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DIFFERENT OPINIONS

The opinions expressed by the authors of the articles in this section are for discussion purposes only and may not coincide with the position of the Russian Government and the Embassy

29.05.2014

It’s not just about gas: why China needs Russia (by Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy)

In a pre-election article published a little over two years ago, Vladimir Putin wrote that Russia wanted to harness the Chinese wind for its sails of development. Every sailor knows that in stormy weather, and the world is a stormy place today, controlling a sailing ship is incredibly difficult. But by working skilfully there is a chance of inching one's goal much faster.

Vladimir Putin’s visit to China did not disappoint. With the background of a crisis in relations between Russia and the US, the trip has been interpreted as a search by Moscow for new strong partners. Russia long ago started talking about turning to Asia and the conflict over Ukraine has served as a catalyst. But the view that Moscow really needs this rapprochement and Beijing is only allowing Russia to come closer to use that country's resources, is a simplification at best. China, no less than Russia, is interested in strengthening the foundation of its policy.

China is concerned about world events; the Arab Spring was a wake-up call. In Beijing, this was seen as a dangerous example of how powerful external fortes take advantage of the inability of states to ensure sustainable internal development: especially coming as Washington announced its new policy in Asia. Despite overturn to China, it was obvious that this policy was intended to restrain Beijing.

Territorial disputes between China and its neighbours had been in a relatively dormant state but suddenly came alive, not only at a local level. During Putin’s visit to Shanghai, China's relations with Vietnam worsened - leading to the evacuation of Chinese citizens. Relations with Japan and the Philippines also became strained. On a recent trip to the Pacific, Barack Obama let it be known that in these territorial disputes the US was prepared to support its allies with all its resources.

To this should be added the heated debate about the development model being pursued by China. The economy is slowing while continuous fast growth is considered the key to the stability of the political system and the power of the Communist Party. The third plenary session of the central committee of the CPC, held at the end of last year, acknowledged many internal problems. These were partly due to the overheating of the economy after more than three decades of constant growth and partly because a large part of society is lagging behind.

As soon as President XI Jinping came to power in 2012, he emphasized his desire to bring relation with Russia to a new level. Beijing is, of course, approaching the Ukraine crisis with caution. China, which has its own crisis with internal separatism, is very nervous when it comes to any changes of borders. So Moscow should not count on direct support from Beijing. At the same time, China stressed that it understood the causes of the current situation and the fact that Russia’s actions were a response to long-standing US policy in post-Soviet space. The Chinese do not want a confrontation with Washington to weaken Russia, as this would strengthen America. The US is perceived in Beijing as an inevitable strategic competitor in the near future.

So, what are the specific motives for China's rapprochement with Russia? First, it is a question of a global strategic balance. China sees its place in the world and the Capabilities of other partners through the superpowers triangle: China, the US and Russia. The significance of each depends on its relationship with the others. And China believes one that loses touch with one of the other two is weaker and more dependent on the third.

Second, there is the regional security. Pressure on Beijing from the US will continue to grow, as China's neighbours feel increasingly insecure against the rising power of the Celestial Empire. Russia is the only country that borders China (along with the countries of Central Asia), with which China has no territorial disputes. The most important thing for China is to gain Russia's support in these conflicts. This is unlikely - as Moscow will try to keep neutral on these issues, but Russia will not support the opposing sides.

Third, we have the reliable power supply. China has traditionally relied on global markets but, given the overall growth of tensions in world and the region. Beijing is forced to think about the military-political component. Russia is the only source of raw materials, the supply of which, in case of serious deterioration of relations, cannot be blocked by the US Navy. Today, such a scenario seems unlikely but contemporary history has repeatedly demonstrated that anything is possible.

Fourth, is the problem of global governance. The Ukrainian crisis has had an unexpected consequence. To put pressure on Russia, the US used its political leverage to intervene in the global markets. Russian banks were ex-eluded from the international payment systems, rating agencies were manipulated, and pressure was put on international financial institutions. China has paid close attention to this - such measures may be applied against any country in a conflict with America. So China, like Russia, is interested in weakening the American monopoly in global economic affairs.

Fifth, we have the new stimuli to development. China, like any expert-orientated country, is constantly seeking new markets. Russia, until recently, has been reluctant to accept massive Chinese investment for fear of worsening the economic imbalance between the countries. Political rapprochement promotes such con-tacts.as was seen during Vladimir Putin's visit. The Russian-Chinese partnership is not going to be a cakewalk. These two giant neighbours with rich imperial traditions are doomed to eventual friction and development of divergent interests. But this is natural. The key point is not the absence of conflicts but the ability to resolve them Russia must to learn to compensate for its relative economic weakness with political skills and experience. In this area, Moscow is far ahead of Beijing.




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