5 June 2012, 18:49

Moscow and Beijing union: economic development and protection against external threats

Moscow and Beijing union: economic development and protection against external threats

In the month since Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, Kremlin foreign policy activity has been unprecedented. It included the CSTO Summit and an informal meeting of CIS leaders; working visits to Belarus, France, Germany and Uzbekistan; and the Russia-EU summit.

In the month since Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, Kremlin foreign policy activity has been unprecedented. It included the CSTO Summit and an informal meeting of CIS leaders; working visits to Belarus, France, Germany and Uzbekistan; and the Russia-EU summit. Now it’s time for the next stop on the president’s itinerary – the SCO summit and a state visit to China that begins on June 5 and is going to be the Russian President’s first official two-way summit.

The imposing delegation includes the Vice-Premier, five Ministers, heads of several Federal departments, and heads of energy companies Gazprom, Rosneft, Rosatom, and Transneft – all of which underlines the significance of the visit.

The agenda of the state trip is also impressive. According to Yuri Ushakov, Vladimir Putin’s aide, “in the course of the visit, 17 documents of various kinds will be signed, including the ‘Joint Statement on the Further Deepening of Russian-Chinese Relations, Comprehensive, Directed, Trustful Partnership and Strategic Interaction’.”

Of course, apart from ceremonial dinners and official ceremonies, the delegations, and, probably, the leaders of the two countries are going to face a tough exchange of views on a number of disputable problems. For instance, Russia and China still cannot reach an agreement on gas prices.

“I doubt that the agreement will be signed,” Russian Vice-Premier Arkady Dvorkovich, who had recently participated in the Beijing bilateral Russian-Chinese energy dialogue, told journalists. However, according to RIA Novosti, the Vice-Premier at the same time noted that the parties “will try to come to an agreement” in the course of the upcoming talks.

In this vein Dvorkovich also spoke about the prospects of the Russian-Chinese oil refinery project in Tianjin. “A clear guideline was given by the both interested parties that the project was significant. Therefore, we have no right to fail, and a solution should be found,” the Russian Vice-Premier said.

Russia is very much concerned about the problem of Chinese migrants beyond the Urals, as well as the problem of environment protection – first of all regarding the rivers in the border areas. China reacts painfully to the Russian companies’ possible participation in the development of offshore hydrocarbon deposits in the area of the disputed Spratly archipelago, which is also the subject of claims on the part of Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. It is not only the question of oil, but also of regional policy.

Nevertheless in regard to our bilateral relations both in economic and political spheres, Moscow’s and Beijing’s interests and positions on a majority of the topics coincide.

Last year, differences on the oil and gas issues did not prevent China from becoming Russia’s leading economic partner and outdoing the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2011, bilateral trade totaled $83.5 billion – 40% more than the previous year. The goal is $100 billion by 2015.

As far as the political sphere is concerned, during the last years the coordinated position of Russia and China both in the UN Security Council and outside this organization on the key issues of Iran, North Korea, and Syria has become almost the main factor of international life. It is based on the thesis of multi-polarity of the modern world, in which conflicts are resolved by means of negotiations, and mostly on multilateral platforms. Hence, the Russian-Chinese alliance not only in the UN, but also in the G20; as well as developing a common position based on participation in the BRICS, SCO, and APEC. As diplomats say, during Putin's visit, there will be “synchronization” on all these fronts.

First of all, it concerns an alliance in the interests of ensuring fundamental security of both states. In relation to Iran and North Korea, the West is carrying out economic sanctions and political pressure aimed at more or less careful change of regime. Such a policy will most likely shift the regional balance of forces not in favor of the People’s Republic of China and Russia. The exclusion from the usual areas of economic cooperation, which had already happened with the Russian and Chinese companies in Libya, can also be very painful.

However, military threats are the most important ones.

For today's Russia, the threat comes from the deployment of the US ABM shield in Europe, which devalues Russian deterrence potential both technically and psychologically. Moscow is forced not only to respond harshly to this, but also to look for and foster allies. Thus China becomes Russia’s major ally, because the US ABM defence system’s deployment is also one of their primal concerns.

In this connection it is no accident that, in anticipation of Putin's visit, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said: “China opposes any country or organization threatening the security of other countries through deploying a missile defense system. We resolutely oppose this.” The diplomat said this in order to clarify Beijing’s position on the issue of the deployment of the US ABM defense system in Europe. “On this issue the positions of China and Russia coincide,” he added.

In turn, the new defense strategy which US President Barack Obama unveiled in January is obviously unwelcome news for Beijing. The Asia-Pacific region was announced as the main region where the national interests of the United States were concentrated. This week the US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the intention to concentrate 60% of US Naval Forces in that region. The United States were also returning to Vietnam and the Philippines, which have irreconcilable territorial disputes with China.

On June 4, official representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Liu Weiming announced – very diplomatically – that the deployment of a large number of armed forces and strengthening military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region was improper. However, against this background, statements about the necessity of the Russian-Chinese union are also heard from analysts and even from the pages of the official Jenmin Jibao newspaper. Putin’s current visit to China will show whether Moscow and Beijing are ready to unite in the face of external threats, and there are some prerequisites for this which show that it can be fulfilled.

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