Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are China and Russia Forging a New Ideological Bloc?

A ChinaFile Conversation     


CHINA FILE - 02.27.15

With evidence of ties strengthening between Beijing and Moscow—over energy contracts, the handling of the Ukraine, and their diplomats’ stance toward outside interference in internal affairs, especially if it’s perceived as coming from Washington—can the world soon expect Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to cooperate more broadly? Why, or why not, and to what effect? — The Editors


China and Russia can forge an ideological bloc based on shared resentment of the U.S.-led international order, but they cannot be true allies. Their competing interests are too important.
Moscow perceives the U.S.-led West as its current main enemy, interfering with its aspirations in the area from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus. Even so, some Russian analysts identify China as the long-term threat. While the Western powers seek to prevent Russia from expanding, China’s ambitions challenge Russia in the areas that it still dominates. Consider the following:
  • The resolution of Sino-Russian border disputes in the 1990s did not lead to a revision of Chinese textbooks, which continue to teach that Russia stole 1.5 million square kilometers of China’s territory, and some of the border agreements have a limited duration.
  • The disparity in population density across the border between packed Chinese Manchuria and the relatively empty, resource-rich Russian Far East is the greatest such disparity in the world. According to Alexei Arbatov, Chinese analysts now refer to Russia as China’s “resource rear”—a label that does not exactly connote respect for Russian sovereignty. The unrest that Russia has fomented in Ukraine has disrupted Chinese agro-investments there.
  • Official Chinese maps of its Silk Road project through Central Asia to the Middle East and Europe omit the most obvious route—via the trans-Siberian railroad—thus cutting Russia out of China’s plans to economically integrate the Eurasian landmass. China and Russia would also seem to have conflicting interests in the Middle East, from which China needs stable, affordable oil and gas, while Russia is okay with instability and high prices.
  • Further north, where Moscow has sought to establish its preeminence among the rival claimants that border the Arctic, Beijing asserts that, as a country with nearly one-fifth the world’s population, China is entitled to one-fifth of the global commons around the North Pole.
  • Finally, China has reverse-engineered the weapons that it has bought from Russia, declining to re-up as a customer. Worse still, it now produces cheap copies for export, luring away other buyers of Russian wares.
In recognition of these dynamics, Russia—until recently, at least—has declined to transfer some of its most important defense capabilities to China. And while engaging with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in both multilateral and bilateral exercises, the Russian military has also continued to hold its own exercises aimed at countering a potential Chinese challenge.