Sino-Russian stable relations

Updated: 2013-01-07 07:42

By Victor Larin (China Daily)

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I would like to evaluate the relations between Russia and China in 2012 in the context of the last 10 years and their projection into the future, as well as looking at them through the prism of global problems, on the one hand, and the interests of Russia, on the other.

Sino-Russian bilateral interaction has two solid foundations: The first is the relationship in the sphere of "high politics", that is between the heads of state and top-level officials. The second is cross-border and inter-regional relations.

For two decades the relationship based on the foundation of high politics has continually demonstrated a very high political standard, sometimes to the detriment of practical results. It was a sign of the strength of this foundation that Vladimir Putin visited China soon after he was re-elected as Russian president.

Since the 1990s, Russia and China have successfully coordinated their approaches to key issues concerning the modern world order and major international issues. Russia and China have repeatedly demonstrated that they have similar approaches to addressing the key issues concerning the world order and major international problems, as well as the ability to defend their interests. The two countries hold the same or similar positions on global issues such as the UN Security Council reform, global economic governance, climate change, food security and energy security and addressing regional hot-spot issues including the tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear issue, Syria and Afghanistan.

Although the "new security architecture", proclaimed by both sides in September 2010, might look fairly abstract to others, it could become a very strong pillar of Russia-China relations in the coming decades. "The higher the level of cooperation between our countries, the calmer our region is," said Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, during a meeting of an intergovernmental commission on military cooperation. I totally agree with him. In the extreme instability of the modern world, we all see what is happening in Europe, Africa, South Asia and even North America, stable and strategic relations between Russia and China have a special value. They are important not only for our two countries but also to the world.

Experts like to discuss the potential contradictions between Russia and China in Central Asia, but it is clear to me that their common desire is to prevent the United States strengthening its influence in the region, as well as the spread of radical Islam, and this far outweighs the potential for conflict between them.

As for Russia, the "China threat" well-marked in shaping Moscow's policy toward China and bilateral relations, disappears when it comes to international affairs. In the international arena China is a close friend and partner, at least up until now, especially in the face of, if not a common enemy, a shared aggravator, the US' desire to dominate forever and everywhere. That is the basic approach of the US' policies, which go against the interests of China and Russia.

The second foundation of Russia-China cooperation, cross-border and inter-regional relations, have little to do with interstate cooperation at the highest level, but are fueled by the vital interests of the people and businessmen living on both sides of very long border between the two countries.

I think it would be wrong to assess Sino-Russian relations on the basis of economic results only. Although economic relations are certainly important, especially for Russia, they are not the major issue. The major issue for Russia and China today is a peaceful and secure common border, peace and stability in the border regions - the Korean Peninsula and Central Asia - and the development of the peripheral border areas.

The current economic potential of Russia does not permit a fast growth in trade and the development of industrial cooperation. What is important now, is to create a favorable legal, political and psychological environment for bilateral relations. We must abandon the pursuit of trade growth figures as almost the sole criterion for the successful development of relations. Nobody sets targets for the assessment of economic relations between China and the US or Japan, yet they are prospering.

Effective cooperation between the two countries can occur in the areas where their national interests coincide - global, regional and national security, regional stability and the development of adjacent areas - not in ephemeral illusions and desires. Pragmatism should be the basis for this cooperation. In the near future if China is faced with some serious challenges, a friendly Russia will help China to stand up to them. Russia, in turn, can secure the security of its eastern borders only with the friendly relations with China, and it needs its consumer, commodity and labor markets.

So the emphasis should be on political and cultural relations, rather than trade growth in order to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding.

While the leaders of the two countries demonstrate a high level of political trust between them, the idea of deep political confidence between two countries and peoples still does not have either a strong administrative and political framework nor broad support among the Russian and Chinese bureaucracies and populations. Distrust to Beijing itself and its policies in particular are deeply rooted among the Russian political and business elite as well as ordinary people. The idea of a "China threat" is alive. Horror stories about the future of Chinese expansion in Russia are rampant on the Russian Internet and work against strengthening ties. Moreover, Russia still lacks a deep understanding of the role and place of China in its vague plans and amorphous strategies.

Attempts to compare the relationship between China and the US and Russia and the US to Russia and China are counterproductive. All three have their own history, their own specificity, contradictions and future. Although one thing they probably do have in common is their pragmatism. The difference is that mercantile economic interests dominate Sino-US relations, while common national security problems and a similar vision of the present and future world order are the cornerstone of relations between Russia and China.

The contradictions certainly exist. Contradictions, differences in interests, different visions of the issues and problems necessarily present in relations between states. Those who say they do not see any are either hypocrites or excessively naive. Unfortunately, there are serious historical and cultural reasons for strategic mistrust between the two nations. They are considerably more serious than the Chinese migration to Russia, which is still a lot of talk, but which, by and large, is not a significant problem today for Russia. Very deep cultural differences and ways of thinking, as well as historical memories are among the reasons for mistrust. There is no need to turn a blind eye to them, we must accept them, take them into account and seek to overcome them.

I do not anticipate any drastic change in bilateral relations. I'm waiting only for Russia to finally prepare itself to reap the benefits and meet the challenges of China's rise and so most effectively use China's rise in its own interests without compromising the interests of China itself.

State support is needed to create large breakthrough projects, primarily in the area of the Northeast China and Pacific Russia. For example, the construction of high-speed rail lines between Harbin and Ussuriysk and Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, where Ussuriysk will be a pairing point.

Democracy and human rights are of great value, but they cannot be imposed by force on the rest of the world, especially when the West is trying to force its own interpretation of them on others. Especially when the West repeatedly demonstrates a lot of flaws and problems in its own manifestation of this interpretation.

The author is director of Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

(China Daily 01/07/2013 page9)