[Column] Putin’s war and Xi Jinping’s Olympics

Posted on : 2022-01-29 09:56 KST Modified on : 2022-01-29 09:56 KST
Xi and Putin are set to meet at the Beijing Olympics next week
Illustration by Jaewoogy.com
Illustration by Jaewoogy.com

Against the backdrop of Russia’s face-off with the US and Europe that has it deploying troops to the border with Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he attends the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next week.

This is to be Xi’s first in-person meeting with any foreign head of state since the COVID-19 virus spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan to the rest of the world in January 2020.

While only 14 countries have officially or unofficially joined the US-led “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics, there are also only 10 countries that have announced plans for their leader to attend in person, including Russia, Pakistan, and five Central Asian countries. For Xi, Putin’s attendance is a major gift.

Collaboration with Xi is also a powerful weapon for Putin. With an economic might roughly on par with that of Italy, Russia has no chance of standing up to the US and Europe. Putin and Xi’s calculation appears to be that by combining Russia’s military strength with China’s economic strength, they may succeed in upsetting the US-driven global order from both sides of Eurasia.

If Putin can diminish NATO’s stature and restore the “Soviet sphere of influence” through his risky gamble with Ukraine, perhaps Xi can also use the same approach with Taiwan to expand Chinese influence in East Asia.

In the long term, Putin and Xi’s aim is to undermine the hegemony of the US dollar. In a videoconference summit last month, they announced plans to increase their bilateral trade in renminbi and ruble denominations rather than dollars, declaring that they would “accelerate efforts to create an independent financial network that is free from third-party [i.e., US] influences.”

While they may not be able to topple the dollar’s dominance in the short term, they clearly plan to evade the constraints on their activities that US financial sanctions would cause.

Another weapon at their disposal is their combined veto power on the UN Security Council.

Both of them have used the veto to maximize strategic gains, as with support for the Bashar Assad administration in the Syrian civil war and defense of the coup in Myanmar. Recently, China and Russia blocked the issuance of a UNSC statement condemning North Korea’s successive tests of hypersonic missiles.

Perhaps no one is observing the ramifications of China and Russia’s offensive against the global order more closely than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The North has already conducted five missile launches this year, while threatening to resume tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to boot.

If the North were to start test-launching ICBMs and testing nuclear weapons again, would the UNSC be capable of responding?

By Park Min-hee, editorial writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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