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Russia-China: The West’s Dual Challenge
  |Mon, 14 March 2016|Deplomacy| Page Views : 405



  Closer Moscow-Beijing ties don’t constitute a common challenge to the West.

The Russian-Chinese relationship has come under greater scrutiny since the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s “deniable intervention” in Ukraine. Commentators have taken on the question of whether Russia and China present a unified, all-encompassing challenge to the West’s domination in international politics and have fiercely debated the prospect and possibility of a fully-fledged Sino-Russian alliance in the not-so-distant future.

Since the late-2000s, Russia and China have taken a number of steps aimed at shifting the existing international order to their advantage, in both its global and regional manifestations. Both powers are pursuing territorial claims (Crimea, the South China Sea), albeit in differentiated forms; they have established new multilateral institutions (such as the BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB); they share a similar stance on the normative concepts promoted by the West (such as the responsibility to protect and humanitarian interventions); and they adopt similar positions on international crises (Iran, North Korea). Russia has gone even further, resorting to military interventions in Ukraine and Syria. Moscow and Beijing consistently oppose the promotion of democracy, regard “color revolutions” as Western-led conspiracies, and vow to divide the Internet into “national sectors.” Russia’s military intervention in Syria and China’s successful launch of the AIIB in particular – steps taken in the face of direct U.S. opposition – were interpreted as nails in the coffin of the American “unipolar moment.”

These developments reinforce the argument that a revisionist, anti-Western bloc has emerged, regardless of the absence of any formal political-military alliance between Moscow and Beijing. This reading of Russia and China’s policies does, however, neglect the nuances of the Russian-Chinese relationship and ignores meaningful differences in the two states’ approaches to the current international order. Although the post-Cold War Sino-Russian relationship can be said to have been born out of U.S. primacy and unilateralism, the American factor does not suffice to explain the dynamics of Russian-Chinese ties.

The power gap that emerged in the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008-2009 has redefined the Russian-Chinese relationship. Merely depicting Russia and China as “great powers” or labeling them both as BRICS members conceals the reality of their co-operation – that of a superpower in the making and a great power in relative decline, a decline delayed by high oil prices and an unusual determination to demonstrate its vitality to the outside world. Russia’s political-economic stagnation set against China’s rapid emergence have transformed the Kremlin into the “junior partner.” Russia and China are undergoing a process of accommodating themselves to this enormous shift. Moscow is trying to adapt to China’s rise and newly acquired power, while Beijing is practicing the art of self-restraint. Close co-operation – in such spheres as energy and arms – is fuelling China’s rise, making the asymmetry of the relationship even more pronounced.

Fundamental Differences

Russia and China differ on to a number of fundamental issues of international politics. Although both states despise the U.S. predominance and react allergically to American unilateralism, the extent of their political and economic ties with Washington bear no resemblance to each other. For China, the U.S. is both a rival and a trading partner. For Russia, the U.S. is a political competitor. As a trading nation, China has had much more to gain from the U.S.-led international order than Russia has since the end of the Cold War. As G. John Ikenberry has argued, Beijing remains interested in the stability guaranteed by the U.S. and in paving the way for its own economic successes.

A similar discrepancy can be observed with regard to Moscow and Beijing’s attitudes towards European integration. Both states delight in any weakening of the trans-Atlantic ties and would gladly pull Europe away from the United States. Nevertheless, their approaches to the European Union represent two divergent stances. For Russia, European integration is yet another obstacle in its pursuit of political and economic deals with particular European states. Beijing, while drawing advantage from European divisions, conspicuous by the absence of a common EU policy towards China, is supportive of the success of European integration, if only in the economic sphere. The euro provides a counter-balance for the hegemony of the dollar and the EU itself is much more willing than the U.S. to make room for a rising China in the international order, as was demonstrated by the recent change in the special drawing rights within the IMF.

Depicting Russian-Chinese collaboration as a common challenge to the West also ignores substantial differences in their respective great-power toolboxes and different traditions of employing those toolboxes. The coincidence of Russia’s military intervention in Syria and Xi’s promises to establish a 10-year, $1 billion China-UN peace and development fund could provide no better illustration. At present Russia has primarily military assets. The energy component was lost in the previous decade, mostly due to falling oil prices and the EU’s third energy package. Russia turned out to be incapable of transforming its petrodollars into effective development assistance policy, despite the fanfare with which it was announced in 2007. China’s main means of exerting influence is its checkbook. Beijing hopes to buy stability for money, just as it has been doing in Afghanistan, paying off Taliban leaders in order to discourage them from attacks on Chinese investments. Similarly, China appears wary of deploying its armed forces since, notwithstanding a constant process of modernization, they have not conducted a single mission outside China’s borders since 1979 when they underperformed in the war against Vietnam.

These differences are not intended to suggest that Russia and China are on a collision course that will inevitably lead to conflict. On the contrary, Russian-Chinese co-operation can be expected to increase. Gas pipelines, at least The Power of Siberia, are going to be constructed, albeit with delays and financial losses. China is going to remain the biggest buyer of Russian oil in Asia. Moscow is ready to provide Beijing with advanced weapon systems, as proven by the contracts on S-400 missile complexes and Su-35 fighter jets. Contrary to common opinion, both states have turned out to be adept at limiting their competition and at introducing a division of labor in their shared neighborhood, such as Central Asia. China has made Russia a stakeholder in its New Silk Road (One Belt, One Road) mega-project and has refrained from challenging Russia’s political primacy in the post-Soviet space. Beijing carefully dispenses great-power respect to the Kremlin in regular doses. Moreover, China needs Russia on the international scene more than any other partner. Russia remains the only state in BRICS with which China shares not only a non-democratic political system, but – more importantly – a great-power identity. Neither India, Brazil nor South Africa are able to offer substantial political support to China on the international stage. These states lag Russia in terms of material capabilities (military potential) and institutional arrangements (a permanent seat on the UN Security Council). Moreover, they lack the determination to challenge or resist U.S. primacy.

Nonetheless, closer ties between Russia and China do not mean that the two constitute a common challenge to the West. Russia and China have different takes on international politics. The Chinese Communist Party needs a conducive external environment in order to continue selling its whole range of goods (from low- to high-end, such as high-speed trains), exporting the overcapacity of its industry, and offering loans from its overflowing coffers of U.S. dollars. Moscow has shown itself able to thrive on insecurity and instability – although it ultimately threatens Russia itself, the current “new world disorder” is regarded by the masters of the Kremlin as the West’s problem rather than its own. Consequently, Moscow and Beijing aspire to change the existing international order in different directions. China needs another wave of globalization; the New Silk Road concept’s ultimate goal is to secure this. The One Belt, One Road is a Chinese version of the late-19th century American open door policy, one that aims to prevent other states from locking themselves up in forms of regional economic integration. Russia acts to the contrary, striving to build a fence around its post-Soviet peripheries and isolating it from the outside world. The U.S. and Europe face two challenges of different natures that need to be tackled simultaneously.

Marcin Kaczmarski is Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Relations, University of Warsaw, and the Head of the China-EU Programme at the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Warsaw. His main research interests include Russia-China relations, Russia’s foreign policy and broader issues of rising powers’ place in international politics. He has published in Problems of Post-Communism and Demokratizatsiya. His monograph, Russia-China Relations in the Post-crisis International Order was published by Routledge (2015).

By Marcin Kaczmarski


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If we want to end poverty, we need to be able to measure it properly (419)

Putin's pivot: The Russians are coming to Asia (434)

What Would Reagan Do About China’s Violations of the Law of the Sea? (430)

Time for UN to Shift Its Mission in Yemen (332)

Horses beaten with electric prods, cows left to bleed to death while still conscious and pigs crammed into 'gas cages' in horrifying footage from French abattoir which has prompted animal cruelty probe (476)

Marines Reunite With Dogs They Served With in Middle East After Years Apart (387)

The U.S. Military's 6th Generation Fighter: 5 Ways To Dominate the Sky (431)

Vietnam Between China and the United States: The Next Balancing Test Beckons. (409)

Russia Using Syria As Testing Ground For Its Modern Weaponry (327)

World Food Day and food security (410)

Malnutrition linked to nearly half of deaths among under-fives (437)

U.S. military wants to develop a ‘vampire’ drone that vanishes in the daylight (448)

What South Africa leaving the International Criminal Court would mean... (405)

Refugees and Neighbors: Rohingya in Bangladesh. (446)

US troops deployed to Cameroon for Boko Haram fight (388)

Carter says U.S. will sail, fly and operate wherever whenever (392)

China Enforcing Quasi-ADIZ in South China Sea: Philippine Justice. (424)

Sri Lanka Tamil prisoners on hunger strike demand release (372)

Expanding social protection offers a faster track to ending hunger – UN report (407)

Police told to record hate crimes against Muslims separately: Cameron wants figures to be published (393)

Seafood hit by climate change, Australian study finds (422)

Catalonia, A New State Within Europe? (444)

Myanmar’s Cease-Fire Deal Comes Up Short. (342)

Saudi Arabia just replenished Syrian rebels with one of the most effective weapons against the Assad regime (409)

ISIS and the Dangers of Black Market Oil (572)

Food prices lower for longer (328)

US Boosting ASEAN Capacity Amid South China Sea Tensions. (453)

'Australian Islamic State Fighters Doubled Last Year' (414)

Russia’s Goals, Tactics, And Strategy In Syria War (413)

Hundreds of thousands of migrants will be deported from the EU within weeks under secret plans intended to deter irregular migration (439)

Arsenic found in many American red wines but health risks depend on total diet (391)

Malaysia to Host New Conference to Tackle Islamic State Challenge. (443)

Does China Approve of Russia’s Airstrikes in Syria? (407)

CAN WE ERADICATE POVERTY AND SAVE OUR PLANET? (390)

US-Russia Proxy War In Syria Who s On Russia s Side? (432)

Taliban in Kunduz ISIS in Nangarhar: Fiefdoms of Conflict in Afghanistan (407)

FOOD SECURITY THE END OF A GOLDEN AGE (433)

What Does China Think of the TPP? (431)

Capitulation In Kunduz: Implications For Region (419)

Why We Need South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Patrols. (389)

What are the risks of Russian military involvement in Syria? (424)

How China Is Changing the UN (422)

Central Asia and the ISIS Phantom (336)

Obama-Putin meeting and why EU refugee crisis matters for Russia (435)

Strongest Militaries in the World (432)

Twists and Turns in Thailand s Bombing Case. (434)

China s Protracted War in Xinjiang (431)

Powerful El Niño to cause hunger among world s poorest people (326)

Modi Goes West: Taking Stock of the Indian Prime Minister s US Trip (404)

Inside the looming food wastage crisis (412)

Is Russia Going To Become The Next Superpower? (449)

China s Role in the Syria Crisis Revisited (370)

Pakistan and the Taliban: Past as Prologue? (402)

How Russia can deal with ISIS extremism within its own borders (368)

Cambodia and the Australian Asylum Seeker Deal. (395)

There is no planet B (401)

US CIA s Operations in China Take a Step Back in Wake of OPM Breach (377)

Afghanistan Can t Afford to Lose Kunduz to the Taliban (421)

Australia s New Defence Minister. (433)

The Taliban Take Kunduz: An Eyewitness Account (391)

Southeast Asia s Piracy Headache. (385)

Russia U.S. Ties Putin And Obama Meet (396)

China-US Cyber Agreements Has Beijing Outmaneuvered Washington? (380)

Nepal Tests India s Much Touted Neighborhood Diplomacy (347)

Efforts in Syria against ISIS won t bring US Russia closer together (402)

How do we protect global food supplies from extreme weather? (422)

PUTIN goes to WAR against ISIS: Stop dithering and FIGHT Russian leader tells West (390)

What ASEAN Can Teach the World About Surviving a Financial Crisis. (424)

What to Read on Xi Jinping s US Visit (381)

Thailand s Military Junta is Clueless about Economic Policy. (409)

What Will The Xi-Obama Summit Really Deliver? (382)

India s Defense FDI Limit Will Hinder Technology Transfer: US Official (436)

The Truth About US Freedom of Navigation Patrols in the South China Sea. (459)

Russian-German relations A renewed dialogue? (431)

Tolerance levels & more (427)

China Myanmar Talk Border Security at Military Consultation (425)

Amid Ongoing India-Pakistan Clashes Is Diplomacy Possible? (351)

The BRICS and the West Partners or rivals? (421)

Good News Global Food Policy Report Strikes Optimistic Tone (362)

How Washington Can Manage Sustainable Strategic Competition With China (411)

How Do Indians Feel About Narendra Modi s Handling of Foreign Policy? (408)

Will Putin Exchange Donbass for Syria? (309)

Britain s Labor Party could be ready to change the nation s Russia policy (396)

China South America and Regional Integration (379)

The paradox of the Minsk Agreements (433)

Hidden hunger is a global killer (421)

The Chinese Cyber Threat in the South China Sea (406)

The Real Significance of the Japan-Vietnam Strategic Partnership. (324)

India and Sri Lanka Vow to Increase Security and Economic Cooperation (377)

China or Iran Who Is the Bigger Threat to U.S. Airpower? (420)

West vs. Russia Media War Heating Up (355)

Becoming the Zero Hunger generation Achieving food security for all (387)

Qatari troops join fight against Houthi rebels (279)

Evaluating the US-India Strategic Agenda (377)

Marine life plummets and food security at risk (414)

China Iran Predict Closer Ties Thanks to Nuclear Deal (392)

Iran Nuclear Deal Lands In the Middle of 2016 Debate (321)

Myanmar Shan Villagers and the Salween Dam Fight. (412)

Anti-Submarine Operations in the Indian Ocean (417)

Improving Women s Rights A Step Toward Global Food Security (319)

Europe s security situation significantly worsened last year (331)

US China Hold Cyber Talks Before Xi s Visit (388)

Nepal: Terai Agitation And The Constitution Making Proces (407)

Investors Are Grabbing a Japan-Size Chunk of the Developing World for Food and Water (392)

Can the US Marines Help Build Indonesia s Amphibious Capabilities? (241)

India-Egypt Relationship: Looking for a new Momentum (333)

Amid Shifting Geopolitical Dynamics India Plays Hard Ball in Afghanistan (364)

Europe s refugee crisis explained (390)

Philippines Australia to Hold Joint Military Exercises. (386)

The Refugee Crisis Isn t a European Problem (413)

Trash or treasure? Repurposing would-be wasted food to feed the hungry and create jobs (431)

Cambodia s Montagnard Problem. (409)

Australia to Bomb Syria? (334)

Is India s APEC Membership on the Table at this Year s Summit? (335)

The solution to this refugee crisis? A revised EU treaty (414)

India and Food Safety (424)

What Thailand s Rejected Constitution Means. (400)

Without ensuring universal access to water there can be no food security (411)

Russia And China Expanding And Cooperating Militarily (350)

Australia Wants to Join India US and Japan in Naval Exercises- Defense Minister (423)

The Problems Foreign Powers Find In The Balkans (410)

Singapore s Impressive Food Security (417)

Afghanistan s Looming Crisis (406)

Exclusive Who s Really Behind Thailand s Erawan Shrine Bomb Blast? (445)

From a Unipolar to a Bipolar Superpower System The Future of the Global Power Dynamic (446)

A Balancing Act;Food for the Hungry Fuel for Your Car (403)

Russia Has a China Problem Too (345)

NATO vs. Russia War Could Begin Today Or Tomorrow (426)

India and Seychelles Strengthen Ties Around Maritime Security Economic Cooperation (418)

Thailand s Navy to Get Boost with New Patrol Vessels. (424)

Global Food Security and the Missed Message of Milan s Expo 2015 (408)

What Now for China s Afghanistan Strategy? (421)

Adrift in ASEAN Tackling Southeast Asia s Migration Challenge. (336)

Putin Says Russia-China Relations At Historic Peak (417)

Australia s Disastrous Asylum Seeker Deal. (405)

A Cold Summer for China and Russia? (340)

Peace is back off the agenda (403)

Iran Nuclear Deal Gains Momentum With Endorsements of Four House Democrats (398)

Philippines Asks for US Military Assistance in South China Sea. (457)

Russia Exploits Obama’s Weaknesses To Destroy US Global Dominance (413)

Growing doubts over GMO safety a scientist s experience (430)

Rethinking the Obama-Xi Summit (429)

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