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'Realeconomik': BRICS Redraw the Geopolitical Map, Western Soft Power Wanes

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A great deal of the foreign affairs commentariat's focus over the last few days has been on Obama's Middle East tour. The four-day political vacation has been heralded by the White House as an important intervention at this early point in Obama's second term, and clearly marking out his renewed focus on the Middle East peace process.

The tour has been described as success insofar as it has gone some way to improving Obama's relationship with Israel; and wide-eyed cultural appreciation in Petra has been combined well with some serious and fruitful US-moderated telephone calls between Istanbul and Tel Aviv.

But as events elsewhere this weekend show, Obama's well-honed brand of soft diplomatic intervention is now waning in relevance as the tone and timbre of foreign affairs shifts to a harsher, monotone, money-driven form of Realpolitik, or "Realeconomik", that is driving geopolitics.

The newly instated Chinese President Xi Jinping's intervention this weekend during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow sent an explicit message to Obama and his NATO allies, warning against such well-intentioned interference in the affairs of other nations. The speech in Moscow - significantly Xi's first foreign visit - echoes a message often repeated by Putin, and pits the China-Russian bloc further against the West in a broader battle for hearts and minds across the Middle East and beyond.

As permanent UN Security Council members with veto power, Russia and China often combined political muscle to dampen the diplomatic influence of the West, most recently blocking three draft resolutions on Syria. Both Russia and China criticised NATO bombings in Libya that helped overthrow Gaddafi in 2011, and have both stood together in the Security Council in votes on Iran's nuclear program.

Reuters reported Xi as saying to international relations students on Saturday that strong Sino-Russian relations serve as an 'important, reliable guarantee of an international strategic balance and peace.' And while the statements of solidarity in part mask the Kremlin's deeper neuroses about the continued exponential growth in Chinese economic muscle, which has impacted on bilateral trade relations, Xi's visit has led to the signing of an important agreement for Russian state energy giant Rosneft to gradually treble oil supplies to China.

Putin and Xi will meet again this week in South Africa at a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies. The summit will be an timely reminder of the relevance of such economies to global macroeconomic health - and their subsequent impact on the nature and direction of global affairs. The importance of following closely such economics-driven hard political power games is particularly pertinent in the wake of Russia's refusal to bail out Cyprus: in effect, a refusal to play any part in securing the future of the European project, weakening the bloc's political firepower in the longterm.

Such geopolitical games put into firm perspective the waning relevance of Obama et al's soft power political tourism and the rise and rise of the Realeconomik tactics preferred by emerging economies capable of making and breaking the West's ailing fiscal power.

In light of this new geopolitical model, the importance of a full and comprehensive US-EU trade treaty, effectively capable of ensuring the West's future economic and political relevance, cannot be overemphasised. As hard economics continues to trump soft cultural ties, failure to secure such an agreement could have serious consequences for both blocs diplomatic firepower - particularly if the agreement does not form bilateral agreements on energy, food and cyber security.

Sauna and sun lounger summits are off the menu. In the new world of Realeconomik, hard money talks. It's time the West upped its game.