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INVISIBLE HAND: Summits that matter, summits that don’t
By Liam Halligan in London (1)
November 25, 2014
I’m struggling to identify any agreement of real political or commercial significance that was struck during the two-day Brisbane G20 summit in mid-November.
Yes, a chunky 800-page communiqué was released as the various heads of government flew from Australia’s east coast. It consisted, though, of little apart from grand words and vague aspirations, with almost no costings, let alone information on sources of actual finance.
The leaders of the G20 nations – accounting for around four-fifths of the world economy – want an additional 2% of growth by 2018, we were told. Beyond the simple mention of “investment, trade and competition,” there were few details on how this extra growth would be achieved. … The entire summit seemed an exercise in public relations, specifically benign headline generation, rather than ironing out differences on issues of genuine urgency and substance. (…)
The last time China hosted the APEC summit was in Shanghai in 2001. Back then, the People’s Republic was a fragile emerging market and still rather cautious in its diplomatic and geopolitical dealings. Today, China is the world’s second-largest economy, a major global growth engine and bankroller-in-chief to the US government. Beijing now holds $1,270bn of US Treasuries, some 27 times more than in 2001. So China now looks the US in the eye – as this APEC summit showed. (…)
Spreading influence far and wide
Throughout the APEC summit, China delivered a barrage of deals, spreading its influence across the region. Beijing is spending $50bn to set up a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and another $40bn was allocated to infrastructure development along “The New Silk Road” – a network of railways and airports across Central Asia. By far the most important event at APEC, though, was the signing of another major gas supply deal – the second in six months – between China and Russia.
Back in May, at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, these two countries announced a $400bn agreement, under which Russia supplies 38bn cubic metres (cm) of gas to China over 30 years from 2018 along the new “Power of Siberia” pipeline, stretching from Eastern Siberia to China’s populous north-east, with Beijing and Moscow sharing the building costs. Ten years in the making, this deal seemed specifically timed to counter the Western narrative that Russia was “isolated” as a result of events in Ukraine.
This latest APEC summit saw another Sino-Russian mega-deal – again signed despite ongoing Western sanctions against Moscow – to build a second major supply route to the Western Provinces of the People’s Republic, expanding the annual Chinese purchase of Russian gas to 61bn cm. Exploiting the huge synergy between China’s fast-growing population and Russia’s natural resources, these two countries are now building serious commercial ties across their 2,700-mile land border.
In 2009, Rosneft secured a $25bn oil swap contract with China. Last year, the state-run Russian oil giant signed an additional $270bn deal, agreeing to send an extra 300,000 barrels a day (b/d) eastward for 25 years, doubling its crude supplies to China. Russia now sells 750,000 b/d to Asia as a whole, a fifth of its oil exports. Having previously relied on cumbersome freight rail, Sino-Russian oil trade now benefits from a direct link – the ESPO (East-Siberia-Pacific-Ocean) pipeline, which opened in 2010. These eastward energy flows from Russia pose questions for Western European energy security. The newly-agreed “Western route,” in particular, while it will take years to build, will allow fields that have traditionally pumped gas towards Europe to be easily diverted to China.
Moscow and Beijing signed no fewer than 17 major bilateral business deals at APEC. The contrast with the G20 could hardly be more stark. Beijing bought additional stakes in several Russian electricity-generation facilities, and Russia’s largest lender Sberbank and Export-Import Bank of China announced agreements on insurance and credit lines.
These Sino-Russian tie-ups aren’t only about commerce. Both powers have a mutual interest in demonstrating they reject any notion of a US-dominated “unipolar” world, dealing with each other on their own terms. In that sense, it was telling that Beijing and Moscow confirmed their future energy trades would be conducted in yuan and rubles, circumventing the dollar.
When the world’s biggest exporter of hydrocarbons and the soon-to-be largest economy conduct their business in their own currencies, the dollar’s petrocurrency role will be seriously undermined. That, in turn, questions the reserve currency status that allows Washington the “exorbitant privilege” to print money to pay off foreign creditors. … APEC is rapidly becoming the most important summit of the year. – emphasis, m.z. –
(1) Liam Halligan is Editor-at-Large at bne IntelliNews