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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Russia and China

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Vladimir Putin, the Russian super strongman, flew into New Delhi for a few hours in December 2021 (his first bilateral trip outside Russia since the virus apart from a June 2021 Geneva meeting with Joe Biden) for a Summit with the Indian Prime Minister

He is not going to China but will have a virtual Summit with Xi in a couple of days

Xi PingPong will not go to Russia, he has not left China in two years

Trust can be a fragile thing, but it is the foundation on which all relationships are built

Trust starts with truth and ends with falsehood

No one trusts China. Even the Chinese people are losing trust in the Communist Party, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer

An apocalyptic Russian film “China – a Deadly Friend” (in the series “Russia Deceived”) became an instant internet hit after its release in 2015

In the film, we are told that China is preparing to invade the Russian Far East in its quest for global dominance and that Chinese tanks could reach the centre of the city of Khabarovsk the region’s administrative capital within 30 minutes

“We do not want face masks made from used Chinee underwear”, a senior Russian academic told me, in what has now become a metaphor for China’s greed and unreliability

In 1972, a fellow called Richard Nixon, with an eye on the forthcoming American Presidential Election and to distract domestic attention from America’s internal turmoil as the Vietnam war was unwinnable and anti-war demonstrations on campuses were gaining traction, went to China, seeking a foreign policy success

The history of the world changed, and the USA used China to hasten the demise of its principal adversary

The proud Russians, considerably weakened after the dissolution of the USSR, saw their noses being ground into the dust

Following the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, we-are-the-world America was the go-to physician, teacher, preacher, lifesaver, policeman for the world

American triumphalism was indigestible, even to the Chinese who felt they might be next, and since communism was a bad word, they began to talk about socialism with Chinese characteristics

The Soviet collapse did not end happily. Although many commentators marveled at its peaceful dissolution, the meltdown brought great uncertainty, ethnic strife, economic deprivation, poverty, and crime for many of the successor states, and in particular for Russia that had to rebuild itself upon the ruins of the defunct socialist project

In the decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia looked firmly westwards, even thinking that it might be let into NATO, only to experience its economy ravaged by oligarchs and their western patrons

As Russia struggled to reinvent itself as a capitalist democracy, China studied the experience of Soviet reforms (Deng Xiaoping derided it as a polar bear) so as to steer clear of the “tracks of the overturned cart”

Russia’s agony was closely scrutinized from across the border, in China

By the turn of the millennium, Russia was destitute, feeling betrayed and isolated

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought NATO dangerously close to Russia’s borders, as did the incorporation of several former Communist states

In 2000, Vladimir Putin wrote that Russia always felt itself to be a Eurasian country with the main part of its territory in Asia. The time had therefore come for a pivot to Asia

With Russia humiliated by a triumphant West, it is not surprising that in his 2005 address to the nation, Vladimir Putin said that the demise of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century..(and) for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy…(with) the epidemic of collapse spilling over to Russia itself,” referring to separatist movements such as those in Chechnya

He was preoccupied with preserving the unity of the Russian Federation

American triumphalism was indigestible

As Russia turned its gaze to the East, it saw China, flush with funds and flexing its till then puny muscles, yearning to join the mega league by upgrading its weaponry

Russia’s formidable military-industrial complex desperately clutched at straws, so China charged to the rescue, investing billions in the struggling Russian economy while upgrading its own second-generation armaments to the fourth with Russian technology

What began as military cooperation, widened quickly into energy and other sectors

Yet, decades of mutual suspicion are not easy to overcome

China choked over the 2020 commemoration of the 160th anniversary of Vladivostok, annexed by Russia in 1860 after China lost the Second Opium War

There are territorial strains over outer Manchuria, that China covets owing to its water shortage

Russia agreed to sell arms to India shortly after the India-China border clash in mid-2020, and has delivered S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, that India has accepted despite US objections

At their meeting in May 2021, the American Secretary of State told his Russian counterpart that they were prepared to cooperate for a safer world but would defend their interests

Concerned, in May 2021, China’s top diplomat who heads the Party central committee for foreign affairs rushed to Moscow for three days for security and strategic consultations to ensure that the partnership remains on an even keel even as Russia wants to recover its place at the preeminence table

The visit came days after Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of China and Russia, attended the video-link launch of a nuclear energy project, signed in 2018, for Russia to help China build four nuclear reactors, to reduce China’s dependence on fossil fuels

Reiterating comments by his Foreign Minister, Putin said that ties between the neighbours, had reached “the best level in history”

Nice sentiments, but memories are long

When the Presidents of USA and Russia met in Geneva in mid-June and agreed to work together, China was perturbed

There is not too much love lost between Russia and China

The Soviets considered Mao Zhedong as the “Great Han Chauvinist” but are hesitant to refer to Xi Jinping in the same terms even though it would be more befitting

His “China Dream”, though presented as aimed at the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” if  read between the lines means an appeal to Han nationalism

This is the most emotive appeal invoked at every stage in China’s history to cope with the sense of insecurity and inferiority vis a vis the foreigner and the West

In the Han dynasty and later, it was used to expand territory in Central Asia, Tibet, Mongolia and possibly invasions of Korea and Vietnam

Josef Stalin had resolutely opposed China’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, considering it a backward country

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping will find it difficult to recapture the spirit exhibited in 2015 when they stood together in Red Square and then in Tiananmen to proclaim shared support for a world order they insisted was established after the Second World War

But China’s relatively rapid bounce back from the low point of 1989 revived the prospects of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening just as Gorbachev’s demise pointed to the pitfalls of the road of political reform

Has great wealth translated into a renewed sense of security for China?

If the mighty USSR crashed so suddenly and unexpectedly despite all appearances and in defiance of most predictions, could not the same thing happen to China, which shares some of the Soviet DNA?

It was not the denial of socialism that undermined the USSR; it was instead the denial of economic realities by the Soviet leaders that brought their country to the brink of disaster by the mid-1980s

Gorbachev, with poorly thought-out policies, brought it over the edge

Troubled by historical analogies but determined not to repeat the sad history of Soviet demise, Xi Jinping trudges on down that familiar road of repression, surveillance, and indoctrination, a road littered with overturned carts.

Russia and China -

Author:

Deepak Vohra

Ambassador Dr. Deepak Vohra, Made in India,
Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau,
Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil, Gauri Sadan, 5 Hailey Road, New Delhi 110001.

 

I am not Indian because I live in India, I am Indian because India lives in me!

They said: Hide from the storm; I replied: I am the storm  

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