Russia resets with U.S., sprints with China

Discussion in 'China' started by ajtr, Oct 11, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Russia resets with U.S., sprints with China

    M.K. Bhadrakumar
    The Kremlin seems to factor in that a strong relationship with China can only strengthen its leverage as an emerging power during negotiations with the U.S. and the West.
    The downstream of a big-power summit can sometimes prove more exciting than the summit itself.
    No sooner the Sino-Russian summit (September 26-28) ended in Beijing than Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's jet landed in Petropavolosk-Kamchatsky, an incredibly ethereal city at the end of the world perched on high hills surrounded by volcanoes as far as eyes could see. But he was not enjoying the scenery. It was a mere stopover, as due to bad weather Mr. Medvedev couldn't proceed to Yuzhno-Kurilsk, the disputed island that Tokyo claims as its territory. And then, no sooner than he was back in the Kremlin, Mr. Medvedev received a phone call from United States President Barack Obama — to inform him personally that Washington was satisfied with Russia's credentials to be admitted as a member of the World Trade Organisation, the mainstream of world trade from where Moscow was kept out by the West through the Cold War era.

    The two disconnected occurrences actually formed sequels to the Sino-Russian summit. Mr. Medvedev's decision to visit the Kurile Islands comes in the wake of Japan's acrimonious row with China over territorial disputes. Tokyo, unsurprisingly, went ballistic. Prime Minister Naoto Kan promptly reminded Russia that the Kuriles form an integral part of Japan. Tokyo made a diplomatic demarche. Foreign Minister Seiji Meihara warned of “serious obstacles” for Japan-Russia relations. Yet, Moscow's body language has been explicit — it gently drew attention to its disapproval of Japan's belligerence vis-à-vis China over the disputed East China Sea. While in China, Mr. Medvedev celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Soviet-Chinese alliance in the war against Japan (1936-45) and used strong language to convey Russia's solidarity — “Friendship with China is Russia's strategic choice, it's a choice that was sealed by blood years ago”; “The friendship between the Russian and the Chinese peoples, cemented by the military events, will be indestructible and will do good for our future generations.”

    Moscow knows that behind Japan stands the U.S. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an article in China's Renmin Ribao timed to coincide with Mr. Medvedev's visit to China criticised that “blocs,” a legacy of the Cold War era, still exist in the Asia-Pacific and they are a “threat to national security and a source of dividing lines, mutual distrust and suspicion.” He singled out for criticism the U.S. plans to deploy missile defence systems (ABM) in Japan. Moscow analysts have warned that the ABM poses a threat to both Russia and China. Russia's response to what strategists nowadays call the U.S.' “return to Asia” is non-confrontational but it has also unequivocally said that the American strategy to form a coalition of the willing, “like-minded” Asian countries under Washington's leadership reflects negative thinking.

    As a detailed critique of the U.S.' Asia-Pacific enterprise, Mr. Lavrov's article merits attention in New Delhi. Besides, Mr. Medvedev's China visit underscored several templates, which have a bearing on the trajectory of the trilateral format known as “RIC” — Russia, India and China. First, for Russia, it is not a question of “either, or”. It will apply itself diligently to the reset with the U.S., but will not allow the strategic partnership with China to be eroded either. The pro-U.S. lobbies in Moscow never tire of dwelling on a “Yellow peril” to Russia in the medium and long term. But the Kremlin, which is immensely experienced in managing the ties with Washington, seems to factor in that a strong relationship with China can only strengthen its leverage as an emerging power during negotiations with the U.S. and the West.

    The Russian diplomacy is meeting with extraordinary success in dovetailing the country's strategic partnership with China with its core national interests in the strategic, political and economic fields, despite the fact that Russia is cognisant of the great ambivalences in China's rise. Mr. Medvedev candidly told the People's Daily that the Russian foreign policy was based on pragmatism aimed at promoting its national interests and galvanising its multi-directional diplomacy. The Russian approach holds serious lessons for India's approach toward its normalisation with China.

    Energy cooperation was the leitmotif of the Sino-Russian summit. Russia has finally taken the plunge to explore the frontiers of energy cooperation — the world's number one oil producer combining with the world's biggest energy consumer. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin put it succinctly: “There are practically no limits to the growth of gas consumption in China. Russia has enough gas for the development of the Chinese economy.” The past two decades' American attempts to diversify the West's energy imports from Russia so as to deprive Moscow the “geopolitical tool” to influence western policies is proving futile. On the contrary, the spectre that haunts the West is of Russia dramatically diversifying its own energy exports in terms that creates competition for the West from China. Similarly, Russia is making itself an “indispensible” partner for China. It will be supplying 300 million tonnes of oil through pipelines over a 20-year period starting 2011. The two planned gas pipelines are expected to transport 30 billion cubic metres of gas to China. On its part, China is allowing Russian oil companies to enter its highly lucrative energy retail market.

    The alacrity with which Mr. Obama called up the Kremlin and waved the green flag for Russia's admission to WTO after years of dilly-dallying speaks of the urgency felt in Washington to give more bite to the reset with Russia. The NATO has invited Mr. Medvedev to attend its summit in Lisbon in November, and France is hosting a tripartite summit with Germany and Russia in October. However, the desert landscape of Russia's ties with the West is littered with bleached bones of carcasses that were fond hopes. So, Russia also pursues its ties with China in the defence sector. Mr. Lavrov said in Beijing that the two countries are discussing “very serious long-term projects” and “results will soon be known.” Significantly, he added: “We [Russia and China] have no doubt that military-technical cooperation is one of the most important areas of our strategic collaboration and partnership ... I'll repeat: the plans are quite extensive in this field.”

    Four, Russia is opening the doors for large-scale Chinese investments for developing its backward far-east regions and in high-tech projects. An influential Moscow commentator wrote: “For America, China is an obvious strategic rival ... But growing economic dependence is causing these two rivals to tread cautiously and in a responsible manner. This is the kind of effect that we [Russia] should have pressed for in Russian-Chinese relations, because similar world views are a less substantive matter than factories or containers travelling across the oceans ... The bottom line is: we will deepen political relations through the economy ... The key objective of Russian policy now is the country's innovative modernisation ... The efforts that China is making to develop its own intellectual property base are tremendous, and in general the focus of global innovation is now shifting to Asia which, of course, includes China. Strategically, Russia has to draw new conclusions.”

    Indeed, Moscow has no illusions that just as for Russia, for Beijing, too, China's relationship with the U.S. will remain a top foreign policy priority. Even as Mr. Medvedev received the phone call from Mr. Obama, the official China Daily featured a commentary proposing that stalled Sino-American military ties “be brought back on track for the better development of bilateral relations as well as world peace. Neither government is taking the other as enemy and neither wants a military confrontation. Sino-U.S. relations should be based on mutually assured dependence.” Indeed, Moscow, too, has since announced that it expects to sign a binding accord with NATO on “mutual military restraint” and that it will give serious consideration to the alliance's proposal for a joint missile defence system.

    But the bedrock of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership is the sensitivity that each side shows to the other's core concerns and vital interests. Russia has strongly supported China on the Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang issues and has shown its displeasure against Japan. At a joint press conference with Mr. Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao acknowledged this by saying “China and Russia will maintain international peace and stability and promote the overall recovery, health and stable development of the world economy.” Mr. Hu called for a deepening of the bilateral mechanism of “strategic security negotiations while supporting each other on issues concerning their core interests.”

    Finally, their notions regarding “multipolarity” or “polycentrism” of the global system, a “democratised” world order or revamped international financial system, etc., truly reflect the two countries' long-term strategies. In sum, they have become acutely conscious of their shared interests. This is where the trilateral format, RIC, has some catching up to do. The new thinking in New Delhi creatively manifest on many fronts of foreign policy in the recent period should also pay attention to the raison d'etre of the RIC in the regional and international environment.

    (The writer is a former diplomat.)

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