Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow awakened some old emotions about the strength and power of the great Eastern despots, as opposed to inhumane Western capitalism. Hearts of those nostalgic for the days of the Soviet Union and Mao’s China trembled as they watched footage from Moscow where Vladimir Putin gave an imperial welcome to his peer and great friend Xi Jinping. They talked for two whole days, either alone or as part of large delegations. The topics were global, or at least that’s what was announced, starting with Japan and both Koreas, NATO, the diversion on the Nord Stream gas pipeline and the prevention of ‘Colour Revolutions’ in Central Asia.
To make everything look like it used to be, with hugs and outpourings of eternal friendship, the presidents announced that they were ready to shape a new and fairer world order together. That was the message that touched the hearts of many in Serbia, those who spend their lives waiting for the balance of power in the world to change, for “our side” to finally take global leadership, and with their help to finally restore everything back to normal and live as we want.
Ivo Andrić wrote about this syndrome (Our time will come) using the character of the unfortunate Siman the Serf. Siman was looking forward to the arrival of the brotherly, Christian Austrian administration in Bosnia, when he would become the boss, and the agha in whose house he worked and whose land he cultivated, would become his servant. But it seems that Andrić was not read, not even in schools where Story of Siman the Serf is on the required reading list, and even less was learned from his stories. In short, Serf Siman’s time never came.
First let’s check if the friends from the meeting in the Kremlin could really change the world to their liking? One is desperate to boost economy, whose growth last year was the lowest since 1976 and the Mao era. Three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and strict quarantine have cooled the Chinese economy to the point where there are mass street protests. The way out is impossible without an agreement with large employers from the West, particularly since many of them have been leaving China and returning their businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs either home or somewhere where business can be done cheaper and without frictions.
Another friend is already a year into a war which he himself began by attacking a peaceful independent country, isolated and driven out of the largest markets in Europe, impoverished and with no prospect of recovery as long as he is waging an aggressive war. In addition, as of a few days ago, an international arrest warrant was issued on his name as he was accused of war crimes.
As much as they encourage themselves in joint statements that they are the world’s superpowers, who should shape the world together, both Putin and Xi Jinping know that things are not like that.
The Chinese came to Moscow to “nail down” their colonial relationship to Russia, as their raw material base, and as a market for absolutely everything they produce. We have seen how it went down in the past year, since Russia has been in a war of conquest. Expelled from the richest and, for it, the largest European oil and gas market, Russia increased its exports to China, but far below the price that was limited in the West to 60 dollars per barrel. The trade exchange between China and Russia increased last year by as much as one third, but this has been the result of Western sanctions against Moscow, from which only China has a huge benefit.
Russia has no other way out for survival. The only way out for its economy and its market is China, and Russia is forced to deal with it, on China’s terms and not on their own terms.
China is and wants to remain a global power. Russia is not. China has difficulties to maintain its global status, and it does not mind if it uses Russia to solve problems. Russia cannot fight that.
Behind the spectacle in the Kremlin, only the shell of the cruel supremacy of one “friend” over other remains, and the image of a helpless and wounded victim in the claws of a hungry predator remains.
This duo doesn’t have the strength to make a new world in their own shape, and they don’t have the desire either. Anyone who expects a world revolution after the Kremlin meeting should return to Siman the Serf, and if that’s too difficult, then at least to the newspapers from the 90s, when they also convinced us that “our time” was about to come.
It is a perverse expectation that China and Russia would overthrow the evil that rules the world and bring justice and wealth. It is a sickening expectation that two autocracies would change the world, and that Kosovo would be returned to Serbia, for example.
It is not good for us and our children to invoke a system in which there is no freedom of choice and no rights for ordinary people. A system where you go to prison for 15 years if you speak out against the army, or to quarantine where the front door of the building is welded so that you do not escape. These are models whose leaders are celebrated in Serbia today as liberators from slavery and as strong older brothers who would defend us from bullies. There are no such liberators, and particularly no older brothers. There is no change in the world order, as it was written in the statement from the Kremlin. There are only adaptations to the existing world, intelligence and hard work. If it is too difficult, then all that remains are wet and sick dreams that would never come true.