Now the Sino-Russian relationship is at a historic and critical moment. On the one hand, Trump’s victory, in every way, indicates that the most difficult stage, which Russia has faced since the new century, has possibly passed. As good friends of the Russians, the Chinese feel relieved. This is because, as far as the Sino-Russia-U.S. trilateral relationship is concerned, no matter who is in fierce confrontation against the other, it is not necessarily a good issue for the Chinese.
Among these three largest countries in the world, it’s impossible if they don’t have any differences either in interests or ideas. However, it will be the gospel not only for all these three countries but also for the international society as a whole if they could control these differences within a certain extent, avoid firing shots and especially the all-round Cold War-style confrontation, and adjust the Sino-Russia-U.S. relations as more rational cooperation and competition.
As to the reasons of such a sudden change, now it may be still difficult to make a comprehensive assessment. Nevertheless, according to me, it at least deals with both countries’ reflections. For the United States, despite the widespread criticism and resentment against Russia among the elites, Trump at least told the truth. Why should the U.S. be always against Russia on a series of conflicts? Why should the U.S. belittle Putin’s really not so easy governance for his country? For Russia, in the past 25 years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it has always been questioning itself just as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy did. I am afraid that the U.S., which is still “top of the world”, can’t manage this reflection at the moment. Russia, in the midst of such a painful reflection, needs mutual respect and compassion instead of being hit when it’s down.
Another related important change at this moment is the profound pivot to the east in both Russian diplomacy and its development strategies. This is another critical moment in reversing history. No matter for economic and trade relations, or strategic security relations, or even the political and cultural identity of the Russians, facing Europe has always been Russia’s basic position. However, since the new century, due to Russia’s demands in its own socio-economic development, the Asia-Pacific region’s sustained economic growth, including encountering a series of major crises in Europe, it’s quite natural for Russia to turn to the Asia-Pacific region.
For Russia, it hopes to become not only member of the Greater Europe, but also a bridge between the East and the West. It will not only maintain its economic cooperation with the West, but also obtain a source of growth from the East. It has to fight against the Western security and political pressures both alone and together with its Eastern partners. Moreover, in order to restore its great power status and push towards the multi-polar world, it also has to rely on the East.
Of course, Russia’s “pivot to the East” will be a very long and tough process. Yet I have great expectations towards its prospects as Russia indeed has unparalleled advantages.
Kissinger’s Nightmare: How an Inverted US-China-Russia May Be Game-Changer
As Matthew Burrows writes, "A successful partnership in Eurasia – boosting its economic prospects by putting in infrastructure and stymieing extremism that threatens authoritarians in Moscow, Beijing and Central Asia – would underline the success of the non-Western model of authoritarian state-centric capitalism. Not just the region, but also Africa and Latin America – where China already has made inroads with its development largesse – are bound to take notice. "
First, the supply of energy and resources is Russia’s traditional strength. Despite the poor performance of international market, yet it doesn’t necessarily indicate no ways out. Second, the personal prestige of politicians, of course, here I mean Putin himself. It is probably hard to witness in the world history, given the country’s crisis, the populace support rate for political leaders remains above 80% in the past three consecutive years. Thirdly, thanks to its status as the second-largest nuclear power, a lot of world affairs should be discussed with Russia. Fourth, in the past ten-odd years, Russia has made remarkable progress in restoring its exports of military technologies. Fifth, as a traditional political power, Russia is far more capable of setting international agendas than average developing countries and emerging economies. Sixth, Russia has a vast space of it’s territory, including the Arctic, the Far East and Siberia, which so far enables it relatively easy to connect to almost every continent. Seventh, Russia’s maneuvering in alliance and partnership has been manifested vividly in the Syrian conflict. Finally, Russia’s traditional cultural superiority endows it with strong attractiveness beyond ideology and cultural differences.
Meanwhile, we should also notice Russia still faces very difficult challenges when it turns to the east.
It’s difficult for Russia to get rid of its economic pattern dependent on energies and resources. Besides, it is also a very long or even painful process for its economic diversification. The special location of Russia as the intersection of the eastern and western civilization brings it both advantages of communication and difficulties in choosing cultural and political identities. The long process of constructing institutions and regulations under traditional influences has made it particularly uneasy for Russia to improve business environment and to fight corruption. In addition, during certain historic stage, the potentials of manufacturing and innovation have yet to be greatly enhanced. Especially as for the imperial heritages, under the historic conditions of the geo-continuity of Russia’s Eurasia continent, unlike the process of decolonization or disintegration for ocean empires which are geographically non-continuous, it is still not easy for Russia to deal with troubles in its neighboring areas.
In short, Russia’s “pivot to the Asia-Pacific” is a significant strategic process for very long time with diverse means of resources, rich reserves of diplomatic experiences, and grand geopolitical ambitions. Moreover, it is expected to be advanced further. If China is well positioned and responds properly, this will be a great chance for its developments; otherwise, China may also miss such a historic opportunity. So far, the “coordination” between the Eurasian Economic Union and the One Belt One Road Initiative on the premise of “Great Eurasian Partnership”, which was emphasized by both China and Russia, should be an important political prerequisite for their future further cooperation. What is urgent and imperative now is to implement this “top-level design” to each specific move and process.
Let China Try
All countries want to live in security and benefit from international cooperation. Even North Korea. But not the so-called Islamic State (banned in Russia), which is why it is not a state at all and will most likely be destroyed. International institutions and rules of the game are created by governments to ensure peace and development. Quite possibly, global affairs have entered a stage of qualitative change.
The reasons why I am still optimistic about Sino-Russian cooperation in the new historic conditions include the following. First, not everyone is happy to see the smooth progress of Sino-Russian relationship. Actually we observe that both the Chinese and the Russians have stood severe tests of maintaining bilateral relations under the very complicated international circumstances in the decades after the Cold War. Second, Sino-Russian cooperation, from the settlement of border issues to the establishment of mutual trust, from the development of trade to the joint-production and researches, has empirically proved the effectiveness of the current path. Third, both China and Russia, after all, are big countries. There are endless space and resources for them to cooperate in. Finally, for Putin, Xi Jinping, and even Trump, if they could gain successive presidency for longer time, it will be a rare political condition for both China and Russia or even the U.S. to establish a mutual relationship based on long-term modernization instead of geopolitical confrontations.
Whether Mr. Trump is a businessman, a popular nationalist, or a traditional Republican, or even a Jacksonist, I think it’s not difficult for him to recognize that the more stable Sino-U.S.-Russian relationship is conducive to achieve his goal of “Making America Great Again”.