October 5, 2020 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1534

China, Russia, And The Creation Of A Multipolar World Order – A Russian Perspective

October 5, 2020 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci*
Russia, China | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1534


In the last decade, the main leitmotif of China's and Russia's policy has been the creation of a multipolar world order. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during his September 11, 2020 meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, stressed again that the multi-polarization of the world is an inevitable trend in the development of human society.[1] A few days later, Lavrov stated that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has put forth a number of important initiatives toward creating a new multipolar world.[2]


Multipolarity Vs. Unipolarity

The theory of the multipolar world has been mostly developed by political scientists in Russia, particularly by the Eurasianist school and Russian school of geopolitics.[3] In 2018, Russian anti-liberal philosopher and founder of the Eurasia Movement, Alexander Dugin, delivered several lectures on the subject of multipolarity at Shanghai's Fudan University, one of China's elite universities.[4] In his lectures, Dugin explained to his Chinese audience that to understand multipolarity, it is important first of all to define unipolarity.[5]

"Unipolarity is precisely what we have in concrete politics after the fall of the Soviet Union. That was declared the 'unipolar moment.'[6] Multipolarity is the concept or theory that challenges this unipolarity [i.e., U.S. economic and military superiority and political influence or dominance, from the Russian standpoint, throughout the world]," Dugin explained. The Russian political philosopher further elucidated that the world is now in a transition from unipolarity toward multipolarity.

During the Cold War, we witnessed a bipolar world, with the U.S. and the Soviet Union representing the two main global powers. In this system, the Third World existed "on the margins" of this general world order. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dugin stressed, a new idea of unipolarity has been promoted.

"Unipolarity gained ground in theoretical debates in international relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union," Dugin explained. "That moment was precisely declared the 'unipolar moment' by [American political thinker] Charles Krauthammer. The 'unipolar moment' meant the creation of the concept of a unipolar system with one pole and a periphery in concrete reality. But Krauthammer was not sure if this would last forever, or if it would end in time. He was not sure if it was a world order or some temporary situation. So, he called the 'unipolar moment' by this very correct term."

Mentioning Francis Fukuyama's End Of History, Dugin stressed that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West did not have any other confronting poles or systems. Only one system remained: the liberal capitalist democracy, with the West recognized as the global leader. "Thus, there was the West and the Rest," the Russian philosopher assessed.[7]

The Unipolar System Begins To Erode

However, Dugin maintains, this unipolar system began to erode with the 9/11 attacks by Islamic terrorists on the World Trade Center and with the rise to power of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Then it seemed that the unipolar moment was no longer a unipolar world order, that something went 'wrong' with unipolarity. 'Normally' there should not have been such a thing as the terrorist attack of 9/11, because there was no state that could attack the United States, no civilization, no political system... Russia at that moment was in a very low situation with Yeltsin, and was on the verge of collapse after the Soviet Union. But Putin began to reaffirm Russia as a sovereign country. This was a kind of challenge to the unipolar system."[8]

Indeed, it is worth noting, that in 2007 Putin made his famous Munich speech, in which he challenged precisely the notion of unipolarity, and the West's supremacy in global politics. Putin said: "What is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making.

"It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

"And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

"Incidentally, we, Russia, are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.

"I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today's world... What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization."[9]

In parallel to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Putin's rise to power, Dugin stressed that another element started to erode unipolarity: the rise of China as a global player, which further challenges the unipolar system. Indeed, according to Dugin, we live in the end of unipolarity.

The Definition Of A Pole

According to Dugin, the system that should replace unipolarity is multipolarity, which can be better defined by describing what it opposes: "Multipolarity is against unipolarity... Multipolarity is against hegemony on three levels – first of all strategic, i.e., against the American military domination of the world with American military bases everywhere in the world... Multipolarity is against ideological hegemony as globalization, liberalism, and human rights..."[10]

It is worth noting that Dugin challenges the West's concept of human rights. According to the Russian philosopher, "the ideology of human rights" is "racist," since it affirms the "individual," a liberal concept, as "the only way to understand human nature." [11]

However, after defining what multipolarity is by what it stands against, it is important to explain how to define a pole. Dugin explained that a pole is not only strategic or political: "It is linked to a civilization as a culture or special type of society with special values. At the same time, it is not only a culture, but also a strategic space. Thus, in the concept of pole, we have both meanings: power and idea. The ideological and cultural levels and military force are inscribed into the pole in space, in political geography, and in cultural geography at the same time."[12]

Russia As A Pole

For Dugin, it is essential to have Russia as a fourth pole in the new world order. The other poles would be China, Europe, and the U.S. With Russia as a pole, Dugin conceived the creation of the Eurasia project, from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The idea is to move Europe toward an alliance with Russia and China by breaking the Western alliance with the U.S.

"If we accept that there will be no more Russia, only a Balkanized, chaotic territory as was more or less the case in Yeltsin's time, then we have unipolarity... But with the fourth pole [i.e. Russia], we have a completely different situation... Now we are in a position where we can save Russia itself through saving others – Europe and China – from Western domination. Without this, we cannot be sure of our future."[13]

The Russian philosopher explained that the theory of the multipolar world is an anti-Western project aimed at repositioning Europe geopolitically. Dugin added that the world should return to the "pre-Columbian vision," i.e. when the United States did not exist as a country. "If we regard the pre-Columbian vision, we immediately discover that there was a perfect world order from a civilizational point of view, with no colonialism or Western domination. There were traditional empires – the Iranian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Chinese Empire, Arab Empire... The separation between America and Europe that is part of the multipolar world is itself a kind of return to the pre-Columbian time."[14]

Dugin then stressed that the multipolar world is also anti-modern because "modernity is a Western concept," and "the theory of the multipolar world rejects the principles of the Enlightenment."[15]

Dugin also added that in multipolarity there is another shift in the understanding of geopolitics: "Classical geopolitics thinks in terms of sea power, represented by the West, and land power, represented by the heartland, Russia." Now, the sea power, being the West, represents unipolarity, i.e. what multipolarity is fighting against, but land power is no longer only Russia, but all the poles created, except for the United States.[16]

China As "Tianxia"

According to Dugin, China is a pole in the multipolar system. However, before explaining how China has become a pole, Dugin described what China is: "China is a civilization... Being a civilization, China represents something complete and perfect, autonomous, and self-sufficient... A civilization can measure its control and define its own values, progress or failure, using its own tools...

"In geopolitics, China is a Big Space. For example Canada, which is a big country, is not a big space, because it could not represent a space unified, centralized, and historically united. North America is a big space, not Canada. Not every geographical big space is a geopolitical big space, but China is. China historically controls a big geographical zone that is united politically, socially, culturally, historically, religiously, by writing, by Han identity, and so on.

"China is a culture. Chinese culture is more than the Chinese state, because the people of Taiwan and some non-Chinese, non-Han people share more or less the same culture, such as the Vietnamese, the Koreans, and, partly, the Japanese. Their identities and cultures were formed under the huge impact and influence of Chinese culture. Chinese culture is something supra-Chinese, something more than Chinese, because this culture can be given to others, and they can share this culture, such as the writing system for example.

"China is a power, because it has political, economic, demographic, geopolitical, strategic, and military resources. It can oblige others to do something. If someone wanted to attack China, China could respond in any way. China is a power that can defend its sovereignty...

"China is hegemony, but obviously China is not the only hegemony, or leading force. There are other hegemonies outside of China. China is a regional hegemony. It could lead and exercise leadership in some circle around China beyond its borders, but not too far. In some definite space, the same with culture, civilization, and power, China is a kind of center of hegemony that, compared to other countries that are close to China, is a real leading force.

"China is an empire, not only in the traditional sense, but also in the idea of unifying national, political units. An empire is not one political state, but something more – a system."[17]

Lastly, Dugin stated that China is "Tianxia [all under heaven, 天下]", an ancient Chinese cultural concept denoting the entire geographical world. This concept has been renewed and developed by renowned Chinese Professor Zhao Tingyang. He is the founder and author of the Tianxia theory (天下 体系). "Tianxia" is not a country, but rather a global system, a civilization.

Contrary to Zhao Tingyang, Dugin believes that China is one possible Tianxia (天下), not the only one, as there are other global structures: "[Zhao Tingyang] said that his concept has been hijacked by some American professor who has written a book on the American Tianxia. According to this professor, only the American Tianxia is the real Tianxia and China's Tianxia is only a provincial version. This means that you can propose your global system, but you cannot be sure that it will be accepted by everybody else, at least theoretically. There is a fight for Tianxia (天下). This is already important because American scholars are beginning to borrow Chinese concepts – that is a very great and positive sign, a real sign of multipolarity."[18]

China As A Pole

Going back to geopolitics, Dugin explained that if China is on the side of land power, then the world order is already multipolar.

The Russian philosopher stressed that in classical geopolitics, on the maps of Sir Halford John Mackinder and Nicholas John Spykman, China represents Rimland, the coastal area of Eurasia. However, China is too great to be only a part of Rimland. It could also be an independent part of Heartland, having its own Rimland.


According to Dugin, in the 21st century, there is a new axiom relating to China's rising power: "Who controls China, controls Rimland; who controls Rimland, controls Heartland; who controls Heartland, rules the World."[19]

Now, Dugin said that there are three solutions or choices about which country should control China, and China only can make the decision:

"China can be controlled by the U.S./NATO. That means that the West will rule... the World. If the globalists manage to promote their control over China through globalization, through influence on the young generation, technology, global capitalism, and liberal theories, they could rule the world.

"In the old version of geopolitics, China could be controlled by Russia... This is absolutely impossible today. It was not so impossible in Tsarist times, or including in Soviet times, when Stalin tried to help Mao and Russia influenced China. But today there is no way, will, desire, possibility, or resources to do so. We cannot control China. China is so huge and developed that this is out of the question. Our weakness is therefore a very good thing for multipolarity. If you logically, rationally no longer fear Russia, you are free to accept us not as a threat, but as an ally...

"China could be controlled by China herself. In that sense, China should emphasize... its traditional identity represented today by the Communist Party's order in Chinese society."[20]

Dugin showed support for the third option – that is, Chinese control of China: "If the choice will be made in favor of China, that will mean multipolarity." In that case, China should side with Russia and not with the U.S.: "On the one hand, there is the West that proposes its own system of values, identity, and civilization, while on the other hand there is the Russian Heartland... Russia does not propose anything, except that China become China again, [which will] make China great again,"[21] implying that Russia is the only strategic ally for China, and Moscow has already accepted that China will become the new ruler of the world.

*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is Director of the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.


[1], September 11, 2020.

[2], September 13, 2020.

[3], February 5, 2019.

[5], January 22, 2019.

[6] The concept of a "unipolar moment" was first introduced by the late journalist Charles Krauthammer in 1990.

[7], January 22, 2019.

[8], January 22, 2019.

[9], February 10, 2007.

[10], January 22, 2019.

[11], May 11, 2020.

[12], January 22, 2019.

[13], January 22, 2019.

[14], January 22, 2019.

[16] Dugin stated: "Geopolitics is based on dualism, on the idea that there are two big global powers: sea power, and land power. And the history of relations between Russia and the West in the past, in the present as well as in the future is inscribed in this logic of confrontation between sea power and land power. So a cold war is a kind of eternal war...", June 28, 2018.

[17], February 5, 2019.

[18], February 5, 2019.

[19] In the beginning of the 20th century, Mackinder had this formula, to explain how power works in geopolitics: "Who controls Eastern Europe, controls Heartland; who controls Heartland, rules the World."Then, in the mid of the 20th century, when the importance of Rimland came to be understood, Spykman transformed this geopolitical formula: "Who controls Rimland, controls Heartland; who controls Heartland, rules the World."

[20], February 5, 2019.

[21], February 5, 2019.

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