Growing clout lets China, Russia speak their minds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am

With Russian President Vladimir Putin and, in a different context, President Hu Jintao, making barbed comments towards western nations, there is a sense that the world could be moving back to the globally fragmented days of the cold war. As much as the rhetoric may hark back to those troubled times, however, the reality is that with globalisation so central to national economies, there is no option for leaders other than to work together.

Mr Hu's just-ended eight nation, 12-day trip to Africa was marked on each stop by trade deals, grants and gifts. He portrayed China as a friendly partner in development, contrasting the nation in his speeches to the former western colonial powers, which, he said, had taken more than they had given.

During a keynote speech in South Africa, he said that because almost a century of exploitation by western powers had permanently scarred his country, Beijing was against colonialism or slavery. A partnership based on common experience and understanding was therefore inevitable, he said.

Mr Putin's speech before senior American and European officials in Germany on Saturday was much blunter, being directed squarely at the US and its allies. The US, he charged, had made the world less safe because of reckless policies and its dominance of international matters was 'ruinous'.

The Russian leader's comments are certainly cold war-esque, but they do not mean that the same divisions and insecurity of that era lie ahead. Rather, the mainland and Russia have a new confidence through their economic wealth and rightly consider it their right to let their views be known.

This Mr Hu has been doing in Africa, forging deals and strengthening ties, as is the right of any nation towards others. Such has also been the case with Russia, which has been using its rich oil and gas reserves to broker new friendships.

Such circumstances do not mean that their countries can fail to co-operate on matters of global concern, as was the case during the cold war. Fears over North Korea's nuclear proliferation have brought both nations together with the US, a situation unthinkable 20 years ago when Moscow and Washington had thousands of ballistic missiles primed and ready to fire at each other.

Climate change, water security, Iran's nuclear ambitions, stopping the genocide in the Darfur region in western Sudan and alternative energy sources are other issues that are either being worked jointly on or will need greater co-operation. There is no other sensible choice.

The rise of China and Russia cannot occur in isolation; it must be accepted by other nations. Without such understanding and realisation of the global benefits, an opportunity for the world will be ignored. A globalised world is about nations working together, after all.