After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, there was only one superpower left in a unipolar world order: The United States of America. For the next two decades, America was the world’s hegemon. It kept peace in an ever-increasing turbulent world. Thus began the era of Pax Americana (American Peace).
Today, America is being challenged by two emerging superpowers: The Soviet Union’s progeny, the Russian Federation; and China, the fastest growing economy. While the two are still far behind the U.S. in terms of economic and military power, they have embarked on an ambitious path towards parity with — or superiority over — the U.S. And they are catching up, particularly in developing their nuclear power.
And what concerns the U.S. is that Eurasian and Asian powers are teaming up to confront America in a game of geopolitical brinkmanship. The Russia-China compact was sealed when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit in Moscow on March 22, 2013.
In my article, “New World Disorder” (March 26, 2013), I wrote: “Upon his ascension to the presidency, Xi’s first venture outside China was to visit his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At their summit in Kremlin last March 22, the two leaders agreed to form a “strategic partnership” to advance their countries’ interests. They affirmed their mutual support for each country’s geostrategic and territorial interests, which include territorial disputes. With more than 20 territorial disputes that China is embroiled with various countries — including Japan, Philippines, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam — this could put Russia squarely on the paths of conflict, which could involve the United States who has mutual defense treaties with at least four of China’s adversaries.”
Since then, China has become more assertive – and aggressive – in pursuing its territorial claim over 90% of the South China Sea and East China Sea. On November 24, 2013, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) covering most of the East China Sea.
Last December, Kanwa Defense Review, a Chinese-language military magazine based in Canada, reported that China had secretly set up an ADIZ over the South China Sea. The ADIZ supposedly covers the area that is demarcated by the nine-dash line, which was the basis of China’s territorial claim over the South China Sea.
The U.S. military believes that China is building an airbase on the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea. China’s other reclamation projects include the Fiery Cross Atoll, Gaven Reefs, and Cuarteron Reef, which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
China’s construction of military bases — including air and naval bases – in the South China Sea would allow it to reach a wide swath of area bounded by the First Island Chain that runs from Japan’s southern tip through the Ryukyu string of islands, through Taiwan, through the Philippines’ islands of Luzon and Palawan, and all along the western part of Borneo. Interestingly, the First Island Chain runs parallel to the nine-dash line.
Indeed, that’s what Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” is all about. Xi dreams of the revival of imperial China that had maintained Chinese hegemony in Asia during the reign of the Ming dynasty. “The great revival of the Chinese nation is the greatest Chinese Dream,” Xi said before taking office in November 2012.
During the summit meeting between Xi and President Barack Obama in California last June, Xi told the media that he and Obama were meeting “to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship.” Then he added: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”
It is now apparent that Xi wants the U.S. completely out of the South and East China Seas. China’s next move is to control the entire Western Pacific waters along the Second Island Chain which stretches from Japan all the way to Papua New Guinea by way of the U.S. territories of Guam and Saipan. That would put China’s navy at America’s doorsteps. If that happens, that would turn the entire Western Pacific waters into Lake Beijing; thus, fulfilling Xi’s China Dream.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying hard to restore Russia to its old imperial glory. In 2014, he made several moves to assert his leadership over the Eurasian subcontinent that includes all of the defunct Soviet Union’s former republics and client states.
While Putin had succeeded in annexing Crimea, his efforts to bring down the pro-west Ukrainian government of President Petro Poroshenko were met with strong opposition from the U.S., European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Putin reportedly bragged that Russia is a major nuclear power and also made threatening remarks to Poroshenko: “If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest.”
But little did Putin realize that such braggadocio won’t make the US and EU cower in fear. But Obama and the EU leaders had a different weapon to use against Putin – economic sanctions.
And then the unthinkable happened: the price of oil plummeted, from $115/bbl (barrel) in June 2014 down to $53/bbl today! With oil exports comprising 70% of Russia’s total exports, it accounts for more than 50% of its budget. For the budget to stay in the black, the price of oil should be no less than $100/bbl.
The ripple effect is devastating! The Russian ruble lost 50% of its value since the Ukraine/Crimea “invasion.” The ruble is now trading at 58.7 to $1. Its value has nearly halved and capital outflows have reached $120 billion. And inflation is projected to be 8% at the beginning of 2015.
And the sanctions are working, causing innumerable damages to Russia’s financial sector, military, and others that Russia’s economy is dependent on.
With that grim outlook on Russia’s economy, Putin’s imperial ambitions suffer a huge setback. How can he go to war when the economy is in shambles?
Meanwhile, Xi offered Putin billions in loans to help Russia’s economy stay afloat and save Putin’s neck from the economically depressed Russian people who are expected to ask him to step down when the food lines start forming. But Putin said that Russia would only seek China’s help as a last resort, which begs the question: Would his generals remain loyal to him come hell or high water?
At the end of the day, planet Earth is going through a tectonic social upheaval; that is, a multipolar world order in a shrinking world.