The most significant political meeting this year took place last Wednesday. The presidents of the US and China, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, talked for four hours in San Francisco. They have not met for a year. During that time, a lot has happened. However, everything has more or less to do with America and China, but predominantly both countries. They see each other as a threat and a partner they must talk to.
There have been extensive preparations for this meeting. It was preceded by significant visits of high-ranking administration representatives, such as the recent visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington, the first of its kind in the previous five years. The agreements from San Francisco will affect the whole world, at least for the next year, until the US elections, but also if Biden remains in the White House.
It will also affect us in Serbia and the Balkans, no matter how much it may seem that this is too far and big for us – “the small ones”. It should particularly affect the smallest ones here, who see a chance for their sick megalomania in something similar to a showdown between the East and the West, in which the former will defeat the latter. Not just defeat – raze them to the ground!
Xi Jinping did not go to America to threaten Biden with some new Chinese world order. He went to plead with Biden and search for a way out of the enormous issues his country faces. The economy did not take off after the pandemic, as they had hoped in Beijing a year ago.
All parameters have been decreasing, for which the central government of the Communist Party has no solution. A significant financial crisis is ongoing due to an overinflated housing construction “bubble”, which might bring down the market and banks. This is similar to the crisis in the West 15 years ago.
Western companies have been increasingly leaving China and moving their investments to surrounding, more stable economies, particularly India. They are also moving because a new anti-espionage law has been in force since last August, which places anyone who wants to invest capital in China at risk of being imprisoned if, for example, they dare to investigate the market.
Xi’s strategic initiative “One Belt One Road” has been rapidly winding down, and the Chinese abandoned it, so as a replacement, they brought as many as three new global strategies this year. The “Belt and Road” proved too expensive, unprofitable and, from the point of view of expanding Chinese influence in the underdeveloped world, an ineffective strategy. Its successes are visible only in the proclamations of the Communist Party as one of the “genius” ideas of their national leader. Finally, since the middle of this year, China is no longer the most populous country in the world, having been overtaken by India.
Xi Jinping alone cannot solve these and other systemic problems. This is even more difficult in a confrontation with America. He could alleviate them only if he cooperated with the US, and that is why the meeting with Biden in San Francisco was a strenuous but significant admission that the previous nationalist policy and the desire to expand the Chinese model to the whole world was an adventure that must end.
Our local admirers of the rising East and advocates of the downfall of the West will probably miss this opportunity to understand global shifts, but let’s try anyway. Their hopes that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be the start of the final victory of the East over the West faded long ago, starting from the fourth day of the aggression when they realised that Kyiv did not fall in three days, as Moscow promised.
Victorious expectations rapidly shifted from Russia to China because it was still bigger and more powerful than Russia. They were wrong again. Xi Jinping explicitly said in San Francisco that he would not attack Taiwan, and Biden, again explicitly, called Xi a “dictator”. Someone has given up quite a bit here – the one who is in need.
All Chinese operations on the global stage are hopeless, like the already mentioned “Belt and Road” and BRICS. Those currently campaigning in Serbia in search of votes by offering BRICS membership are actually offering to tie themselves to a sinking project (ship) with no chance of rescue. Even though it is a suicidal offer for Serbia, the people making it stand to gain significantly from it since it will win over voters who continue to believe that there is no food in US supermarkets, fuel in UK petrol stations or heating in Europe.
China came to the West to negotiate a way out of the multi-faceted crisis, and the West accepted it. It is impossible to reject the second-largest economy in the world. It is harmful and expensive to bypass its market and enormous production capacities. But it is unacceptable that China has been blackmailing dozens of less developed economies globally with its economic (and military) power, particularly in its neighbourhood. It remains the hub for manufacturing and distribution of up to two-thirds of the “fake” goods circulating globally, ranging from market-leading products to stolen software. It is inadmissible to arrest foreign investors for espionage because they conduct the most ordinary due diligence as the first step when placing capital on the Chinese market. And finally, it is unacceptable that its companies make war profits by avoiding international sanctions and allowing Russian companies to smuggle goods into the global market.
America and the West will not stop trading with China. Nor should Serbia. It should search for ways to increase its exports, as it is doing. Those who complain should be reminded that the amount of Serbia’s annual trade with China is equal to Germany’s trade with China in less than a week. American trade with China is 110 times greater than Serbia’s trade with China. It goes without saying that the difference in the size of our economies is significant, but the principle should apply to everyone.
However, an even stronger principle should remain. China should not be anything more than a significant trade partner to Serbia. No political affiliations, no coalition against the West, no BRICS, and, least of all, calls for a showdown where the “developing East” would prevail.