Britain faces a new global alliance

Next month there are planned peace talks with the Taliban … in Moscow, with the support of China.

This is a small symptom of the biggest tectonic shift in political alliances for more than 70 years. UK Liberal Democrats will be ahead of the curve if they appreciate the significance of this shift and have an opinion on the UK’s response.

As China reaches the point when its economy becomes the world’s largest, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is pressing ahead with his ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. This is the new Silk Road from China to Europe across the land mass. Unlike the old Silk Road, this time it comes with vast Chinese investments in the countries involved, as China seeks global influence and new places to put its cash resources. There is a maritime equivalent; the ‘String of Pearls’, as China takes over ports at strategic points from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Djibouti and Greece

With inadvertent help from Western military policy, China and Russia are aligning relations with countries along these land and sea routes.

China already has close relations with Pakistan, made even closer by the new government there, elected on a wave of disquiet over US drone attacks.

In Afghanistan, China already controls the copper mines in the north, and is forging new transport links from China to the Chinese-run Pakistani port of Gwadar. Now Russia and China have been advising the Taliban in new peace moves. A prospective new ‘negotiated’ government, including the Taliban, is likely to be allied with China and Russia.

The very latest US-led sanctions on Iran applicable after November 4th, following after the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, may lead to a war with UK participation. More likely however, given the size of such a war and the prospect of tens of thousands of US & UK casualties, is that Iran will just be driven closer to China and Russia.

The new government in Iraq still enjoys close relations with Iran and is seeking higher Chinese investment.

The war in Syria has led to a strengthening of Syria-Russia relations and increased Russian influence in the Mid East.

The jewel in the crown of the Belt and Road initiative is Turkey. As Turkey moves closer to Russia and China, and away from the US, NATO and the EU, it will be the most westerly of the Belt and Road countries, and Turkey may even join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation; participating in reducing the influence of the US dollar.

Turkey has significant influence in Central Asia and Western China, where from Uzbekistan from Xinjiang in China, people speak Turkic languages. Turkey’s economy is entwined with the EU economy, as the fall of the Lira over the last months has shown.

Turkey has close relations with Qatar and also has military and medical bases in Somalia in the Horn of Africa, where it is engaged in oil exploration. The Horn of Africa is also the focus for large scale Chinese investment, including oil and ports. There is a large Chinese military base designed to protect Chinese shipping in coordination with Iran, in Djibouti.

On the current trajectory 2019 onwards will see a new emerging alliance involving China, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

How should the UK respond ? Oppose, join, contain, go to war ? The UK Lib Dems have an opportunity to think long term and plan for the interests of the UK.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance. He is an elected member of FIRC and an Executive member of Liberal International (British Group).

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16 Comments

  • Paul Reynolds 28th Aug '18 - 10:59am

    UN figures July 2017. Population of China 1,409,517,397. Population of india 1,339,180,127. As a matter of interest, China produced 85m pushbikes in 2017.

  • William Fowler 28th Aug '18 - 11:24am

    The danger in China is that it is locking into a one man leadership and there is no historical evidence that spending more than ten years at the top leads to a pleasant outcome, all that individuals can do is avoid investing in the country and try to avoid Chinese products – extremely difficult to do. At the same time help out India in whatever ways one can. I would suspect, given the history, that if things turn nasty then the UK would be a prime target for China.

  • So basically it’s the old sphere of influence areas. IMO the British position should be to shrug and not get involved. The cold war ended nearly 30 years ago. It’s time we moved on.

  • Peter Hirst 28th Aug '18 - 5:48pm

    It’s a matter of understanding how the global power dynamics are shifting. It makes even less sense to leave the EU in such circumstances. It won’t be long before alliances such as you mention are predominant. Africa, South America and south-east Asia are where this power struggle will play out. The USA and EU need to up their game.

  • Paul Reynolds 29th Aug '18 - 12:06am

    Thank you for the informed and courteous comments. Some attempted elaborations below.

    With President Trump and his ‘everything is a negotiation and politics is all about increasing negotiating leverage’ approach, there couldn’t be a worse time for the UK to exit from EU. The EU gives protection-in-numbers to the UK. Global trade is cutting up rough. Over the summer, the UK sought the protection of the EU over new US tariffs, and the EU ended up with an exemption, making the effectiveness of EU protection abundantly clear. (The media silence on this in the UK was just shocking).

  • Paul Reynolds 29th Aug '18 - 12:07am

    President Trump is said to want to be a War President, and Iran is the foremost opportunity if Trump can overcome the reservations of most of the Pentagon. So maybe trade policy will fade into the background and the New Alliance will be disrupted in a new Great War. A Great War indeed; Iran is not Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria or Libya. It’s a large military, and has the support of Russia and China. These other conflicts have not gone well for the USA either. For these reasons a full scale attack on Iran is unlikely.

  • Paul Reynolds 29th Aug '18 - 9:12am

    Where does Europe stand vis this New Alliance ? It is both a strength and a weakness that the New Alliance is as much anti-USA as it is pro-China & Russia. The US withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran and imposition of new unilateral sanctions has brought partially symbolic resistance from the EU; trying to keep the JCPOA alive, legislating against the US ‘ban’ on doing business with Iran and defying the US with a large aid progamme for Iran’s regions. The UK stands on the sidelines these days under US pressure.

  • Paul Reynolds 29th Aug '18 - 9:13am

    How does Turkey benefit from China relations ? Three main ways. First China has the ability to compensate for US sanctions, in the shorter term. Second, Turkey will benefit from Chinese investment longer-term especially in the oil & gas sector. Third there is great scope for further China-Turkey economic cooperation; in the Horn of Africa, SE Asia, Central Asia and Western China.

    US sanctions on Turkey, which have caused havoc with the Turkish Lira and sleepless nights in the City of London, are not often understood in London. Ostensibly they concern the treatment of an American Christian Pastor. This is not really a credible explanation. In reality the sanctions are almost certainly about Turkey purchasing S400 Russian defence systems. If and when this goes through it would almost certainly end Turkey’s place in NATO. Such a sequence is related to Turkish accusations that the US was behind the ‘foiled coup’ two years ago, allegedly under the direction of Islamic scholar and US-based businessman Gulen.

  • Paul Reynolds 29th Aug '18 - 9:31am

    Questions about the future of NATO are important and should be seen in the context of all the above. The North Atlantic has become less important militarily. In Afghanistan NATO has found a role but it’s hard from this to conclude on its future, especially given the distance between the Atlantic Ocean and Kabul.

    On balance NATO will be recast, especially if Turkey exits next year. There may be a global western military alliance, but these days members would want a big say in how it is run, which may not be acceptable to the US. Thus, it won’t happen quickly. More importantly, some kind of fudged merger of EU-led European Defence Forces with European homeland defence aspects of NATO looks likely over the next decade. The UK should be leading on both but it is both neutered on this topic by US relations, and by Brexit.

  • As an isolated country Britain will have little influence in the world. A new vote is needed on Europe.

  • >How does Turkey benefit from China relations ?
    Simple Turkey is the land gateway into the EU, providing access to the EU both for goods from China along the new silk road but also for much of Central Asia. Whilst Central Asia, may be relatively poor today, tomorrow?

    I suspect that given its strategic location, Turkey won’t actually need EU membership to benefit from the EU and China, it just needs to main “good enough” relations to enable the flow of goods.

    As others have noted, in the changing world, which hasn’t just happened, although it is probably only now becoming visible to joe public, Brexit is plain daft.

  • Simon Banks 9th Nov '18 - 8:11pm

    This seems to make a lot of assumptions. I don’t see a compelling reason why China should ally with Russia as much of its trade will be with Japan, India, Europe and the US. That’s unless Trumpist policies push China into the arms of Russia and then it would probably be quite short-lived. Russia and China do have a joint interest in discouraging Islamic militancy, and hence a common interest in Turkish policy as well as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but the interests of the “West” are not noticeably different in this respect. Russia and China could share an anti-human-rights agenda, mainly in their attitude to other countries (Syria, for instance), but this seems a rather thin basis for an alliance. Communism didn’t keep them together!

    The as often unmentioned element in this is India. A calculating leader would hesitate to align with Pakistan against India and if India was drawn into an anti-Islamic-militant co-operation, it would bring in attitudes very different to Putin’s or those of Chinese “Communism”.

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