Sunday, 19 October 2014

RUSSIA AND CHINA: Will the Two Powers Ever Collide?

Russia and China have common geopolitical and economic interests at this juncture because they are both faced with common rivals. What brings them closer together is the threat that they perceive that the US poses to their security interests and to the balance of power at their respective regional levels. Indicative of the common course Russia and China are following because of the common rival they fear is the recent UN vote for rotating UN Council members.

China and Russia voted for Venezuela that the US strongly opposes while they rejected Turkey that the US favors. This is a very strong political message not so much to Turkey which had been immersed in the jihadist rebel movement to overthrow Syria’s president Assad, but to the US that it cannot continue the policy of destabilization.

There is also the question of US-imposed sanctions Russia deems reckless and the containment policy both Russia and China are confronting. Clearly the US has containment if not an encirclement policy toward Russia, justified in large measure because of Russia’s policy toward Ukraine, but also because Putin entertains ambitions of reviving at least part of what was once the glory of the Russian Empire.

At the same time, the US has a policy of deep engagement with China but also a containment policy for strategic considerations and to secure the leverage it desires in Asia with its own allies. These realities of US policy toward Russia and China only bring the two countries closer together, while each is guarded about the power of the other. After all, China is a global economic power with nuclear weapons and the world’s largest army in terms of manpower, while Russia is a regional power trying to revive some of its former glory against iwncredible obstacles from the West.

Because of the geographical proximity and historic rivalry between China and Russia, Czarist era as well as Soviet era, it is very realistic to assume that the antagonistic relationship is just below the surface and one day Moscow and Beijing could become bitter rivals once there is an absence of convergence of economic and strategic interests. The US that used China to undermine Russia is actually bringing the two countries closer together by the aggressive and destabilizing foreign policy it has been pursuing in the last two decades. I can easily see Russia distancing itself from China in the future, assuming several scenarios play out.

First, China becomes very powerful and Moscow feels that it is in its interest to counter balance it by forging a new relationship with Washington to pursue a joint US-Russia containment policy toward China through regional blocs. Second, I can see Russia becoming disturbed over China’s increasing influence across Eurasia, especially in Muslim countries where it has an interest to secure raw materials and market share. How can Russia use its political leverage to offset China’s rise to globalism?

Several years ago, I proposed to my colleagues at the World Association of International Studies (Stanford U.) that Russia and Israel ought to join both the EU and NATO as a way to secure stability in Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. This may seem like a dream at this point, but the prospect of closer Russian integration with the EU is not so far off the reality chart because of the energy reliance of EU on Russia, and as China gains strength who is to say what Washington’s position would be on this issue.

For its part, China has a global approach to policy and behaves in a more restrained manner than Russia and much more prone to global stability because of its economic role than the US that has immersed itself in destabilization policies through direct and indirect means in Africa, Middle East, Ukraine, and several Latin American republics. China has a great deal more at stake around the world at this juncture, and tends to be cautious even when it can easily prevail given that it enjoys so much political and economic leverage.

Its ultimate goal is to reestablish some of the glory of the past when China was the world’s powerful empire, but the road to glory has to be one of caution, balancing out the demands of the military elites, the new capitalists, and those of the masses still trying to achieve upward social mobility. Caution means a policy of its own trying to contain the US from further destabilization conduct, while also keeping Russia integrated into the Chinese economy – $400 billion energy deal for example – while insisting on political solutions to the Ukraine crisis.

China has no illusions about Russia as a potential rival and a potential destabilizing regional force. This is evidenced by some of the critical comments Beijing has made regarding Putin’s behavior toward Ukraine. Realistically, China has to have Russia on its side for the next decade, and perhaps even until the mid-21stcentury when China will be clearly dominant, assuming nothing drastic like a war breaks out. I can see Beijing imposing its own containment on Russia, if the latter becomes an obstacle to China’s economic or military security.

Ukraine is clearly a security matter for Russia and one with an interesting history of US covert meddling, but it is also an issue for the EU that has been pressuring China to lean on Moscow for a negotiated solution. If the issue were not the Ukraine but a close Asian neighbor where Russia was meddling, Beijing would turn quickly against Moscow.

Beijing has not made as much noise about US meddling in Mongolia partly because the US counterbalances Russia at no expense to China. Mongolia has been quietly supportive of Russia over Ukraine. To neutralize China, Putin has been trying to create a China-Mongolia-Russia alliance against NATO and the US.
Even Mao recognized that the US was a “natural” ally of China and had invited the US to accept the new situation during the Civil War with Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT. The US rejected Mao’s proposal, siding instead with the nationalists. The future of China-Russia relations depends as much on US foreign policy toward Russia and China as it does on China.

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