The term Axis of Evil was first used by US President George W Bush, less than 5 months after the 9/11 attacks to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The term is a portmanteau of the Axis powers of World War II and “the Evil empire”, a term used by Ronald Regan to describe the Soviet Union. The G20 in Delhi has hastened the consolidation of a new- China led- Axis of Evil. An axis of evil of states which seek weapons of mass destruction, support terrorism, destroy civil liberties and collaborate to undermine electoral democracies worldwide under Xi Jinping’s leadership.
IMEC: The “virtuous” alliance
The immensely successful G20 in New Delhi also included the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor (IMEC), bringing together India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, the European Union, Germany, France and Italy all under one trade and connectivity alliance under the leadership of the United States. US President Joe Biden’s visit to Delhi was followed by his visit to Vietnam, in China’s backyard, a further irritant to Beijing. The IMEC clearly steers clear of countries which may compromise a US led alliance. Pakistan with its history of an “all weather” friendship with China and support to cross border terrorism in India has been avoided as has Iran and Afghanistan. Despite its good relations with India, Iran has been known to collaborate with Pakistan on terror plots within India especially when targeting Israeli interests. Iran is also very close to Russia and China. Israel fears that Russia may soon arm Iran with missiles in exchange for drones and other assistance the Islamic Republic provides.
Turkey was also bypassed much to its shock and chagrin. A 2020 report by the Indian R&AW designates Turkey and charities close to the Erdogan family as the second largest sponsor of terrorism in India after Pakistan. Erdogan’s Islamic brotherhood party closely supports Hamas and other terrorist organizations that regularly attack Israel and receive aid from Iran to “wipe Israel off the map”. It is often reported how Pakistani illegal migrants cross over to Greece from Turkey and with direction from Iran target Israelis on holiday or Israeli and Jewish assets in Europe.
Erdogan has also held Europe hostage on the refugee crisis as he has held NATO’s expansion hostage for his own personal interest. He was, however, surprised to learn that Turkey was excluded from IMEC. After initially opposing the IMEC, he quickly backpedaled by announcing, “We are saying that there is no corridor without Türkiye. Türkiye is an important country for manufacturing and trade. The most convenient line of travel from east to west passes through Turkey.” Indeed, it was the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 that closed the land route between India and Europe and started the competition between European powers to find a navigable sea route between the continents. The IMEC also avoids Egypt and will reduce reliance on the Suez Canal for trade between India and Europe. While the IMEC is a trade alliance it has been structured also as a de facto security alliance against Islamic extremism avoiding and countering the nations that may support it.
For India, the pivot is from the Russia-Iran-India International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) and its investment in the Chabahar port in Iran. India’s investment in Chabahar is to counter Chinese dominance in the Indian Ocean. China has invested heavily in the Gwadar port in Pakistan to create a presence in the Indian ocean. Chabahar is amongst a handful of Iranian projects which are exempt from US sanctions as it connects Afghanistan and India by a sea connection through Iran avoiding Pakistan. India’s challenges in financing Chabahar’s development due to sanctions on Iran have already complicated the project. The announcement of IMEC may lead to Iran turning towards China for support. Iran will also try convincing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of the efficiency of the International North South corridor (INSTC) after the first train with Russian goods arrived at Bandar Abbas in August, from where they were to be shipped to Saudi Arabia.
Israel beware: #China’s proposal for the Reform and Development of Global Governance, released on the 13th of September states: “The fundamental solution to the Palestinian question is to establish an independent state of Palestine that enjoys full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 border and with east Jerusalem as its capital. …… China will play an active role in facilitating Palestine’s internal reconciliation and peace talks.” This falls in line with Beijing reception of Mahmud Abbas in Beijing.
Xi moves his Axis.
All these geopolitical moves have deeply affected China which has started moving pieces on the global chess board to oppose these developments. Prior to the G20 summit in Delhi, China had tried to use the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit to push BRICS to be an alternative to the Group of 7 (G7). Indian Prime Minister Modi almost skipped the summit and host South Africa and Brazil moderated the expansion by watering down Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ambitions of stacking BRICS with China’s vassal states and launching a BRICS currency to counter the US dollar.
While Biden strived to bring together a virtuous group of allies to consolidate the US led alliance in Delhi, Modi strove to create rapprochement between Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and Biden. This must have upset the Chinese establishment which has worked hard to create peace between Iran and China with the hope of continued Saudi patronage as well as the contract to build the kingdom’s nuclear energy program. In an age of optics, the Modi-Biden-MbS photo at the G20 summit has put serious question marks on China’s claims to have countered the US influence in the middle east. This is a big loss of face to Xi Jinping at home where he faces economic and political problems.
China appoints an Ambassador to the Taliban
Just three days after the G20 summit and two days after the 9/11 anniversary, China named its first ambassador to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The timing was not casual. China is the first country to name an envoy to the Islamic Emirate since the Taliban’s capture of Kabul two years ago. Putting it at odds with the rest of the world, it announces China’s intention of collaborating with a terrorist regime to access raw materials while creating strategic depth in central Asia for itself. It also expects that the move will hasten the implementation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has been delayed partially due to Pakistan’s governance and economic problems and partially due to security concerns. The Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan as well as Baloch separatist groups have created a security nightmare for China. The development of the existing Karakoram highway, which passes through the Khunjerab pass linking Peshawar with Kabul, is considered a feasible route to connect Kabul with the CPEC and ultimately with China. Afghanistan shares a 92km border with China through the narrow Wakhan corridor, extending from Badakhshan to East Turkestan (Xinjiang). While the corridor has three passes, their precarious geographical location deems any direct induction of Afghanistan into the BRI improbable in the short to medium term, however both sides admit to the importance of developing the Wakan corridor as a priority.
From Afghanistan, a terrorist emirate to another pariah regime in Latin America. Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was on a seven-day long state visit to China from the 8th of September. On the 13th of September, Xi Jinping had his first sit down meeting with Maduro since 2018. China is Venezuela’s primary sponsor and Xi also announced with Maduro the elevation of the China-Venezuela relationship to an all-weather strategic partnership, probably a stage below the “no limits friendship” China shares with Russia. Maduro’s visit furthered China’s propaganda by Maduro eulogizing Chinese models. Maduro said that Venezuela supports the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative. The Venezuelan side also supports the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative proposed by Xi Jinping, Global Times, China’s government mouthpiece reported.
Venezuela is a heavy weight in Latin America and is a security headache for the United States influencing regimes, drug cartels and illegal immigration from South America which directly affect the United States. In the upcoming elections, uncontrolled illegal migration from South America may tip the balance in gubernatorial and the Presidential elections. Venezuela may eventually be a key mover in deciding who gets elected in DC.
The most interesting visit of the month was probably by the maverick North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Russia. In his traditional bullet proof train, Kim rolled into the Russian Far East to probably conclude arms deals.
Meeting with Russian President Putin after his meeting with Kim, Belarusian leader and Putin’s ally Lukashenko suggested a trilateral partnership between Russia, Belarus and North Korea. Beijing is North Korea’s main sponsor and Russia is now heavily dependent on China after global sanctions and a long war in Ukraine. Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi visited Moscow shortly after Kim’s visit and China is keeping a close eye on the Moscow-Pyongyang relationship. Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad is scheduled to visit Beijing shortly as well.
China’s axis of evil now includes Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela and these states have started consolidating mutual relationships to help China maintain its Belt and Road Initiative as well as counter western democracies.
While the IMEC announcement has stirred rivalries in Asia and Europe, China and Xi Jinping have chosen a show of force with quick actions in Afghanistan, Venezuela and North Korea. Xi has lost face once with the US-Saudi rapprochement in Delhi, he will lose face again when Italy will formally announce its intention to exit the BRI in November. For Xi, the BRI is his legacy, and he will go to all lengths, even creating a new axis of evil to protect it.
Over 2 billion people will go to vote in 2024 in electoral democracies from the United States of America, the world’s oldest democracy to India, the world’s largest. The European Union, Mexico, Bangladesh among others will all vote for their next governments. The axis of evil led by China and Russia will do their best to interfere with this result. For the IMEC to succeed it is important for elections to be free and fair in all these countries. What is at stake is not just a trade alliance, but the future of all these republics. The struggle between democracies and autocracies has now started. First and above all, the Republics must be safe.