The virtual G20 summit highlighted the death of globalisation, despite all the conscientious efforts of those involved, and it highlighted that deglobalisation in the post-COVID world has already taken place. This isn’t about some conspiracy against the conventional “American unipolar world” (in the form of a Pax Americana) or an attempt to recreate the stand-off between East and West that occupied the second half of the 20th century. Deglobalisation and multipolarity are already a reality, regardless of what the think tanks in Washington or Brussels have to say on the matter.
The problem is that there is no single global political agenda, just as there is no single political language with which to discuss it. Moreover, there is no kind of geopolitical tuning fork (or even tuning forks) that the global community can use for guidance.
There are common problems ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to the global economic crisis, but there are no common solutions and nor will there be. This is simply because, at the global level, the way that countries interact with each other has switched to zero-sum game mode. The success of a particular country is regarded as a defeat for its competitors. At the same time, there seems to be a complete readiness to sacrifice certain common interests (not to mention humanitarian considerations) simply to prevent a geopolitical rival from chalking up a political, economic or PR victory.
A few obvious examples suggest themselves. At the G20 summit, the Chinese president proposed creating some kind of digital device for enabling freer movement between countries that would provide considerable support to the global economy and international trade, and help revive the tourism industry (which is critical for many countries, including extremely poor ones).
In fact, it was suggested that an international mechanism be created for the mutual recognition of a “health QR code” that will be based on test results. “I hope that as many countries and regions of the world as possible will join this mechanism,” Xi Jinping said.
On an objective level, the creation of an international and generally recognised “digital confirmation” that a particular tourist, diplomat or businessperson is healthy and can travel into a country (as well as return home) without needing to be quarantined or bypass borders that have been closed due to the coronavirus is a good idea. But there is absolutely no chance of it being implemented on a global level any time soon, primarily because it was Xi Jinping who proposed it. From the point of view of Western leaders, there is no way they could give their consent to proposals put forward by Beijing that emphasise the advanced nature of China’s information technologies.
The next example relates to the world’s poorer countries and their lack of access to coronavirus vaccines, which could well mean that they remain coronavirus hotbeds, with everything that implies. In his speech, Vladimir Putin emphasised the need to ensure global access to vaccination: “Russia supports the draft key decision of the current summit aimed at making effective and safe vaccines accessible for everyone. Undoubtedly, immunisation drugs are, and must be, in the global public domain. Our country, Russia, is ready to provide countries in need with the vaccines developed by our researchers: these are Sputnik V, which is based on human adenovirus vectors and is the world’s first registered vaccine; EpiVacCorona, which was developed in a Novosibirsk research centre; and a third Russian vaccine that is on the way.
“The scale of the pandemic obliges us to use all the available resources and research at our disposal. Our common aim is to build portfolios of vaccines and provide the world’s population with reliable protection. This means that there is plenty of work to go around, distinguished colleagues, and it seems to me that this is one of those times when competition is perhaps inevitable, but we should be guided, primarily, by humanitarian considerations and make these our priority.”
Everything will be fine on a declarative level, but the G20 as a whole will not agree to any specific actions that (following basic logic) would entail the creation of a common fund to finance the vaccination of those living in poorer countries using the most affordable and effective vaccines, since this would naturally be Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as it is cheaper than its American and European counterparts and, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, does not need to be stored at -70°C. The latter point is a serious problem even for America’s medical infrastructure, not to mention the medical infrastructures of South America, Africa and Eastern Europe.
If looked at from the point of view of Washington and Brussels, the problem once again is that the vaccine is Russian (although they are clearly not satisfied with the Chinese vaccine, either).
Vladimir Putin is calling for a show of humanism by putting the “inevitable competition” to one side, but the chance of this call being heard is extremely slim, especially considering the ongoing propaganda campaign by Western media outlets to discredit the Russian and Chinese vaccines.
The list of topics on which there was no substantive dialogue at the G20 summit (although there was a series of monologues by global leaders) goes on: WTO reforms; the foreign-currency debt problems of developing countries; and the global trend towards protectionism. The position of Western leaders is crystal clear. They talk a lot; they don’t listen to anyone; and their proposals boil down to a simple formula – everyone should do as we say, then everything will be fine – and, in this regard, Washington’s position is unlikely to change with the new president.
The lack of anything substantial at the G20 summit clearly shows that the world is not moving towards competing geopolitical blocs or a restoration of the “American world” (as Washington is hoping for), but towards a future where agreements can only be reached at the level of bilateral negotiations between specific countries. Officially, the world of the G20 still exists, but, in practice, we are approaching what the well-known US political scientist Ian Bremmer called a “G-Zero world”, a world in which everyone is essentially for themselves, and the acceleration of this transformation will probably be the coronavirus’s main historical legacy.