Think Tank
To Unite, but Not to Merge: Russian-Chinese Relations in the Face of Western Hegemonism
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On December 17, the Valdai Club, in partnership with the Centre for the Study of Russia at East China Normal University’s Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, held an expert discussion, titled “World Structure and the Interaction of the Leading Powers”, on the crumbling of international order and the challenges it poses for Russian and Chinese interests. The discussion was moderated by Andrey Sushentsov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club.

Feng Shaolei, Director of the Centre for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, stressed that Russian-Chinese cooperation is in fact a comprehensive strategic partnership and is aimed at supporting world peace and promoting universal human values. He considers it important to formulate a common concept of Russian-Chinese interaction for the next decade, setting joint strategic goals. The world must be made more just, and joint efforts must be made to urge the United States to abide by the rules of the world order, he said.

Xing Guangcheng, Director of the APS Centre for Geography and the History of Chinese Border Territories, noted in his speech that, despite the fact that the world is constantly changing, in some basic things, such as the structure of the world order itself, it remains unchanged. In particular, while the influence of Russia, China and India is growing, the United States continues to play an important role in the world. The question is whether Washington is ready to accept the ongoing changes and how exactly it will interact with the powers that are entering the world arena. So far, Washington is actively using the old hegemonic instruments of the Cold War, which are poorly suited to the new conditions. China, in turn, according to Xing Guangcheng, seeks to stimulate economic globalisation and aims not to take the position of the world hegemon instead of America, but to become one of the centres of a multilateral world.

Wu Dahui, Deputy Director of the Institute for Russian Studies at Tsinghua University, pointed out that in the modern world, many countries are guided primarily by their own interests, which makes struggle and confrontation objectively inevitable. Over time, conflicts become more frequent, and their intensity also increases. At the moment, the main lines of tension between the major players are the United States – Russia (in Ukraine and the Black Sea basin) and the United States – China (in the Asia-Pacific region). “It is necessary to strive for agreement, to conduct negotiations on security. Forming an alliance between Russia and China can strengthen the strategic balance,” he concluded.

Andrei Baklitskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Advanced American Studies of the Institute for International Studies, MGIMO, spoke about the situation in the Asia-Pacific region. According to him, the confrontation between China and the United States is likely to be protracted and neither its course nor its outcome can be predicted. An important role in this confrontation is played by the military component, primarily associated with the changing balance of power in Asia-Pacific in favour of China. This has prompted the US to try to rebalance the situation in its own favour by creating new blocs such as AUKUS and the Quad. In addition to the regional element of confrontation, an extra-regional one is developing – Washington is striving to attract its NATO allies to the region. China, for its part, is actively developing cooperation with Russia, but at the same time Russia is not its formal military ally. The containment of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region fully meets Russian interests, but the most promising model for Russia would be a model of China-friendly neutrality.

According to Zhang Xin, Deputy Director of the Centre for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, one cannot say that Russia and China are dissatisfied with the existing system or deny the post-1991 world order. The problems which exist are caused by the unconstructive, hegemonic position of the United States and its allies, in particular, their abuse of their influence in the WTO and their imposition of certain forms of the climate agenda. Developing countries are pushing for freer trade rules, but this is met with strong opposition from the old powers, he argued. Controversies also arise over security issues. “International relations should be more equal, more honest and open,” he said, adding that in relations between Russia and China, it makes sense to follow the principle formulated by Confucius – “to unite, but not to merge into a single whole.”