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“How to tame a dragon”: outcomes of Vladimir Putin’s visit to China

Photo: kremlin.ru

Vladimir Putin’s visit to China on occasion of the 70th Anniversary of WWII Victory over Japan proved very much to the point. Russia is still in the grip of the West’s embargo.  The Celestial Empire has also run a fever during the last months: assets of the largest companies shrink, the national currency devaluates, and leading European politicians ignored the Victory Day commemorations, while the White House is preparing what the U.S. media call “unprecedented economic sanctions” against Chinese industrial giants. In this light, the unanimity of the two leaders whose predecessors put an end to the WWII 70 years ago makes sense.

Ahead of the visit, Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the Xinhua news agency: “Russia and China maintain similar views on the causes, history and results of World War II. For our peoples its memory and its lessons are sacred. This tragic past is an appeal to our common responsibility for the fate of the world, to the realization of the terrible consequences a destructive ideology of personal exclusiveness and all-permissiveness could lead to. These are the ideas that Nazism and militarism thrived on. It is our duty to prevent their revival and spreading.”

On September 3, Putin was undoubtedly the most welcome guest at the Tiananmen Square.  The way he was received fully reflected the respect shown to Head of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping in the Red Square in Moscow earlier this spring.  Good-neighbored relations of the two states are so important now that both the leaders are ready to close eyes on some disagreements and try to look as friendly as possible in public.

Since 2012, China has been retaining its leadership in the list of Russia’s trade partners. Although the growth rates of the Russian-Chinese commodity turnover shrank this year, officials are not in panic.  “Apparently, this downward trend is of temporary nature,” the Minister of Economic Development of Russia Alexey Ulyukayev says. He blames external factors – general geopolitical tension, falling prices of energy resources in the global market, volatility of the financial market, and the debt problems of the Eurozone and the United States – for the current situation.

The current state of affairs along with the flip and flop policy of the ‘Western partners’ makes Moscow and Beijing “rush into one another’s arms.”  At the end of the 20th century, Zbigniew Brzeziński warned that China’s economic growth will spark paranoia in the United States.  The influential political scientist was right. Washington’s desire to protect its global leadership made it start large-scale re-grouping. The U.S. military doctrine adopted in 2012 defines China as a “potential adversary.” More than 60% of Pentagon’s military capacities will be concentrated near the Chinese coasts from now on. Add the potential of Australia, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Thailand having the status of “U.S. key non- NATO allies…” They have besieged China - a truer word was never spoken.

In 2013, when Tokyo and Beijing dusted up over the disputable Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands, the United States’ famous B-52 jet-powered strategic bombers – once developed to deliver nuclear cargoes to the USSR – made demonstrative flights over the disputed islands. This year, Secretary John Kerry confirmed that U.S. will support Japan in case of a conflict.

Of course, one can cherish illusions that the economic relations of China and U.S. will prevent war, and that only Chinese mass products will satisfy the endless consumption of the United States and the Federal Reserve System will, in turn, pay for the Chinese products made by billions of workers… Yet, lack of alternative market is a kind of running knot, and economy is hardly able to connect two civilizations with extremely different world outlook forever. “A snake sailing on turtle will sooner or later bite it.”

Aware of the alarming signals and probable conflict with the hegemon, China tries to secure its northern borders, diversify the sales markets and fuel supplies.  These issues cannot be settled without Russia.  It is noteworthy that Vladimir Putin has been paying a high attention to the country’s Far East borders since the first years of its presidency. In 2001, an agreement of good-neighborhood, friendship and cooperation was inked with China. Four year after it, we finally settled the territorial dispute that had been spoiling the relations of the Soviet Union and China since 1969.

As to the energy security of China, the oil feeding the Chinese “machine” is delivered from the Middle East in tankers via the Malak Harb. U.S. or its allies may easily cut that artery in case of an insignificant military tension.  It is obvious that the currently built gas pipeline the Power of Siberia and the Altay project (the Power of Siberia -2), the Turkmen gas supplied via Kazakhstan, and the entire Silk Road Economic Belt are China’s alternative to that.

Truly speaking, when in 2013 Xi Jinping promised to revive the ancient trade route, many began speculating on the issue bringing together the large-scale Chinese project and the Kremlin’s plans to reintegrate the fragments of the USSR. The local media, both patriotic and liberal ones, said the “alternative” route would bury the Trans-Siberian Railway, bringing China directly to the wealth of the Caspian Sea and generous Europe. However, last May, landmark documents linking the projects of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Silk Road were signed.

The dynamic establishment of the EEU is not the only factor behind those documents. By returning Crimea, which NATO had eyes for, Moscow did made it clear that it is ready to act resolutely and efficiently to protect its interests. Meantime, the Middle Asian underbelly remains the most important buffer for Russia and is protected by the native air defense forces under the “Tashkent Pact.” That is, China that has spent much on the Kazakh energy sector and infrastructures, can guarantee its investments and prospects in the region only with the help of Moscow.  Just by cooperating with the EEU it is possible to maintain stability in the Central Asia, which is a pledge of development and prosperity.

The last months gave more reasons for optimism. The summits in Ufa, Russia, demonstrated the single approach of Moscow and Beijing to the establishment of a New Bank of BRICS, the tasks of the Interbank Union of the SCO, development of commercial deals in national currencies and establishment of joint rating agencies. 

Of course, our relations are not perfectly smooth. China either abstains or avoids voting at the UN Security Council when it comes to the Crimea referendum or the developments in Donbass. The credit market of China is still closed for the Russian banks that fell under Western sanctions. It is widely rumored that leasing terms for Chinese farmers have been toughened. The cooperation in the defense field bumps into China’s desire to buy promising models of combat vehicles with the right to future licensed production. Besides, Beijing preferred not to risk and refused to involve in the construction of a large port near Yevpatoria, Russia, despite the arrangements made yet with Yanukovych’s government.

…In 2001, then head of the People’s Republic of China Jiang Zemin once told the Moscow State University students that it was high time to reconsider who is the “senior brother” and who is the “junior one.” Looking at the current complicated and grand picture of the Russian-Chinese relations, one can see that our “centuries-old” neighbor has to reconsider the Confucian dogmas, at least in big politics, right in front of our eyes.  When it comes to the equal partnership of the two super powers occupying half of the Eurasia, disputable issues are appropriate and inevitable. It is important, however, for these issues not to overshadow the common perspectives. Fortunately, the politicians of the 21st century understand that well.

Alexey Zverev (Kultura newspaper)

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