Putin’s visit to China cannot be a mere formality because it is his first state visit as president of Russia. Politically this visit strengthens and deepens the bilateral format of strategic partnership and cooperation. The change of power is China’s internal affair and has no direct influence on the Russian-Chinese partnership.
interview with Dr. Sergei Luzyanin, First Deputy Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences; head of the Institute’s Center for Strategic Issues of Northeast Asia; head of the Foundation for Oriental Studies; professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University).
What can we expect from Putin’s visit to China? Will it produce any practical agreements, or will it be a more formal event?
Putin’s visit to China cannot be a mere formality because it is his first state visit as president of Russia. Politically this visit strengthens and deepens the bilateral format of strategic partnership and cooperation, as officials say.
As for practical aspects, the two sides discussed their partnership in the field of hydrocarbon production, nuclear energy and electricity generation, to name a few. Today, certain aspects of Russian-Chinese energy cooperation are proceeding smoothly, while there are problems in other areas. A good example in the area of oil and gas is the lack of agreement over the price of Siberian gas. But there have been many successes too.
Agreements and other documents are to be signed as a result of the meeting, which is why the Russian delegation includes representatives of Russian companies, the business community, as well as the relevant ministries and agencies. In general, I believe that Putin’s visit marks the global geopolitical beginning of a new stage of partnership, because there is a reason why the newly-elected Russian president has chosen China to make one of his first foreign visits: China is one of Russia’s top priorities in East Asia and the world.
Can the upcoming power shift in China influence the nature of Putin’s visit and bilateral relations as a whole?
In realistic terms no. The change of power is China’s internal affair and has no direct influence on international relations, in particular on the Russian-Chinese partnership. Like the current fourth generation of Chinese leaders, the next, the fifth generation – future General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping and future Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Li Keqiang – will carry on the country’s foreign policy. The new leaders’ policy regarding Russia will not differ from the policy of their predecessors, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
In this respect, whatever the timing of Putin’s visit – before, during or after the change of government – it will not change the nature of Russian-Chinese declarations and agreements. Despite some minor details on the domestic stage, China’s foreign policy strategy is based wholly on the principle of continuity of power, which is good for stability in bilateral relations.
Does that mean that China will not act similarly to President Obama who avoided making any specific statements on ballistic missile defense before the U.S. presidential elections?
No analogies are possible in this respect, because the U.S. and Chinese systems of political succession are not just different, they are polar opposites. We have no way of knowing what the next U.S. president will be like or what policy he will pursue. That is not the case with China: we have long known who China’s next leader will be. China has a completely different political system and traditions. It can be described as authoritarian, but essentially it is a system where everything is predictable, especially foreign policy strategy regarding Russia, the United States and the European Union.
In view of the territorial disputes between China and several Asian countries, could Russia get drawn into these territorial disputes in Asia?
Russia must not and cannot become involved in other countries’ territorial disputes. They concern only the two countries involved and no one else. The Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Diaoyutai aka Senkaku Islands and the dispute between China and Vietnam concern no one else. Russia still has a territorial dispute with Japan, but it has settled its territorial problems with China in law and in practice. Therefore, Russia’s position in the region is one of absolute non-interference and of fostering the normalizing of relations in the South China Sea.
It is good that Russia and China have settled their territorial dispute. Do they have any differences in interpreting historical events, such as the Russian-Japanese war or the Second World War?
No, I don’t recall any differences in this area. The established opinion is that China was a legal and equal member of the Allies who contributed to the defeat of Imperial Japan, which signified the end of World War II. China suffered more than any of the other Asian countries from Japan, especially in terms of civilian casualties. Over 200,000 people were killed during the Nanking Massacre alone, and that is only one such episode from that war, of which sadly there are many more.
This issue has an unexpected side to it. Although Chiang Kai-shek ruled China and the Communist Party was in opposition in 1945, the current Chinese leaders take good care of Soviet WWII graves and also the Russian cemeteries of Port Arthur, which currently incorporates Dalian, a major battlefield of the Russian-Japanese war in 1904. In other words, there have been positive cultural and historical trends, such as the renovation of cemeteries and cultural monuments. In general, the Chinese respect the memory of fallen Soviet soldiers.
There can be debates over historical issues, and the interpretations of Russian and Chinese experts may differ in some cases. This is normal, provided scientific and expert debates do not take on a political dimension.