In early July, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa assembled in Ufa, around 700 miles east of Moscow, for the seventh annual Brics summit.
Overshadowed by Europe’s currency imbroglio and China’s stock market nosedive – along with the usual plethora of summer sporting events – this diplomatic gathering in the Bashkirian capital deserved far more media attention than it got.
Long-standing international sanctions against Iran could be dropped. That’s pretty astonishing given that, in the eyes of many Westerners, the country remains a pariah. The Lausanne framework agreement, which emerged after fraught negotiations in early April, means Iran – easily the world’s most significant isolated nation – could be returning to the global stage.
Even under sanctions, Iran’s $450bn economy is already among the top 25 largest on earth. Home to 81m people, it could soon get a lot bigger still. Since Hassan Rouhani became President in mid-2013, there’s been talk not only of Western rapprochement, but of Iran as an investment destination. The image Rouhani conveys – a moderate cleric, with a doctorate in law from a British university – contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a firebrand religious hardliner.
The UK is guilty of “constantly accommodating” China, hissed an anonymous White House official in mid-March. The British government had just announced the UK would become a founder member of a new China-led financial institution that one day could rival the World Bank.
Ever since Beijing launched the $50bn Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank last October, US officials have insisted Western countries “could help shape the standards and rules” this institution will adopt “by staying on the outside”. The real reason for Washington’s lack of engagement, of course, actually lay in fears the AIIB will become an instrument of Chinese foreign policy. That, after all, is precisely the role the World Bank has played for the US for the best part of 70 years.
Is the oil price crash over? In mid-February, Brent crude traded at $63 a barrel, up from a $45 low a month earlier. Does that sharp rise mean oil will now climb steadily back above $100? Triple-digit oil prices, after all, have become the normal in recent years. The black stuff spiralled to almost $150 in late 2008, ahead of the global financial crisis – before falling back, as the world economy endured it worst peacetime shock for 80 years and asset markets collapsed.
As global growth returned, though, and traders remembered that the populous emerging markets were still becoming more populous, their energy demands ever rising, oil quickly recovered. During the three and a half years from early 2011 to mid-2014, oil was above $100 pretty consistently. Prices then started falling last June, by some 60% to their mid-January low. But Brent crude is now up 36% during the four weeks to the time of writing. So has the oil market now turned?
Russia’s recent “pivot East” has become a geopolitical cliché. It’s now widely understood that one of the most significant consequences of sanctions imposed by America and (less enthusiastically) the European Union has been significantly to strengthen relations between Moscow and Beijing.
Enemies for much of the Cold War, Russia and China have been building serious commercial and diplomatic ties across their 2,700-mile border for well over a decade. Since 2002, their bilateral trade has grown 7-fold, to almost $100bn annually, as both sides recognize the economic synergies between the world’s largest energy exporter and the biggest and most populous manufacturer on the planet.
I’m struggling to identify any agreement of real political or commercial significance that was struck during the 2-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 2pc 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.
It’s 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Billed as the most important political event of the second half of the twentieth century, the collapse of Communism has been much commented upon but rather less widely understood.
Far from marking the “end of history”, the demise of state-planning in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the subsequent dissolution of the Warsaw pact, ushered in an era when history significantly sped-up. Developments that took decades or even centuries in other parts of the world, have been compressed into just a few tumultuous years.