner and Nazneen Barma, is just beginning to circulate in China (according to reliable information that I have received), but President Hu Jintao sounded some of its themes in his address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit meeting in Bishkek.

He reminded his audience that "half of the world's population" lives in the member and observer states of the Shanghai grouping and he urged the organization to "speed up regional integration" and to "take advantage of geographical vicinity and economic compatibility to tap their own potentials and achieve common development."

The summit communiqué also contained a warning against any efforts to create "a monopolistic world order" and there was no doubt that this message was intended for Washington.

In one example of the thesis about countries seeking to "route around" the United States, the summit's participants agreed that steps should be taken to create a "unified energy market" where the energy-rich SCO members would seek to meet the energy needs of SCO consumers. If this could be realized, it would negatively impact U.S. preferences in a variety of areas-from isolating Iran economically to weakening Moscow's influence over Eurasian energy sources to reducing China's need to stockpile dollars (should energy prices shift to being denominated in other currencies).

Even before the Bishkek summit-and before Barma, Ratner and Weber unveiled their thesis-it is clear that a number of Chinese foreign policy thinkers and analysts were exploring the ramifications of a parallel world order. Last year, Wang Yizhou, deputy director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, had declared that " … the steady growth of the four BRIC countries that are non-Western, non-European and non-members of the developed world, has made quite an impact" while Liu Baolai, vice president of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, had observed that "the growing Shanghai Cooperation Organization has provided an important platform for China to expand its influence."

And while the recent Peace Mission 2007 exercises were small in scale and did not involve large numbers of forces, Zhen Shouhua of the Chinese Academy of Military Science noted that the drill had "historic significance as a milestone in military cooperation among the six SCO member countries."

What it means is that Moscow, Beijing and other states are increasing their ability to hedge against the United States and to have other options. A Xinhua report concluded that one of the goals is "to push for a fairer and more reasonable international order."

But there is also an interesting "ideological" component as well. Not only a post-Soviet Russia but also the People's Republic of China have abandoned the notion of spreading a particular social-political-economic ideology to all corners of the globe as well as the idea that for states to cooperate, they must share similar systems of governance. Mei Zhaorong, former Chinese ambassador to Germany, wrote last year in an article for China's Foreign Affairs Journal that a key proposition of China's foreign policy was that "People of all countries enjoy the inalienable right of choosing their road of development according to their own national conditions."

And what is striking is that the SCO's members and observers run the gamut-from liberal democracies to semi-authoritarian states to those considered to be "unfree"-but all of the countries represented share a commitment to preserving state sovereignty. Not surprisingly, then, one point President Hu stressed in his remarks in Bishkek was that "The most serious challenge we face is that whether all member states can effectively maintain their sovereignty, security and development."

Earlier this week in the Washington Post, Paul Saunders raised the point: "Trying to create a ‘Concert of Democracies' inevitably invites a ‘Concert of Non-Democracies'", which could be very damaging to American interests and values." The Bishkek summit did not formally do this-but foundations are being laid.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.