by Mister Unknown
Russian author & political analyst Nikolai Starikov recently gave an interview to the Russian language version of the “People’s Daily”, the official state newspaper of the PRC. Starikov’s attitudes toward China were predictably positive & friendly, but I noticed one problematic theme that emerged repeatedly in Starikov’s interview answers, one which I find all too common in the Russian discourse on Sino-Russian relations – a preoccupation with the US & the West, as well as Western hostility toward Russia.
In the interview, Starikov repeatedly cited US hegemony & western hostility to Russia (& China) as the primary incentive to build closer ties. I don’t want to assume that Starikov & other political analysts are representative of most Russians, but IF their opinions are indeed reflective of a widespread attitude among the political elite, then Russia is viewing its relationship with China through a “half-blinded” lens, which is potentially detrimental to Russia in the long term.
Given the recently intensified US & European efforts to diminish Russian strategic influence in Ukraine & elsewhere in the former USSR, the Russian political opinion leaders’ preoccupation is somewhat understandable, as is the short-term focus on China as a counter-balancing force. However, in the long term, western hostility alone should NOT be the primary driver, or even a significant driver, of Sino-Russian relations. In a fast changing world of modern geopolitics & short public attention spans, hostilities come and go. Prioritizing US & EU hostility as a factor in Sino-Russian relations implies that the ongoing work of forging a closer relationship with China is somehow “less important”, or should receive less attention, if the US (& EU) changed course and took a conciliatory approach to Russia. For those in Russia who may think that way, I put forth to them the following:
1. Diversification of Russia’s foreign trade portfolio is strategically beneficial to Russia, REGARDLESS of western political hostility.
2. Increasing trade with the world’s most dynamic and rapidly growing region is strategically beneficial to Russia, REGARDLESS of western hostility.
4. Taking advantage of the Silk Road Economic Belt, & using it to drive economic integration within the Eurasian Union, is strategically beneficial to Russia, REGARDLESS of western hostility.
5. Building alternative multilate
For China, the incentive to cooperate is equally compelling, and the existence or absence US hostility toward China does not change this reality.
1. The Silk Road Economic Belt is China’s most important foreign policy initiative in the next 10-30 years; Russia (along with Belarus and Kazakhstan) remains the most politically stable and secure land bridge to Europe along this new Silk Road. This makes Russia the most important country on the route by virtue of geography, regardless of US hostility.
2. A stable Central Asia (in which Russia has an indispensable role) is conducive to economic development in China’s western regions, regardless of US hostility.
3. Diversification of China’s natural resources (especially energy) suppliers and transport routes is strategically beneficial to China, regardless of US hostility.
4. Reducing air pollution through the use of relatively cleaner fuels (e.g. Russian natural gas) is strategically beneficial to China, regardless of US hostility.
5. Access to Russian technology and scientific human capital is strategically beneficial to China, regardless of US hostility.
6. The ability to actively shape global norms through alternative international institutions is strategically beneficial to China, regardless of US hostility.
China and Russia can be a comprehensive partners in all these areas and more. For those who agree with the premises above, it should be apparent that China and Russia should be each other’s number one foreign policy priority NOT because of the existence or absence US/western hostility, but rather because of the intrinsic strategic value each can offer to the other. If Russia places excessive focus on US & western actions & attitudes as a factor in Sino-Russian relations, it risks missing out on far larger strategic opportunities, should current hostilities over Ukraine subside (temporarily or otherwise), or becomes a less urgent item of attention in Russian policy-making & media circles. That said, China should do its part to send a simple, straightforward message to Russia: “We have a lot to gain by working with each other, & we should work hard to enhance this relationship, independent of our status with the US or Europe.”