Asian Arbitration

Don't Sell China Short

Chinese dragon Imago_effect
Time to bring China onto the world stage as a mediator?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • Nations such as India and especially China no longer feel they must passively back the geopolitical decisions of the U.S. and Europe. New global powers could open the door to new ways of mediating disputes in the future.
  • Facts


    • The Minsk agreement on a ceasefire in Ukraine was made on February 12 between Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.
    • The BRIC countries, Brazil, China, Russia and India, have been feted since 2001 as the new economic powers.
    • Chinese investment abroad has grown and the majority has been in developing countries.
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Realpolitik can be disappointing when it is built on unrealistic expectations, which is why the West should not get too excited about its power position in the world today. This goes for the time before, as well as after, the Minsk negotiations.

Taking the realpolitik route means acknowledging that the sanctions against Russia are not working in the way the West envisioned. This is because great powers such as India and especially China no longer feel like they have to play along with Western politics.

This is true for all the BRIC countries and many other states, as was made clear when President Vladimir Putin visited Egypt recently. The trip simply showed that Mr. Putin’s back is not to the wall.

The practical conclusions the West should draw from this are uncomfortable ones. And the same goes for the roles that Angela Merkel and François Hollande are playing in the negotiations. Both would like to be mediators between the United States and Russia. But neither of them can really fill the role.

Beijing has great political weight and is convinced that neither Russia nor the West should tie themselves to Ukraine.

A mediator has to be strong, respected and independent. Ms. Merkel is, at best, only respected. This is true to a lesser extent for Mr. Hollande.

From Mr. Putin’s perspective, neither of them is a mediator. They are merely the good cops of the West, and Mr. Putin’s strategy will continue to be ensuring that the good and bad cops keep arguing with each other over the right approach, even after the negotiations in Minsk.

A progressive realpolitik would mean accepting that both Europe’s and America’s leverage is shrinking while China’s influence is growing. This holds true in terms of the Ukraine crisis too.

Progressive realpolitik politicians must decide who can truly be a neutral mediator and at the same time has the necessary authority. The UN is definitely not it. Neither is it the IMF or neutral Switzerland. After a quick think, anyone would realize that it must be China.

Beijing has great political weight and is convinced that neither Russia nor the West should tie Ukraine to their respective blocs.

The fact that Beijing has practical interests in the Ukraine because it buys its arms from there is the lesser of two evils in this precarious situation. At least the Chinese won’t interfere in this proxy war without being asked, by stationing their own troops in Ukraine.

It may seem far more improbable to us in the West than to Mr. Putin that negotiations about the future of Ukraine would be held in Beijing rather than in Minsk. For Americans this holds even more true than for Germans.

The advantage is obvious. Neither the West nor Mr. Putin can afford to trick the Chinese. Beijing would immediately exploit this. This is the advantage of a multi-polar world order compared to the former bipolar world order, which Russia and the West have fallen back into.

A multi-polar world order means that Europe will mediate when Russia and China are arguing. Or Russia will mediate when the United States and China are battling each other. This must happen under the precondition that the mediator is being explicitly asked to do so by the parties at odds. One day this will be normal. This is what realpolitik is about. Yet even Beijing still needs to get used to this thought.


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