- The Sino-Russian Challenge to the World Order: National Identities, Bilateral Relations, and East versus West in the 2010s by Gilbert Rozman
Growing cooperation between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation in recent years has been closely followed by several media and academic communities around the world. In light of the difficulties in the South China Sea and southeastern Ukraine, both countries have more than once been labeled "revisionist states," and their increased cooperation has been viewed as a step toward a strategic and formal partnership, which could potentially endanger international stability. Yet, others argue that the Sino-Russian cooperation is purely for economic benefit, with Russia being overly dependent on China's financial superiority and leadership with little to offer in return. Beijing's efforts to boost ties with Moscow are, then, recognized as a sign of China's increasing hegemonic aspirations, both regionally and internationally. To support these claims, the history of their bilateral relationship (e.g., the Sino-Soviet split of the 1950s and 1960s) is set as a point of reference and example to prove that, whatever the form [End Page 62] and direction of their "superficial partnership" might be, it is more "convenient than strategic."1
Gilbert Rozman's The Sino-Russian Challenge to the World Order is a timely monograph that challenges this wearisome narrative. As the current Emeritus Musgrave Professor in Sociology at Princeton University, Rozman has published widely in the field of history and regional diplomacy in Northeast Asia with a focus on the historical interstate relations between China, Russia, Japan, and both Koreas during the past two centuries. The Sino-Russian Challenge specifically forms the last part in a trilogy that aims at evaluating China's evolving national identity and its foreign policy in the past century.2 As in the previous two publications, Rozman seeks to understand the foundational propulsions of China's conduct during the twentieth century by comparing the evolution of its domestic society and foreign policy to that of its neighbors in East Asia. With this publication, the Soviet Union/Russia forms the last comparison with China because both have experienced the transformative impact of communism on their national identity, which still impacts their legacies. Rozman does not only highlight the continuity of China's and Russia's communist pasts on their current conduct within the contemporary community; he also moves toward a deeper understanding of the nature and development of Sino-Soviet and Sino-Russian relations, leaving the abstract story of economic benefits and crude national interests behind. The Sino-Russian Challenge is a welcome book for any experienced and knowledgeable scholar; it will surely be appreciated by academic scholars, interested professionals, and general audiences.
Rozman mainly argues that, while the communist experience of China and the Soviet Union/Russia had a deep impact on their centuries-old societies at times of transition, it was even more adept at transforming, re-creating, and extending existing elements of previous established self-perceptions and views of the outside world. At the same time, however, this transformative force has not faded away after significant reorientations during the last two decades of the twentieth century. To be more specific, the current national identities of both states are more indebted to the legacy of communism than previously assumed. Rozman holds that the legacy of communism in practice did not simply vanish and create a political tabula rasa after reform in the late 1970s (in the case of China) and after 1991 (in the case of the Soviet Union). Rather, certain elements of communist identity have survived the collapse of communist states and keep impacting the international behavior of China and Russia in present times. Therefore, the main aim is to explain how the communist legacy prevailed in a post–Cold War environment and how it influences the bilateral relationship between Beijing and Moscow at present (p. 10).
This leads the author to maintain...