The world is walking on a path of fragmentation, stark competition and confrontation in which multilateralism based on shared rules appears to be badly hurt. The relationship between the two great powers —the United States and China—, key to all global progress, is conflictive. The visit to Beijing by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, raised some hope. In public statements, the horizon seems to have darkened immediately, with the words this Tuesday in which Joe Biden has described Xi Jinping as a dictator. Despite this belligerent discourse, episodes and credible prospects for multilateral dialogue persist.
Among them stands out a striking secret meeting that leaders of the intelligence services of two dozen of the most important countries in the world held at the beginning of June in Singapore on the sidelines of the security conference that was held those days in the city-State, according to revealed an exclusive from the Reuters agency. The meeting was attended by, among others, representatives of espionage from the US (Avril Haines, national intelligence director), India (Samant Goel, head of the foreign intelligence service) or China (the name has not been disclosed), but not From Russia.
According to the sources cited by the agency, the meeting addressed issues such as the war in Ukraine or issues related to international organized crime, and it was held in a cooperative, not confrontational tone. Reuters points out that it is not the first year that this conclave it occurs in coincidence with the Shangri-La forum, organized every year by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, but until now no news about it had been disclosed. The meeting took place while, in the official forum, the Chinese defense official refused to meet with his US counterpart, due to the sanctions that Washington imposed on him a long time ago.
It is an example of multilateral dialogue, in an area of maximum sensitivity, that survives in these times of brutal competition and mistrust between powers, while a host of genuinely global challenges are piling up on the board, from climate change to health risks. , from financial stability to the challenge of artificial intelligence, from migratory flows to organized crime.
This Tuesday another signal to take into account has come from Berlin, with a bilateral meeting between Germany and China. Significantly, at a time when there is talk of reducing the risks associated with excessive dependence on the Asian giant, the German communiqué after the summit was titled: “Facing global challenges together.”
Another opportunity for multilateralism opens this Thursday and Friday in Paris, where a major conference convened by the French government is scheduled to take place with the intention of consolidating a new contract between the global north and south. The idea is to move forward on a path that makes it easier for developing countries to access international financing —to combat climate change and its consequences, as well as other purposes— or obtain debt relief. The conference also intends to give impetus to the reorganization of global economic-financial institutions, the object of great complaints from emerging countries for having structures that reflect the post-1945 world, already overcome.
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There are more events on the calendar that can give impetus to multilateralism. In early September, the G-20 summit is scheduled to take place. This is an annual event, but this year it is of special interest as India has the rotating presidency, a country of great weight in itself, and also significant as a benchmark for the global south and the non-aligned.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, has announced that his country will organize a summit this year to try to coordinate the regulation of artificial intelligence.
Mistrust in the world is high. In this environment minilateral initiatives flourish, the closing ranks of small groups. The recent G-7 in Hiroshima gave birth to an extensive final communiqué that is a true worldview, something unparalleled in a long time. NATO is cohesive and is expanding. The Aukus alliance (Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA) was born, the Quad (USA, India, Japan and Australia) was developed. On the other hand, the BRICS forum [grandes economías emergentes]although far from the degree of cohesion of the G-7, seems to gain momentum, with requests for membership and new projects.
That is the central dynamic. Unlike the Cold War, everything indicates that with it a bipolar scheme will not be configured around the US and China today as it was between the US and the USSR then. This leads to greater fluidity.
The non-aligned group has greater economic and political weight today than then. There is nothing to suggest that they will abandon that aspiration of not choosing between sides, of navigating on their own, perhaps with specific but not systemic alignments. They want their voice to be heard, and they have more elements to make it so. They begin to weigh enough to promote global agreements. At the Bali G-20, China did not step forward against a final communiqué with language unfavorable to Russia, hoping not to be left alone on a different shore in the face of the consensus that had been forging.
In the western sector, the situation is also different from the time of the iron curtain. The EU, although with many limitations, is beginning to be a geopolitical actor with its own capabilities. And it has a natural vocation to be a protagonist in diplomatic frameworks.
Even in the last year, in the midst of tensions unheard of in decades, multilateralism achieved some objectives, such as the signing of a treaty on oceans negotiated for years, or an agreement within the WTO that, although limited, was a change of after years of paralysis.
Conflicts and competition complicate the path towards a multilateral world, of international institutions within whose frameworks common rules can be set and solutions found. But there are elements that suggest that we are not headed towards a rigid bipolarity, but rather a liquid multipolarity, and possibilities of achieving global achievements rest on that difference. He conclave of Singapore shows a way.
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