What is the ‘New Era’ of the Sino-Russian Relationship?

For a long time, Western commentators did not take the close relationship between Russia and China seriously, because conventional wisdom held that the foundation of this link is fragile. Russia has its “Eurasian complex,” which is considered ephemeral and opportunistic, whereas in China there has been a strong distrust of Russia since the 1949 Communist revolution, as typified by the Mao-Stalin alienation. Today, such analytical logic can no longer hold water.

President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia took place amid the dawn of a “new era” of comprehensive strategic cooperation in the bilateral relationship. What is this “new era”? According to an official joint declaration, it includes the need for defending multilateralism, the world trade system, the authority of the United Nations and the sovereign rights of nations. More interestingly, for the first time, both sides have decided to collaborate in a wide range of areas, not only with respect to trade and investment, but also by jointly engaging in technological development, especially with respect to information technology, with the clear objective of breaking the longstanding US monopoly over this sphere.

The “new era” also reflects fundamental changes in the international system, triggered by the “America First” strategy of President Trump.

The deepening of Sino-Russian cooperation comes at the right moment, in light of the current full-scale trade war President Donald Trump has launched against China. In a way, the concept of a “new era” is a call for restoring some key values embodied in the “old” system. Blaming others for one’s own problems is nothing new, and modern politicians are as likely to shift blame to a foreign enemy as ancient rulers were. It is an effective tool of political distraction. The typical methods include promoting half-truths, promoting inaccurate data and fabricating stories. Adolf Hitler used this tactic successfully to rally popular support – by blaming the Treaty of Versailles for all Germany’s internal problems. The irony is that Hitler at least attacked an “unequal” treaty imposed on Germany by foreign powers, whereas Donald Trump blames the Bretton Woods System, which is a quintessential US creation.

The real question is whether or not this blame game will work for Trump in domestic US politics. The answer will depend on whether Trump’s diagnosis of the American economic problem is valid.

The anti-China “Dragon Slayer Camp” is led by lunatic economists such as Peter Navarro and some extremist national security hawks. Navarro, now an advisor to Trump on trade, has long been propagating the theme that the United States has traded away its superiority to China for short-term economic gains. This accusation is absurd.

The Global Economic Reshuffle: USA, China and Russia
Andrei Tsygankov
The trade conflict between the United States and China is especially important from the standpoint of on-going global geo-economic changes. In the event that the conflict is resolved in the near future, the underlying motives driving the standoff will remain, and continue to influence the nature of the relationship between the two most important economic powers in the world.

The other camp, the “Panda Huggers”, did have some fantasies about China, such as a “convergence” theory, believing that the two systems (China and the West) will eventually synchronise; this has not taken place since China opened up its economy four decades ago. However, the “huggers” are at least historically and cultural sensitive to China’s experience of national humiliation, thus China should be seen as “a particular type of rising power that has real security concerns based on recent history".

With Russia, the Trump administration has not only scrapped most of the arms control deals, but also identifies Moscow as a leading rival. The US national security team, led by ideological hawks such as Mike Pence and Michael Pompeo, tried hard to revive the early Cold War policy of strategic containment. This was based on two ideas: regime change for authoritarian states, and the doctrine of pre-emption: preparing for war with Russia and China before it takes place (which they contend is unavoidable).

US-China: Truman Doctrine in Action
Alan W. Cafruny
Vice President Mike Pence’s extraordinarily aggressive speech to the Hudson Institute in Washington last week was clearly aimed at the president’s Republican base.  The November mid-term elections could result in a Democratic majority in the House or, less probably, the Senate with potentially dire legal and political consequences for Trump and his presidency.  Amplifying Trump’s accusations against China at the U.N. Security Council in September, Pence claimed—without providing much concrete evidence-- that Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections “pales in comparison” to China’s ”whole of government” activities designed to influence American elections and public opinion.  Thus Pence designated China as the most serious threat to the United States, but U.S. policy towards Russia is unlikely to change.

Under these circumstances, the Sino-Russia collaboration on the global stage now becomes the only powerful constraint on the dangerous trend of American unilateralism. The good news is that the Trump strategy of America First has created huge problem for Transatlantic relations as well. If we consider the West to now effectively be split into two, between a jingoist new Rome and a peace-loving new Greece, support for the Sino-Russian position in the world order is bound to rise. Donald Trump dislikes almost everything the EU represents. Now that the Trump trade war is running into difficulties, realism seems to have found a great opportunity to creep back into policy-making. The new era of Sino-Russian relations coincides with the rapid decline of America’s global standing, now that Washington has squandered a reservoir of international good will and soft power which it had built for over seven decades.
SPIEF-2019 as the Moment of Truth for Russia and China (and not Only Them)
Viktor Sumsky
Why not come up with a thesis about a New Union, forged in response to the existential challenges that Russia, China and the world as a whole are encountering at the beginning of the 21st century?
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.