Image of Photo of Mr Vuk Jeremić

China and the geopolitical recession of our times

The China Forum seminar on Tuesday 7 May 2024 was delivered by Mr Vuk Jeremić, (), and Former President () of the United Nations General Assembly.

The lecture began with the proposition that geopolitics, like economics, goes through cycles. Geopolitical cycles last for decades and, in a geopolitical recession, there tends to be a collapse of trust, lack of progress in multilateral treaties and increased military tensions. The cyclical risk is that ‘recession’ develops into ‘depression’ manifested in war, after which the victors establish a new international order that lasts until the next crisis. This happened after the Napoleonic Wars at the Congress of Vienna (1815) and after the World Wars, at Versailles (1919) and San Francisco (1951).

The current geopolitical recession stems from three factors: (i) Russia was not integrated into global institutions after the end of the Cold War; (ii) China was integrated into global institutions but under the dubious presumption that, as it developed, it would adopt systems and values based on Western models; and (iii) tens of millions of citizens in the developed nations have been left behind by globalisation.

The relationship between the US and China has changed greatly since 2010, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked rhetorically ‘how can you get tough with your banker?’ In Vuk Jeremić's view, the main reasons for the shift in the USA’s posture are: (i) the announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, which was signed by 150 countries; (ii) the launch of the Made in China Initiative in 2015, which is lifting China up the value-chain; and (iii) the strengthening of power by China’s top leader, culminating in the change to China’s constitution in 2018.

The Chinese economy is undergoing profound changes that entail significant challenges, but that does not necessarily presage an erosion of China’s geopolitical influence: China is the largest trading partner with many countries. It is the second most populous nation and a centre of technological innovation in critical fields, particularly in the transition from fossil fuels. It produces or processes over half the world’s critical minerals and has increasing military strength, including nuclear weapons. China projects soft power at the UN and with the Global South. Attitudes towards China in these fora are different than those expressed in the Western mainstream media.

Mr Jeremić considers that China’s diplomacy is driven by the desire to regain its place at the centre of world affairs, but that it is cautious in the way it acts. The PRC has used its UN Security Council veto 18 times, compared with 88 for the US and 120 for Russia. Its relations with the non-Western world are framed by three recently announced global initiatives: development (2021), security (2022) and civilisational (2023).

Finally, Mr Jeremić considers that China views the war in Ukraine as challenging two out of the three monopolies enjoyed by the United States as the leading global power: (i) in conventional military force; (ii) through the dollar’s role as the world’s leading reserve currency; and (iii) in technology. Mr Jeremić considers that it is unlikely that this will lead to an end to globalisation. Instead, two spheres of globalisation may emerge, including sustainable technology and AI, led by China and the US respectively.

The issues addressed in the Q&A included: whether the US reaction to China was primarily competitive or ideological; whether changes to UN governance could be agreed; the effect that China’s industrialisation has on other developing countries; and the risks of escalation of current conflicts.

H.E. Mr Vuk Jeremić is President of the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) and Editor-in-Chief of . He is a Professor of Practice at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs, where he is teaching a full graduate course “Introduction to Contemporary Geopolitics”.

In 2016, Mr Jeremić participated in the official election for UN Secretary-General. After six rounds of voting in the UN Security Council, he finished the race in second place, behind Mr Antonio Guterres. He was the first-ever candidate to put forth a detailed policy platform to be implemented upon his election. Entitled “Strengthening the United Nations in the 21st Century: A Platform for Action and Impact”, it contained 53 specific and concrete commitments on how to reform the UN.

In June 2012, Mr Jeremić was directly elected by the majority of world’s nations to be the President of the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly, in the first contested vote since the end of the Cold War.

Mr Jeremić served as Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2007 to 2012. In 2007, he chaired the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.

Mr Jeremić has lectured at major universities and published opinion pieces in leading international outlets including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, and Le Monde.

Prior to becoming Foreign Minister, Mr Jeremić served as an advisor to the President of Serbia and various government ministries.

Mr Jeremić holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Cambridge University and a master’s degree in Public Administration/International Development from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Mr Jeremić was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He is also a member of the Columbia University Earth Institute - UN SDSN Advisory Group on International Relations and the High-level Steering Committee of the UN Global Compact “Sustainable Infrastructure for the Belt and Road Initiative to Accelerate the SDGs” Action Platform.

Mr Jeremić served as President of the Serbian Tennis Federation from 2011 to 2015.