- A Russian Perspective on the Sino-Russian Rapprochement
A rapprochement between Russia and China is clearly taking place today. Yet as cooperation between Moscow and Beijing has increased in recent years, significant differences have emerged between how Russian and Chinese pundits view the relationship and its prospects, on the one hand, and how observers outside the two countries perceive it, on the other.
Most U.S. and European experts who come to Moscow to study Russian policy toward China are convinced that Russians should be wary of China as posing an imminent threat. They speak of the risk of economic dependence, the threat of demographic expansion, and even a potential military threat resulting from China’s increased defense spending and modernization of its army. When I point out that what they refer to as “economic domination” in the case of China’s trade with Russia they call “investment and increased trade” in the case of relationships between other countries, that statistics indicate a nearly complete lack of Chinese migration to Russia, and that Canada, for example, does not consider the U.S. Army a threat because the two neighboring countries share very similar approaches to the outside world and have no intention of fighting, my Western colleagues greet me with surprise and even frank incomprehension.
This essay argues that the Sino-Russian rapprochement is a natural result of broader changes taking place in world politics, while the U.S. policy hostile to both countries has had the effect of accelerating that process. It analyzes the causes of this rapprochement, outlines the growing shared interests between Russia and China, and discusses possible changes in U.S. relations with both countries under the Trump administration.
The Causes of Sino-Russian Rapprochement
The dominance of “democratism” has caused the West, at least since the presidency of Bill Clinton, to pursue a course that is anathema to the approach of the traditional “realists”—Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and even Zbigniew Brzezinski—who attempted to exploit tensions between China and the Soviet Union and use one against the other. Today, democratism makes such an approach impossible because it refuses to [End Page 19] encourage the authoritarian regime of either country. The adherents of this ideology generally support U.S. and European Union policy aimed at pressuring both China and Russia toward greater democratization and forcing them to abandon measures that hinder the United States and its allies from pushing this agenda. That naturally prompts Moscow and Beijing to resist by teaming up to coordinate their foreign policies. As a result, most advocates of democratization in the West simply try to turn a blind eye to the negative consequences of this policy of simultaneously pressuring Russia and China by claiming that the two countries are not in fact drawing closer or that the rapprochement is only temporary and superficial. Western observers also often exaggerate real and perceived differences between Beijing and Moscow while ignoring the similarity of their approaches.
In fact, the current Russian-Chinese rapprochement is the natural outcome of broader developments in international relations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many in the United States and Europe were intent on achieving a system of world unity based on Western principles and values. In response, the major non-Western states began working together to create a counterweight to the preponderant influence of the West and its desire to build a unipolar world.1 Several new non-Western centers of power came to replace what had previously been a single Soviet center of power. Although not unilaterally inimical to the West, as the Soviet Union had been, these weaker centers of power were nevertheless worried about Washington’s use of pressure tactics in pursuing its narrow interests and therefore sought opportunities to coordinate efforts as a counterweight to Western influence in the world. They viewed a world unified on Western terms as a form of hegemony, a sort of restoration of the colonial system that would inevitably fail to give due consideration to their interests.
The Russian-Chinese rapprochement stems from the fact that the leadership and elite of both countries share similar views...