Shift in Rhetoric and Action


Seemingly the relations between Russia and China are characterized by a shift in action as demonstrated  in the wake of Ukraine crisis. With more sanctions from the west in the foreseeable future against the country as crisis in Ukraine shows no sign of resolution, president Putin has successfully embarked on a diplomatic mission to cultivate deeper economic relations with China.

Russia expects to gain a large share of market for its energy supplies in China by strengthening bilateral relations with its neighbor, with which it shares a border of 2600 miles and long history of uneasy relationship. Both Russia and China clashed with each other briefly on border issue in 1969. The economic compulsions prompted by western sanctions and a gradual change in geopolitics have left a huge impact on current China-Russia relations.

Neil MacFarquher and David M. HERSZENHORN have commented (The New York Times May 19 2014) that western sanctions are helping to disrupt Russian economy and also pushing Russia toward greater dependence on China. President Putin’s recent summit meeting with his Chinese counterpart has to be analyzed against this backdrop.

That visit has heralded a new era of economic collaboration between China and Russia. The 30-year $400 billion Sino-Soviet gas deal marks a landmark achievement in improving relations between the two countries. Interestingly, China and Russia have been on-again and off-again Cold War allies.

President Putin has described the deal as an epochal event. The relations have been solidified that had been warming since 2012 when Xi Jinping rose to the pinnacle of power in China.

Strobe Talbott, president of Brookings Institution and Chairman of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Policy Board, who has been quoted by Jane Parlez (“China and Russia Reach 30-year Gas Deal” The New York Times May 22 2014) has sounded more optimistic “The Sino-Soviet rift that brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war in the 1960s has been healed rather dramatically”.

Analyzing the Ukraine crisis and its implications on geopolitics, Walter Russell Mead, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, in his Foreign Affairs essay “The Return of Geopolitics” (May-June 2014) has said that geopolitical rivalries have stormed back to the center stage. In the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the U.S. and the EU have been in the fore front to impose economic sanctions against Russia.

According to the professor, since the end of Cold War (1989), the most important objective of the U.S. and EU foreign policy has been to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues toward win-win ones. Professor Mead recalls the conclusions made by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, which were famously debated and contained in the book “The End of History”. He explains that Fukuyama’s formulation that the end of the Cold War meant “the end of history” was a statement about ideology. He elaborates that for many people, the collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t just mean that humanity’s ideological struggle was over for good; they thought geopolitics itself had also ended.

Justifying the reemergence of geopolitics, Professor Walter Russell Mead presents a number of examples, which seem credible. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine reflects the rivalry between the U.S. and Russia. In Asia-Pacific region China is involved in maritime disputes with South East neighbors, more prominently with Japan and Vietnam. The frequency of sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria and continuing stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrate that Cold War has still not altogether disappeared even 25 years after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

Against such background comes the analysis of Bogoban Klich, a former Polish defense minister ( Project-Syndicate essay “NATO after Ukraine”) in which he argues that the Cold War institution continues to be as relevant to today’s global  order as it has been since 1949. He appreciates that NATO has a special provision in the famous Article 5 of the treaty which says “all for one, and one for all”. Pursuant to this all NATO members should consider the territorial accusation of any one of them as an attack on their territorial integrity. He emphasizes that NATO should review its existing relationship with Russia in view of latter’s revanchist policy.

But in the opinion of Ian Bremer (Project Syndicate essay “Cold War or Cool Calculations”) the March 27 2014 UN vote on the legitimacy of Crimea’s annexation when only 10 other countries supported Russia does not necessarily indicate that Cold War politics has dominated the global political landscape. To him a few countries in Russia’s orbit like Armenia and Belarus, traditionally Latin American countries and rogue states voted against the resolution that criticized the Russian move.

The warming of Sino-Soviet relations as observed in Shanghai summit nonetheless, a former Israeli foreign minister Sholmo Ben-Ami has said that China and Russia are not true revisionists. He says that Putin’s foreign policy is “more a reflection of his resentment of Russia’s geopolitical marginalization than a battle cry from a rising empire” (Foreign Affairs May-June 2014).

As Russia is punished by increasing wave of severe economic sanctions at a time when its economy is in serious need of revitalization, it is no wonder that Putin looks elsewhere than Europe, which has traditionally been its major consumer of gas. This scenario has been capitalized by China, the world’s number one energy consumer, by agreeing to make huge investment in implementing the gas deal under which Russia will supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually to China. According to George Schemann (The New York Times May 24 2014) the energy export agreement is Russia’s strategic alternative to Europe.

The agreement has given Moscow a mega market for its leading export. China has greater advantage in securing gas, a cleaner energy than coal and oil. Conspicuously, China and Russia are joining hands in countering the global clout of the U.S. in which they have common interests. Russia displays a shift of policy in action by coming closer to China predominantly on the economic front.

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