In the latest edition of "De cara al mundo" on Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Cristina Font Haro, political analyst specialising in China and researcher at the CSIC, who analysed China's position as a great international mediator and the use of the yuan as a global transaction currency in an interview with Javier Fernández Arribas.
Is China the great international mediator? It has already successfully mediated in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Do you think it can also be successful in the case of Ukraine?
What you have just raised is a very delicate question because, in addition, they are very different contexts that need to be taken into account and analysed. First of all, we must realise that China is a very rational, very intelligent power that does everything in the long term. When we look at issues by focusing on the minute or the second of what we are talking about, China has the capacity to lift the focus and see the whole picture.
So here we have to ask ourselves why Xi has managed to do what he has done in the Middle East, and then we will understand why Ukraine is quite a different matter. In this regard, I would like to point out that Riyadh and Tehran never closed all lines of communication because it was not in their interest to come to a direct conflict between them. Moreover, if we listen to the Chinese media, it seems that it has all been thanks to China, but China has entered at the last moment in these negotiations to help them reach an agreement, which it has done and its impact on this is positive - I am not going to dispute this - but we must bear in mind that other countries, such as Iraq and Oman, have been trying for years to get Iran and Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement after seven years.
Another very interesting point to note is that these two countries, even though they have this regional conflict because they are both trying to be the leader of the region, have very objective self-interests in making this new relationship happen. It is in their own interests, not just China's or anyone else's. Iran is increasingly isolated and punished at the international level, and now with the Abraham Accords it would not benefit at all from Saudi Arabia being part of this new contact with Israel, nor would it be in its interest for Saudi Arabia to be able to carry out its plan for an Arab NATO, as it would be going against itself.
Economic priority? Is China gaining political clout to play the role it is seeking on the international stage?
That would be interesting to answer from the US point of view. If China only wanted to have that economic capacity, the United States would not be trembling right now at the idea that China might take away that power and status internationally.
It is true that for many years and even decades, China has focused on economic development and its foreign policy was a tool of domestic politics because government legitimacy for that is a term that for us is very much related to democracy and the quality of democracy, but in the case of China, it is not. Legitimacy is when the government does its job well. So, to do its job well was to have good economic development that would allow us to eat and an increasing quality of life.
In the beginning, when we had Deng Xiaoping, who opened up the country and brought about economic growth, that is when legitimacy was achieved. With Hu Jintao, China was already growing much more and people began to talk about soft power, Chinese soft power, and the term peaceful economic development was created so as not to frighten people. But with Xi on the stage, all this changes because he has nothing to do with his predecessors. Xi Jinping wants China to be a global power, so we do find that their foreign policy now encompasses much more than the economic aspect. They have exported their political values, their way of doing and acting.
What weight do you think China has in the so-called new Cold War?
If the United States had 50% in this new scenario, then China would have the other 50%. This new Cold War is a term that the Chinese like to use a lot, and by using it so much, it is in the narrative that creates our day-to-day political reality. But when we talk about the new Cold War it is because we look at the old one, at the clash of blocs, and what we find is how that American hegemony is falling. However, here the two opposing blocs are not the same as in the Cold War because the United States and China are interconnected. Let's say they are like a marriage that gets on very badly but cannot be divorced, so both will have to learn to live together in this new world order structure that is being created.
What China is doing is natural, whether we like it or not in the West and in the United States, but they are a revisionist power, not a revolutionary one, but a reforming one. When the United States came and had that hegemony after the Second World War, and even more so after the Cold War, what they did was to create a whole series of structures and rules that were natural to the United States, and if the rest of us wanted to play that international game we had to accept their rules. When China enters the international game, it accepts the rules established by the West, it plays by them, but there comes a point when it wants more. And it is normal for China, if it cannot get more within these structures, to create its own. Hence we now have, for example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. We are moving towards a multipolar world.
Is Xi Jinping's peace plan for Ukraine realistic? Can peace be achieved with this Chinese proposal?
When China has managed to mediate - we do not take away its success with Iran and Saudi Arabia - it has done so because it was a mediator that both countries trusted. So they have accepted him. In this case, although China has this ability to be more or less neutral and friendly to everybody, there is a part of these negotiations that does not trust China, and if it does not trust China, the plan cannot go ahead.
However, when we have a political negotiation in hand, it is not the same to start from a blank sheet of paper as from a written one, and whoever writes that sheet of paper will, of course, be able to control the negotiation better because they have already marked out a path to follow. Even if we reach a peace, which we hope will be soon, and even if it does not have much to do with what China has said with these 12 initial points, the one who will win in all cases is China, because they will always be able to say that it is thanks to the initial effort they made trying to mediate between Ukraine and Russia that we have reached the point we have reached.
Cristina, you were talking earlier about the Asian Bank and the structures that China is using to its advantage, and the yuan is being set up as a currency for transactions, in this case, oil transactions, as it is trying to do with Russia, with Saudi Arabia and with Latin American countries.
The dollar is part of these structures and this global game that the United States created. When China enters and tries to use its currency at the international level, because it is one of the strongest and most powerful economies in the world, it is already changing the status of power that is also established at the economic level. Taking into account that China is the country that consumes the most - it has a bestial purchasing power - what it allows it to influence the market a lot and to set the price, so it also allows it to use the yuan. This is interesting because by having those kinds of rules, now that we have Ukraine, the dollar is being used to retaliate, to also mark and get the other to accept, but if China starts to use the yuan, and Russia, Saudi Arabia and the others use it, it will mean that the United States will cease to have so much power and this multipolar world at various levels, economic, political, security, energy, will take shape.
Should we fear China?
I have to say that I cannot be very objective because I am a product of their educational and cultural diplomacy, because they gave me a scholarship and I went to study there for almost five years. So they have used their soft-power on me, but I am very critical of China.
It is not to be feared, but it is to be taken into account that it is rational, intelligent, plays for the long term and has its own interests, as do other countries. Xi Jinping is clear that national objectives come first, and then the rest, so we must bear him in mind when we play with him.