The China Card

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Long gone are the times when aged and frail denizens of the Kremlin would go on a foreign trip only on special occasions: to sign a strategic arms control treaty or to visit with fellow septuagenarians in the so-called fraternal socialist countries.  (In the latter case, the visit would begin with a triple fraternal kiss.)

These days, Russia’s young, youthful and fit leaders travel abroad non-stop.  However, it’s not arms control negotiations, much less “ideology,” that is driving them.  It’s all about business.  Usually accompanied by a bunch of prominent businesspeople, Russian top guns relentlessly tour the world to advance Russia’s economic interests.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s three-day trip to China last week was no exception: Out of 15 documentssigned by the two countries, 12 dealt with different aspects of Russia-China economic cooperation.  The visit itself pointedly ended with Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, presiding over the opening of a 625-mile oil pipeline from Eastern Siberia to China.

Does this mean that the visit was devoid of any geopolitical overtones? Certainly not. It coincided with a moment when China’s relations with some countries are turning edgy.  A minor collision of a Chinese fishing boat with Japanese patrol ships has elevated to an ugly shouting match between Beijing and Tokyo.  China’s dispute with the United States over the undervalued yuan keeps heating up.  And should the U.S. Congress adopt legislation threatening to bloc Chinese imports, a bona fide economic war between China and the U.S. may well erupt.  Against this background, the deliberately warm, problem-free, tenor of Medvedev’s interactions with Chinese leaders could not but send an unmistakable message to the whole world: In Russia, China has a long-term, faithful, and understanding friend.

It is so tempting to compare Medvedev’s visit to China to his summer trip to the United States.  True, President Hu did not treat Medvedev to lunch in a popular fast-food joint, but they signed a joint declarationin which the words “strategic partnership” were almost as common as commas and prepositions.  In contrast, in the United States, analysts still struggle to find a proper term to characterize U.S.-Russia relations; options oscillate between the bold “selective cooperation” and more cautious “engagement.”  Although Medvedev did begin his U.S. trip with a stop in Silicon Valley, his Chinese itinerary was more diversified, including meetings with people from all walks of life.  Speaking with students and the staff at the Dalian University of Foreign Languages, Medvedev said: “China is very close to me…I feel comfortable here.”  Does anyone remember Medvedev saying anything similar about America?

Medvedev hardly tried to play the proverbial China card against his friend Barack Obama, but this card will certainly be played against him at home.  It’s not a secret that a large and influential faction of Russian political elites is actively pushing for more close cooperation with China.  This “China party” is likely to use the success of Medvedev’s trip as a vindication of their views.  With the “reset” in U.S.-Russia relations limping along, the supporters of Russia’s pro-Western orientation with have little to brag about in response.

Even if playing card games isn’t a favorite pastime at the White House, Obama’s foreign policy team ought to pay close attention to the Moscow-Beijing romance. It should also take a note that while staying in China, Medvedev received a message from French President Nicolas Sarkozy: Sarkozy invited Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkelto come to France in October to chat “about security.” All things considered, President Obama and his advisors will be wise to realize that the directions of Russia’s foreign policy are not fixed and that Russia is keeping its options open.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The China Card

  1. Alex says:

    Accidentally🙂 read this your post. Good work. It occurred to me that the design here is opposite to the recommended by Shtirlitz – the most important part here is at the end🙂
    Cheers

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Alex,
    Sorry, didn’t get it. Shtirlitz used to say: One remembers the last phrase. And here?
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  3. Alex says:

    Eugene,
    Shtilitz/Semenov/ said that the important part must be right after the unrelated beginning, the ending would be what people would remember, true. So, if you want people to remember that it was YOU who gave the advice – you put this at the end. On the other hand, if you want others DO as you think they should – you put it next after the start – then they will believe that it was their own idea🙂
    Of course, this was a Russian joke, and it has nothing to do with your (well-written) post.
    Cheers

  4. Eugene says:

    Thanks Alex, I like that! My next posts will be composed either exclusively of beginnings or exclusively of conclusions:)
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  5. death ray says:

    China may prefer Russia’s approach, but I don’t think Russia’s leaders want to be swallowed up into a China satrap. I think the US attempt to control everything makes Russia’s position a bit stronger. The window of opportunity for Russia to join NATO has passed:
    “In one respect, indeed, it may already be too late for one old Russian liberal dream, which cropped up occasionally at the Yaroslavl forum: that of Russia one day joining NATO. It is almost certainly an impossible dream, but it is still cherished. When this possibility came up at Valdai, a Chinese analyst present stated quietly that such a move “would be viewed with some concern in China.” He didn’t need to raise his voice. Given Russian strategic weakness vis-à-vis China, especially in the Far East, no Russian in his senses could ignore such a warning. Incidentally, another small straw in the wind: This formidably intelligent and well-informed individual spoke fluent Russian—but not a word of English. He obviously felt no need to do so in order either to gain information or project influence.”
    http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/russias-push-the-west-4098
    Let’s not assume that China is the only threat to the US’s power. If the US is ejected from the Middle East, it ceases to be a superpower. Russia and US both have ruled their halves of the sphere by controlling access to resources. The worst keeps happening in Central Asia – NATO is losing the war, drugs are fueling insurgency, China can build pipes 20x faster, etc. Where else will US and Europe find energy supplies?
    The Middle East is a timebomb waiting to go off. There is a lack of food and water, too many young males, religious aggression, oppression, and no meaningful employment. Most Saudi’s work for the state companies where they are payed for doing nothing. This is a lost generation in the making. Algeria’s youth bulge strongly contributed to the decade-long civil war. Demographically, it is only a few years ahead of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is a failed state constantly teetering on civil war, while Iran is closed off to the West. We have major US allies and major petroleum producers ready to shut down over there.

  6. To underscore on some points made in the last set of comments:
    I don’t anticipate an improvement in Russia-West (particularly Russia-US) relations as the primary result of Russia running to the West because it’s weak.
    Moreover, that kind of thinking IMO serves to encourage the chances for greater disagreement.

  7. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    I’m not an expert on Kyrgyzstan and have only a vague understanding of what’s going on. The reason I mentioned it (by pointing to Central Asia) is that IMO here as nowhere else, Russia and the US have at least one common goal: stability. True, for different reasons, but nonetheless.
    Best,
    Eugene

  8. As for expertise on Kyrgyzstan, the just completed vote there comes as a surprise:
    http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/11/nationalist-party-scores-surprise-win-in-kyrgyz-vote/
    The stated surprise probably stems in part to the way certain issues are emphasized over others among the foreign policy elitny.

  9. Eugene, the added kicker with that one is the stated desire to have Bakiyev back.
    In some other instances, “nationalists” (at times that word gets inaccurately and hypocritically applied) look for new leaders.
    Note how many thinking like Yushchenko no longer support him.
    On the subject of him, I think he has been made into a bit of a fall guy. Instead of seeing wrong and/or impracticality with some of his positions, a number of folks prefer to see his failure as a matter of having the wrong person at the helm.
    Coaching a team in a way that’s not compatible with the team’s overall personnel is a rocky proposition.
    You can’t make pizza with just tomato sauce.
    In its contemporary boundaries, Ukraine isn’t what some people would like for it to become.
    Best,
    Mike

  10. Eugene, I don’t feel sorry for Yushchenko as well.
    I nevertheless see him as a convenient fall guy – as opposed to recognizing that certain views aren’t going to be supported by many in Ukraine.
    Words like “globalization” and “Europe” have been misued as well. For some, the former means seeing things from a neolib or close to neolib slant, with the latter meaning an EU or aspiring EU member.
    Me thinks one can be and/or feel European without being in the EU and/or supporting that org. Such a view is evident.
    Best,
    Mike

  11. Hi Leo
    Yushchenko’s presidency contributed to the anti-democratic and corrupt situation that lingers on in Ukraine.
    His attempt to move forward included questionable stances on some notable historic and cultural issues.
    On the matter of fast tack reforms, I sense that many Russians feel that a gradual approach is a better route to take. Given some of the recent history, I think this mindset is understandable and within reason.
    Best,
    Mike

  12. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Leo,
    Just to clarify: never said that Russia is courting China for the purposes of modernization. Modernization, shmodernization, Russia still have a lot of territory to defend.
    Best,
    Eugene

  13. Eugene says:

    Leo,
    Although the meaning of “ending up in bed in China” isn’t completely clear to me, I agree: should Russia make the strategic choice of close political and economic cooperation with China, Medvedev’s modernization is dead.
    And this is what I hinted at in my piece: the “China Party” and opponents of the modernization seem to be pretty much the same people. Meaning that the “external” success of Medvedev’s trip may complicate his “domestic” agenda.
    Best,
    Eugene

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The China Card

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Long gone are the times when aged and frail denizens of the Kremlin would go on a foreign trip only on special occasions: to sign a strategic arms control treaty or to visit with fellow septuagenarians in the so-called fraternal socialist countries.  (In the latter case, the visit would begin with a triple fraternal kiss.)

These days, Russia’s young, youthful and fit leaders travel abroad non-stop.  However, it’s not arms control negotiations, much less “ideology,” that is driving them.  It’s all about business.  Usually accompanied by a bunch of prominent businesspeople, Russian top guns relentlessly tour the world to advance Russia’s economic interests.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s three-day trip to China last week was no exception: Out of 15 documentssigned by the two countries, 12 dealt with different aspects of Russia-China economic cooperation.  The visit itself pointedly ended with Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, presiding over the opening of a 625-mile oil pipeline from Eastern Siberia to China.

Does this mean that the visit was devoid of any geopolitical overtones? Certainly not. It coincided with a moment when China’s relations with some countries are turning edgy.  A minor collision of a Chinese fishing boat with Japanese patrol ships has elevated to an ugly shouting match between Beijing and Tokyo.  China’s dispute with the United States over the undervalued yuan keeps heating up.  And should the U.S. Congress adopt legislation threatening to bloc Chinese imports, a bona fide economic war between China and the U.S. may well erupt.  Against this background, the deliberately warm, problem-free, tenor of Medvedev’s interactions with Chinese leaders could not but send an unmistakable message to the whole world: In Russia, China has a long-term, faithful, and understanding friend.

It is so tempting to compare Medvedev’s visit to China to his summer trip to the United States.  True, President Hu did not treat Medvedev to lunch in a popular fast-food joint, but they signed a joint declarationin which the words “strategic partnership” were almost as common as commas and prepositions.  In contrast, in the United States, analysts still struggle to find a proper term to characterize U.S.-Russia relations; options oscillate between the bold “selective cooperation” and more cautious “engagement.”  Although Medvedev did begin his U.S. trip with a stop in Silicon Valley, his Chinese itinerary was more diversified, including meetings with people from all walks of life.  Speaking with students and the staff at the Dalian University of Foreign Languages, Medvedev said: “China is very close to me…I feel comfortable here.”  Does anyone remember Medvedev saying anything similar about America?

Medvedev hardly tried to play the proverbial China card against his friend Barack Obama, but this card will certainly be played against him at home.  It’s not a secret that a large and influential faction of Russian political elites is actively pushing for more close cooperation with China.  This “China party” is likely to use the success of Medvedev’s trip as a vindication of their views.  With the “reset” in U.S.-Russia relations limping along, the supporters of Russia’s pro-Western orientation with have little to brag about in response.

Even if playing card games isn’t a favorite pastime at the White House, Obama’s foreign policy team ought to pay close attention to the Moscow-Beijing romance. It should also take a note that while staying in China, Medvedev received a message from French President Nicolas Sarkozy: Sarkozy invited Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkelto come to France in October to chat “about security.” All things considered, President Obama and his advisors will be wise to realize that the directions of Russia’s foreign policy are not fixed and that Russia is keeping its options open.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The China Card

  1. Alex says:

    Accidentally🙂 read this your post. Good work. It occurred to me that the design here is opposite to the recommended by Shtirlitz – the most important part here is at the end🙂
    Cheers

  2. Hi Eugene
    While Francis Fukuyama was off in his end of history bit, I think there’s something to be said about overrating the potential for a major conflict with China in the distant future.
    The way things stand for now and the not too distant future lead me to believe that Russia, China and the US share a mutual interest in being on relatively good terms with each other. These three countries also face existing or potential problems with other countries.
    This last point leads to the idea that Russia, China and the US face greater chances of going to war with other nations as opposed to with themselves.
    I know this isn’t a sexy overview in the form of an alarmist spin suggesting the potential of a greater conflict with the highlighted imagery of a:
    – growing anti-West and anti-democratic Russia
    – increasingly stronger and brazen China
    – and US with some decline in clout.
    I’ll close by noting that some of the analysis provided seems to have a for profit motive that gives consideration to the notion of how sensationalism sells.
    Best,
    Mike

  3. Hi again Eugene,
    As a follow-up to my last set of comments, to some extent it’s understandable why the Russian government feels more at ease with China than the US. Likewise with how China feels when dealing with Russia versus the US. This point kind of relates to the relative who isn’t so picky on your diet and wardrobe versus another relative with a more it’s your business attitude.
    All things considered, the sequence of China, Russia and the US playing off any combination of each other is IMO limited from what some seem to suggest to the contrary.
    Practically speaking, just how easy would it be for the US to block off imports from China? On the other side, China stands to lose itself if the US economy takes a prolonged and significant dive.
    In reality, “globalization” seems to have a certain set of checks and balances.
    Thanks for the interesting thoughts.
    Best,
    Mike

  4. Eugene says:

    Thanks Mike,
    You’re making a number of good points. First of all, yes, everyone in Russia loves the fact that China doesn’t lecture Russia. Russia in response doesn’t lecture China, which goes very well with the Chinese. I think this is much more important contributor to good relations than the “shared authoritarianism” often mentioned in the US. (After all, Russia usually has very good relations with contries that don’t lecture Russia – regardless of their political systems. Finland comes to mind first.)
    Second, with all talks about the China Card, there is also the Russian Card (played between China and the US) and also the American Card (played between the US and Russia). Played skillfully, these three-card deck may well result in creation of a Triangle — if not formal, but at least operational enough to solve some pressing problems. Say, in Central Asia, for starters.
    Best,
    Eugene

  5. “The window of opportunity for Russia to join NATO has passed…”
    ****
    Not necessarily Death Ray, while agreeing that it doesn’t appear likely in the not too distant future:
    http://www.eurasiareview.com/201009178309/the-future-of-russia-nato-relations.html
    On the other hand, you note a valid point on how China could see the idea of Russia in NATO. For now, the chances of a stronger CSTO look IMO better than Russia joining NATO.
    Keep in mind that some like Brzezinski see Russia eventually running to the West out of developing a greater fear of China in the future. I’m not so sure of that. Moreover, I think that such long term strategic thinking is misleading in that it suggests a future Russian state bowing a bit too much from what can arguably happen – a reasonably confident and strong enough Russia and a still strong US, which will nevertheless decline from its present clout.
    Eugene, on your Central Asia point, I recall some views within the Western commentariot suggesting that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Russia to have become militarily involved in Kyrgyzstan, around the time that Bakiyev was ousted. There were other views within that same Western establishment seeing Russian troublemaking involved with Bakiyev’s ouster. Simultaneously, some in Russia suggested that Bakiyev’s downfall was encouraged by the West. These simultaneous views indicate the more reasoned versus overly suspicious approaches and that the problematical situation in Kyrgyzstan has been either more internal and/or regional (the claim of involvement from non-Russian elements neighboring Kyrgyzstan) than what some suspect.

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Death Ray,
    I agree that Russia isn’t going to join NATO any time soon. However, for every reference saying “the window is closed”, there is one saying “perhaps not completely.” Mike has provided one; here is another:
    http://www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article/245974/proryv_v_otnosheniyah_rossii_i_nato
    It’s in Russian (as is the whole report), but basically what Yurgens says is “never say never.” And to make sure we all remember: Yurgens is one of the closest Medvedev’s advisors.
    I agree with the rest of your comments as well. However, the scope of my post was quite narrow: just to say that Russia does have foreign policy options.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  7. You’re welcome Eugene and I once again thank you for encouraging constructive dialogue.
    Another factor is partly at play in Central Asia. I recall reading something about the at times misunderstood pre-1917 period in Russia. The particular thought concerned a prime Western source saying that it was okay for Russia to have (up to a point) a definite presence in Central Asia, unlike in some other parts of the world. Offhand, I think the source was either Bismarck and/or Wilhelm.
    Best,
    Mike

  8. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mike,
    Again, I’m not an expert on Kyrgyzstan, but I find nothing surprising here: in countries going through the times of upheavals, it’s almost always nationalist parties that do well in elections. Hamas’ victory in Gaza in 2006 comes to mind first, of course, but we see the same pattern even in some Western European countries.
    Best,
    Eugene

  9. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mike,
    Agreed on both points.
    When we don’t like someone opposing our “globalist” agenda, we call this someone a “nationalist.” Better yet is calling Zhirinovsky (whose views on illegal immigration, for example, are more moderate than the ones of some Republicans in Congress) “ultranationalist.” I’ve got blisters on my tongue suggesting to read the Program of his party, but who’s reading original documents these days?:)
    With regards to Yushchenko, I’m not sorry for the guy. He’s been a disaster for everyone, including his friends and allies, from day one. And if it’s so easy now to make him a fall guy, he has only himself to blame for that.
    Best,
    Eugene

  10. Leo says:

    Eugene,
    Not sure if the “China card” is an ace. More of a joker at this point in time. If Medvedev is serious about Russia’s modernization, then it is a two, really. While being a manufacturing powerhouse, China is a technological black hole. Whether it becomes another Japan or S. Korea is still a big question.
    Mike,
    For all Yuschenko’s faults, he had the courage of pushing his populace forward, whatever his definition of “forward” may have been. Russia’s rulers, on the contrary, pander to the populace instead, making any fast-track reforms impossible.
    Best wishes,
    Leo

  11. Hi again:
    Shortly after Yushchenko’s presidential inauguration, I recall a key appointee (who if I’m not mistaken has been involved with legal matters) resign with comments suggesting that the Ukrainian political situation had already become worse than under Kuchma. Yushchenko has been credited for Kuchma becoming a bit more popular.
    My own experience with Ukrainians (include Western educated/savvy non-Soviet nostalgia leaning to anti-Soviet types) is increased support for an enlightened despot, who on the whole will do good, while not being interrupted.
    Of possible interest are these excerpted set of comments at the following link:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ukraines-new-regime-first-200-days/ingo-petz
    [The end justifies the means’) and authoritarian (‘might makes right’) than even.]
    Yushchenko was not .a proponent of democracy and he advocated much of what Yanukovych is trying to put in place. If anything Yushchenko is the sole reason for the state that Ukraine now finds itself in. His term of office was a complete disaster.
    The presidential system has and will continue to fail Ukraine. Yushchenko supported the restoration of the presidential system and opposed every effort for Ukraine to adopt a parliamentary system of democracy. .Had Ukraine followed in the footsteps of Latvia and Lithuania and embraced a Parliamentary system of government it would be a in a much better position to reject authoritarian rule.
    Sadly, mainly due to Yushchenko’s undemocratic policies, Ukraine may have lost the chance to embrace democracy and become a truly independent democratic state.
    The Orange revolution failed and collapsed in 2006 When Yushchenko and his Party “Our Ukraine” refused to support the formation of an Orange governing coalition and share power. ..
    Tymoshenko toyed with supporting democracy and the formation of a European parliamentary model, but she was never able to embrace it, again due to Yushchenko’s opposition to democratic values..
    The West turned a blind eye when Yushchenko betrayed Ukraine and the values of democracy by unconstitutionally dismissed Ukraine’s previous Parliament and illegally interfering in the independence and operation of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. His actions undermined Ukraine;s constitution and legal system. He sent out the message that it is OK to ignore Constitutional order and rule of law.
    Yes the direction Yanukovych is now heading is just as flawed as Yushchenko’s proposals. But they are in effect the same policies. To criticize one and not the other is a grave mistake.
    Yatseniuk’s Civil Society has no policies either. Come the next Parliamentary election Party of Regions will hold absolute majority and with the support of Sergei Tigipko will have a Constitutional Majority of more then 300 members of Parliament, the push towards a n authoritarian state will be complete. Again thanks to Yushchenko and his opposition to democratic rule. Opportunity lost..

  12. Leo says:

    Eugene,
    Let me clarify why brought up Medvedev’s modernization. If push comes to shove and Russia ends up “in bed” with China, then Russia’s backwardness will be conserved forever.
    All the best,
    Leo

  13. air jordans says:

    Pigs are friends of human beings

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