China and Russia grow stronger while the US decays
The family photo of the Asia–Pacific (APEC) summit in Beijing this week said it all.
BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping, as host, in the center. To his right, the man representing his best ally, Vladimir Putin from Russia.Both were almost inseparable at every public appearance. The Russian head of state even offered his coat to China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, during the welcoming ceremony, in a move that sparked all kinds of comments.
“It is time to reap the fruits of the tree of friendship,” Xi said during a bilateral meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the APEC summit in which they signed an agreement with the neighboring country to provide 30,000 million more meters cubic of natural gas.
The pact complements the gigantic agreement both signed in May, by which Russia will supply natural gas to northern China worth in a transaction worth 400,000 million dollars over 30 years. That agreement has become the most emblematic result of the commercial and political harmony between the two neighbors.
The links between these two countries have been their motivated ideological affinities, economic convergence and geo-estrategy. But there is a fourth link, a common goal to become the next global power bloc. With the fast decay of the world’s military hegemon -the United States- Russia and especially China are already taking their ‘rightful places’ in the world stage.
But the current relationship is very different from that in which Joseph Stalin insisted in setting the pace against Mao Zedong. Today Beijing is the “big brother” who is in a dominant position.
“Before, China was the weak country and Russia, the former Soviet Union, the strong one. Beijing had to worry about what Moscow did. Now, things are playing in reverse,” says the Chinese commentator and expert on international relations, Feng Gao.
The second world economic power is the main trading partner of Russia, with which the exchange reached 90.000 million dollars in 2013. In the first half of this year that exchange grew by 3.4% over the previous year.
China continues to rise albeit at a slower pace than in recent years, and is in constant search for sources of raw materials, especially in the field of energy. This has prompted Russia to seek multiple partnerships with the Chinese, as it needs new customers to replace its list of partners in the West.
But the link is not merely economic. Xi and Putin have a similar ideological vision.
The two presidents share a nationalist perspective though they are careful to avoid talking about such nationalism in their private meetings. Instead, the Chinese and Russian leaders focus on a leadership model of “strong man” willing to challenge foreign interference.
Both cherish the idea of presenting an alternative to the Western model and the dominance of the US as a great power. Xi often talks about the “Chinese dream” which this week’s APEC summit was extended to; a “dream for Asia–Pacific” – in which his country will play a role in relation to the area. His alliance with Russia will strengthen the country as a regional leader.
The two countries already voted together in the Security Council of the UN, they have strengthened groups like the BRICS, composed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, that languished regional institutions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (OCS), or the almost unknown Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia (CICA). In both, China is the most influential country.
For Gao, the current line is a mere relationship of convenience: “These are two parallel lines that are mutually supportive but that have their own interests.”
You may further deepen the bilateral relationship in areas such as military cooperation and even in the Arctic Ocean “for the exploitation of energy or if someday a navigation path is established.”
But while Russia is considered to be “under pressure” to get even closer to China at the level of its dispute with the West, Beijing “tries to keep a reasonable distance so the relationship continues at the level it is now”.