China and Russia Are No Match for World Order

The G7 showed how provocations in Crimea and the South China Sea won't work.

This year’s G7 summit in Ise-shima, Japan was full of spectacles worthy of arresting headlines, including U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic embrace of atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima on May 27th. Prime Minister Abe as host has enjoyed a considerable boost for his efforts as host and now is confidently heading into an upper house election on July 10th. Like most international summits, however, what lies beyond the headlines are the agreements made among leaders even if not declared in the moment. Much of what the G7 leaders was focused on was the creation of a joint approach to the global rise of revisionism led by China and Russia, who resent not being part of the gathering. The most consequential outcome of the two-day event on Japan’s idyllic island was the emergence of a new phase in the ongoing Sino-Japanese geoeconomic competition. It characterizes a global trend for the world’s leading liberal economies for years to come.

Nationalist-driven and aggressive foreign policy is ubiquitous among authoritarian regimes. China and Russia in particular have been challenging the status quo by displays of military force in Crimea and the South China Sea. Despite regional apprehension and American warnings, the Chinese representative at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue warned  that in the South China Sea, “We do not make trouble but we have no fear of trouble.” While divergent objectives guide such self-aggrandizing behavior, Beijing and Moscow make strange bedfellows under one common goal: to create a new geopolitical reality in opposition to the current liberal world order.

This emerging geopolitical trajectory is particularly evident in recent global geoeconomics increasingly dominated by Beijing's $8 trillion One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. This grand economic project revolves around major investment projects to purportedly promote global connectivity. In reality, however, OBOR is Beijing’s commercial-military scheme designed to advance its great power status while generating jobs overseas for the country’s surplus labor. Therefore it has a peculiar focus on investment in strategic projects despite questionable feasibility, including the floundering $5.5 billion Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway traversing Indonesia, a country crucial to China’s geostrategy for staking claims in the South China Sea.

Despite the dubious economic outlook for OBOR, China looks to pursue its global geoeconomic agenda in earnest by attracting multilateral investment in its $100 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). As a result, Beijing has been literally buying up space in the world’s key geostrategic locations from Djibouti to Nicaragua. Paradoxically, the significance of OBOR is not China’s self-aggrandizing expansion of its geopolitical influence under the veneer of economic cooperation. Rather, the significance lies in the absence of a solid response from liberal countries countering Beijing’s geoeconomic agenda.

Future historians will likely remember the G7 summit in Ise-shima last week as marking the revenge of internationalism. The event defied the growing skepticism toward the annual gathering by generating an internationalist consensus among the world’s most advanced economies on today’s most pressing geopolitical issues. Of such issues South China Sea stood out above all else. Given their burgeoning trade relations with China, European countries have historically diverged from the U.S. and Japan over Beijing’s assertiveness. Indeed, all European G7 member states—the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy—signed up for their founding member status in the AIIB in 2015. The latest G7 solidarity over Asian maritime security underscored the member countries’ commitment to the liberal world order transcending geographical distance.

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