The imperialist bipolarization

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By JORGE ALMEIDA*

What is happening in the world today is effectively an inter-imperialist bipolarization

2022 has come to an end. And it may go down in history as the year of consolidation of an imperialist bipolarization, which is a trend that comes from the peak of the structural crisis of capitalism in 2008.

A possible symbolic milestone in the unfolding of this bipolarization could be 2014, when Russia returned to the international scene, intervening in Ukraine to reattach Crimea. In September 2014, he intervened militarily in Syria, at the call of the local government. They were the only two countries where post-Soviet Russia maintained large military bases. The actions took place against the background of the anti-Russian coup d'état in Ukraine and an attempted coup in Syria.

That year, China consolidated its military occupation and built bases on reef islands in the South Sea, also disputed by other countries (Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Borneo).

In September 2013, China had launched the project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also called New Silk Road, a major Chinese expansion project to all continents.

Not by chance, 2014 was also the year of the signing of two major packages of agreements between the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China (PRC), in May and November. Agreements of mutual interest, both economic and diplomatic, military and geopolitical.

It was still at the end of May 2014 that US President Barack Obama declared at the West Point Military Academy that Russia's actions in Ukraine and China's actions in the South Sea could involve responses by the US armed forces, thus admitting , that these states would be military threats. More: he implicitly admitted that there was a challenger to US unipolar imperialist hegemony.

In 2017, Donald Trump initiated the Trade War against China and in 2019 the world economic crisis reappeared combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing all the disastrous consequences we know.

Finally, we arrive at 2022, a year rich in facts that converge, demonstrating the consolidation of the course of a change in the “world order”.

It is a break from the US-centered imperialist hegemonic unipolarity. However, not in the direction of “multilateralism”, but of a bipolarization similar to a new “cold war”, with the particularities of the new context, very different from 30 years ago.

In 2008 and 2020 we had two major manifestations of the structural crisis of capitalism inherited from the end of the 20th century. It became clear that the crisis is not just economic and financial. It is also environmental, food, energetic and sanitary. And that manifests itself, unevenly and combined, also politically, in different countries, with different national consequences.

Trump, in addition to preaching the priority of combating China, ended up kicking the pole of the great tent that nestled historic US allies in Europe and Asia, from whom he ended up moving away and generating a certain negative isolation for US imperialism.

However, the return of the so-called “democrats” in the figure of Joe Biden, put the US back on the international offensive, going beyond the blockades, protectionism and bans, mainly commercial, applied in the “Republican” Trump government.

On the public scene, the war in Ukraine drew more attention. But the main US dispute is with China. And the main battleground is neither military nor commercial, it is technology. And, in addition to sanctions against enemies, it would be necessary to recompose alliances.

 

In 2022, several facts express the bipolarization

The war in Ukraine, whose end and consequences are yet to come, has, for the time being, two major losers: Ukraine and Europe. Russia has expanded its territory, but there is controversy about the medium and long-term consequences for the country. The war has been helping the US to come out of relative isolation, expanding its influence over Europe, strengthening NATO and the hegemony of the main imperialist power over its allies.

Attacks on gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and 2 deepened the economic and diplomatic rift between the European Union and Russia. The European energy crisis has advanced, making its countries look for resources among allies that seem safer, which may limit future Russian partnerships.

China gains from Russian dependence and the expansion of its bilateral trade. But it also has its losses, as the conflict serves as a justification for the US offensive in the technological field, which is everything the PRC does not want. Therefore, there are controversies, but one thing is certain: this war reinforces the bipolarization, as opposed to the desired “multilateralism” present in the Sino-Russian discourse.

The US parliamentary elections were not a defeat for Biden because, even with the wear and tear of war, the Democratic Party managed to do relatively well, despite the deepening of internal contradictions in the US, both between the dominant fractions and between dominant and oppressed. This legitimizes the continuity of its foreign policy.

At the other pole, the 2022th Congress of the CPC consolidated the unprecedented third term of a president. This reflects, in addition to Xi Jinping's leadership, the need for greater centralization of the Chinese party-state to respond to the challenges of global bipolarization, also preventing internal political instabilities. Well, the dissatisfactions and protests grew in 19, being answered with greater repression against workers and youth movements. In addition, there are the consequences of the deep real estate crisis and Covid-XNUMX and its control, the contradictions between fractions of the internal bourgeoisie with the party-state and between the party's own internal tendencies.

 

Multilateral events and bipolarization[I]

In June, the BRICS held their 14th meeting, attended by the heads of state of its five members, under the motto “Promoting a High-Quality Partnership and Ushering in a New Era for Global Development”, which expresses the vision of China that is in charge of the entity's shift presidency. But the meeting was lukewarm, with a final statement without hot-button issues and, on the war in Ukraine, a brief formal paragraph without taking sides. What is new are the articulations for the expansion of its members, which may have geopolitical consequences later on.

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ten members) held a summit in Cambodia in November. Biden was present and the entity is being disputed by China and the USA.

The G20 meeting was also held in November in Indonesia. It had the presence of Xi Jinping and Joe Biden and the absence of Putin, represented by Sergei Lavrov (Minister of Foreign Affairs). However, it was a meeting of formal declarations on facing the economic crisis and current geopolitical conflicts. The war in Ukraine was a central issue but, despite pressure from the US, the final declaration was moderately and indirectly critical of Russia, while China acted to avoid conflicts and seek to show neutrality in the face of the war.

The Summit of COP-27 (United Nations Conference on Climate Change), in November, in Egypt, had no important multilateral decisions either. The forwarding of the core issues stalled or receded because of the worsening energy crisis due to the war in Ukraine.

In December, Xi visited Saudi Arabia, where he was received with honors. He had a summit with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (CCG) and another meeting with senior leaders from other Arab countries, like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. There were also bilateral meetings with representatives of each country. The Chinese highlighted the millenary relations of the ancient Silk Road and are planning a large China/Arab countries summit.

Biden had gone to the Middle East (July), when he visited Israel, the Palestinian National Authority and Saudi Arabia, pressing for an increase in oil production, which he failed to do. Today, OPEC countries have allied with Russia, forming the so-called OPEC+. He also had a conference with leaders from the GCC, and from Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. In addition to oil, Biden guided security, terrorism, the environment, China, Iran and the war in Yemen. He was warmly received in Israel, but not in Riyadh.

China and Russia deepen economic exchanges in the region. The US loses influence, but remains Saudi Arabia's priority military partner.

In December, Biden met with nearly 50 African heads of state in Washington on the occasion of the US – Africa Business Forum. The US is trying to compensate for Chinese and Russian advances in recent years on the continent: economic, diplomatic, military and with “cooperation” projects. Similarly, Europeans are also trying harm reduction.

Joe Biden announced billions of dollars in investments in the coming years, especially in infrastructure, environment and health, in addition to greater participation of African countries in the G20 and the UN Permanent Council, and a visit to the continent in 2023.

China and Russia have made voluminous bilateral agreements (economic and military) with Iran, which aim to reinforce the China-Russia pole of bipolarization. Iran signed a “Memorandum of Obligations” to join the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), a regional entity headed by China and Russia that involves eight countries, including former members of the USSR, India and Pakistan.

In contrast, in September 2021 the US had already made major military agreements with neighbors who have disputes with China.

The AUKUS was formed by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes the construction, by Australia, of submarines with American technology: nuclear, quantum, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

In the same month, the US rekindled the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), made up of the US, India, Japan and Australia, which had been forgotten since 2007, in Biden meetings with the heads of government of these countries, held in the US.

Furthermore, on a visit to Japan (May 2022), Biden announced the signing of a trade agreement with 12 Indo-Asian countries forming the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), to strengthen their economic relations in the region. Seven of these countries are part of ASEAN.

However, in April 2022, China had already formalized a military presence, police security and arms trade agreement with the small state of the Solomon Islands, which is located in the South Pacific.

In August, Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in a US provocation to China, as she was the president of the US Congress and the island is rightly considered by China as its rebel province.

In January, Russia sent troops into Kazakhstan to quell a massive popular uprising, which was manipulated by splinter groups within the country's own oligarchic regime to stage a coup d'état. The Russian Federation has a security agreement with the neighboring country, within the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), which is a 1992 military treaty turned into an organization in 2002. Led by Russia, the CSTO aims to maintain a share of influence from the USSR. It includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

In September, Azerbaijan, a former member of the CSTO, which today has priority relations with the US and Turkey, returned to attack Armenia, in Nagorno-Karabakh, taking advantage of the moment when Russia is concentrated in Ukraine. The problem stems from the authoritarian policy of territorial definitions in the USSR. It is a conflict that is also of interest to the US and Turkey, with a view to their influence in the Caucasus.

China and Russia and the US and allies accuse each other of military escalation, while both have entered the arms race and held joint military exercises with allied and friendly countries.

 

But the main battleground is technology.

The PRC has been occupying a leading position in providing 5G internet infrastructure, via its company Huawei. Under pressure from the US, it has been banned in several countries such as England, Australia and Japan. But in Brazil, it survived the pressures.

However, the battle of microchips, which today is the main strategic point of the technological dispute, became radicalized. In this sector, China has advanced rapidly, but it is still lagging behind. To block its progress, the US has been tightening bans aimed at limiting the sale of more powerful semiconductors to China, which are produced in Taiwan and South Korea. In addition, it seeks to block technology transfer and trade in microchip-producing machines to China. At the same time, the US seeks to coordinate a kind of “task force” of companies and entities from various allied countries for the production of S&T and R&D in an associated manner. China, on the other hand, makes a huge effort relying on its own strength, attracting foreign brains by weight in gold and projects with some countries that did not accept the sanctions imposed by the USA.

The PRC launched the Shenzhou-1 mission rocket carrying astronauts to the Tiangong space station in November. In addition, China and the US have reported progress in programs to build bases on the Moon and both have robots roaming around on Mars. And the USA, reported a space station around the Moon, preparing new human trips to the satellite and stirring up the dispute in outer space.

China acknowledged in 2022 having launched unprecedented hypersonic missiles in 2021. They have nuclear capacity, travel at five times the speed of sound and can go around the Earth. Russia was probably the first to manufacture these missiles, since 2021. But in December 2022, the US also announced its first full test with this type of weapon.

On the other hand, another disputed strategic issue, even if, for the time being, in an embryonic way, is about the currency(ies), which will be used as world reserve currencies and in trade, to the extent that the dollar also is gradually being challenged by other currencies, especially the Yuan.

 

Handshakes and shared speeches

In this context, the handshake between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden during the G20 and the generic consensus statements, do not reflect the heavy game.

On this, the US maintains its speech in defense of peace and democracy and accusing its opponents, both of allegedly illegal economic actions, and of being solely responsible for military aggression, as in the case of Ukraine. However, the US maintains an offensive aimed at isolating Russia, either with tough sanctions, with the advance of NATO in Europe and being the main financier and supplier of weapons to Ukraine. In addition to many economic sanctions and military aggressions against other countries. Which demonstrates that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 was just a tactical move, after a failed occupation.

On the other hand, Russia and China speak of multilateralism and in defense of a “harmonious” world, of a “shared future” and of “cooperation” where the so-called “win-win” prevails, an economic process in which everyone would win in an even way. . It is the content of joint communiqués, such as that of February 2022, on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

However, while making this liberally inspired idealistic speech, both act realistically, consistent with a conflict situation. Thus, the discourse of “multilateralism” seems more like a part of political-diplomatic marketing.

On the other hand, it seems that recently Biden decided to mimic and share this discourse, speaking to countries on the dependent periphery in terms of “shared success”, “a future where no one is left behind” and “a partner without dependency” and “without creating political obligations ”.

Evidently, within this whole context there are countless particularities, facts and national and regional state positions that can, in some way, seek equidistances and multilateral relations, but without changing the global tendency of the process of imperialist bipolarization.

 

What is missing?

2022 presented the resurgence of a historical process of development of capitalism, in its imperialist stage, which dates back to the end of the XNUMXth century, and is now manifesting itself in a new phase of inter-imperialist bipolarization.

Two blocks are conforming. Monopolies and finance capital advance. Companies from both blocs continue to deepen their processes of merger, incorporation, cartelization, going beyond their national borders and developing the export of capital.

It hardens the dispute for areas of influence. There is a differentiated way of dividing the world, no longer in the form of colonies, nor necessarily conquered by force, but which continues to be a way of partitioning areas of influence, economic, diplomatic and military.

The dispute for raw materials, energy and food by the great powers of the two great imperialist blocs led by the USA and China deepens. Ditto, the dispute for markets for placing their industrialized goods and their capital, both in the form of direct investments and financing.

Protectionism, blockades, bans, punishments and sanctions in general between the great powers advance.

Uneven exchange is presented as “win-win”, “shared success”, “shared future” or “partnership without dependency”. Overexploitation presents itself as “job offers”. The export of capital is called “cooperation” “without creating political obligations”, in the same way that workers are called “collaborators” and sub-employees called “entrepreneurs”.

Especially, it hardens the dispute for the technological vanguard, not only for the creation, innovation and national production of each great power, but also in the effort of blocks and bans to prevent others from developing competitive technologies. And, more than that, with transnational efforts, between allied states, for competitive technological production in an associated but blocked way.

Localized wars or “by proxy” continue and the arms race accelerates on both sides, as well as the aerospace race in the midst of conflicts where hints of the use of nuclear weapons appear.

Finally, imperialism, in its various facets, continues to advance in the periphery dependent on the call of the national ruling classes and elites (including part of those who were or still present themselves as being of the “left”) and not only by external military imposition. Well, part of the “left”, which was anti-imperialist, now governs wanting to be champion of the “attraction of capital” monopolists of various imperialist powers.

So, what is missing for understanding that what is actually happening is an inter-imperialist bipolarization?

*Jorge Almeida Professor at the Department of Political Science at UFBA.

Note


[I] Here we are excluding the conflicts that started a few years ago, as well as the military presence of the great powers, their arms exports, the installation of military bases and the so-called “peace missions”.

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