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2023: Russia-Ukraine conflict will determine direction of global politics this year

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Picture: BULENT KILIC/AFP – Ukrainian soldier of a artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut on November 8, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

By David Monyae

There is no telling what the socio-economic and political trajectory of the world will be in 2023.

However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is certain to be a major determinant of the direction of global politics, especially the relations between the world’s major powers.

The war itself is still unfolding and continues to be a source of tension between Russia and the West.

As a matter of fact, Ukraine has effectively become the West’s proxy in its fight against Moscow. As these tensions do not appear to be likely to wane any time soon, the possibility of a nuclear confrontation, however remote, cannot be ruled out.

It is important that a negotiated solution is found to the crisis in Ukraine to avert a bigger and more devastating outcome.

Another possible outcome is the war-weary and battered Ukrainian public forcing its government to start negotiations with Russia for the cause of peace.

One of the offshoots of the Russia-Ukraine war whose implications will carry into 2023 is the EU’s decision to cut its imports of Russian gas and petroleum.

The EU relies on Russia for 40% of its gas needs.

As such, shutting the Russian gas taps will have serious implications for global energy markets.

Therefore, in 2023 we are likely to see the EU embark on the revitalisation of its relations with some countries in regions such as Africa and the Middle East that have substantial natural gas supplies.

Another key geopolitical battle to watch in 2023 is that between China and the US.

The world’s two biggest economies have since 2018 been engaged in a vicious trade war that has seen mutual imposition of tariffs on each other’s products.

The tariffs have increased the cost of trade between the two countries.

As 2022 comes to an end, there is no hope that trade between the world’s biggest economies will be opened up in 2023 or in the near future. Apart from trade, China and the US are also engaged in intense competition for spheres of influence in regions such as Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. This has seen the US come up with the Global Partnership for Infrastructure Investment (GPII) which is widely believed to be a rival of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI has been signed by 49 African countries including the African Union Commission.

In its newly adopted US Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa, the US describes China’s influence in the continent as negative and warns African countries of China ulterior motives. As it doubles down in courting a region where China’s diplomacy has been remarkably successful, the US hosted the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in mid-December in a bid to expand its cooperation with the continent. It will be interesting to see how China responds to the latest US moves in Africa when the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, makes his traditional trip to Africa in January 2023. This competition has also intensified in the Asia, South American and Middle East regions and is not likely to subside in 2023.

Another key area of contest between the US and China that will become important in 2023 is in the technology sector. As the digital technology sector has grown to be an important source of economic accumulation and political power, China and the US have been at the forefront of assuming a dominant position in this critical sector.

In October, the Biden administration imposed a wide-ranging ban on exports of high-tech merchandise to China including the much sought- after semiconductors which are central to digital technology products including artificial intelligence and biotechnology. This move is meant to lessen Chinese competition and had the US a strategic advantage in the race to become a technology superpower. It is interesting to see how China will respond to this blow from the US.

Also of significant interest is the evolution of China’s Zero Covid-19 policy which was adopted by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in a bid to eliminate Covid-19 completely.

This entailed strict lockdowns in more than 70 major cities including Shanghai and Chengdu which are home to about 300 million people.

The zero Covid policy is estimated to have cost China’s economy over $380 billion due to the reduction of trade and production.

Due to China’s central role in the global economy both as a major supplier and consumer of key commodities, its Covid policy complicated the global economic recovery from the pandemic.

China’s lockdown measures affected critical global supply chains. However, following public protests in November, the Chinese government began easing the restrictions.

President Xi Jinping has been consulting with his key advisers to chart the way forward. Whatever decision the Chinese government arrives at regarding its Covid policy will significantly impact the global economy in the coming year.

Another event to look forward to in 2023 is the 13th World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference (MC13) which will further shape the architecture of the global trading system.

The MC13 will mark a significant moment in world trade as it is likely to produce an agreement on electronic commerce which now dominates international trade.

It is important that any agreement that the countries come to take into consideration the interests of the developing countries.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) will hold the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai.

The COP28 is expected to produce more concrete outcomes on climate finance and the historic loss and damage fund agreed on during the COP27 in Egypt.

Moreover, the world will be looking forward to more ambitious and decisive commitments from the parties in terms of cutting the use of fossil fuels in their economies.

As the climate change disasters multiply the world must act with urgency to prevent the global temperatures rising more than 1.5ºC above the pre-industrialization era average temperatures.

The developing countries, who are the hardest-hit victims of climate change through flooding and droughts, must find a way of mobilising each other and forcing the developed countries, who are also the largest emitters, to take action in reducing their emissions and following up on commitments they made on climate finance.

David Monyae is associate professor of international relations and political science and director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

This article is exclusive to The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.