WHEN Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were saying warm goodbyes after their two-day meeting ended on Wednesday, China’s leader told his host they were driving geopolitical change around the world, the like of which the world has not seen over the past 100 years. This was too ambitious a statement to make. But it carried conviction. And Russian president nodded in agreement. The two leaders called for “responsible dialogue” to resolve the Ukraine crisis. They also signed an agreement to usher their ties into a “new era” of cooperation. Their talks built upon the “no limits” partnership the two leaders announced last year, less than three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Xi also proposed a peace plan to end the Ukraine war and Russia has promised to cooperate. Putin said that the Chinese proposal could become the basis of a peace settlement. However, the west and Ukraine have been lukewarm to it. The United States has snorted at the peace plan saying a ceasefire would cement Russian territorial gains and give Russia time to prepare for a bigger offensive. But Xi seems to have made his point. He has reinforced his image as a peace builder on the world stage. More so, when his Ukraine peace bid follows China’s recent brokering of rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It showed that China could play a significant role in fostering a Middle East more characterized by cooperation and trade than conflict and weapons sales, which have been the norm in the region under US leadership. It also reflected China’s growing clout in the region and the relative decline in the US influence.
That said, Xi-Putin summit signalled much more than their growing ties and the effort to resolve Ukraine crisis. Russia’s increasing defiance of the West and China’s inexorable rise have confronted the US and the EU with a new existential crisis. It is also altering global geopolitics and awakening the rest of the world to the reality of a declining US power. This is clear from how the nations and regional groupings have been balancing their relations with the US and China-Russia axis. Even though the US-led western coalition against Russia is holding up well, the rest of the world is increasingly asserting its autonomy in its response to the war. Where does the world go from here. The situation has become very fraught. The US-China tug-of-war has is at its peak. And the winner of this battle royale could potentially decide the next global super power. But for the world peace to hold, the US and China will need to learn to manage their rivalry.
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