Russia and China’s pairs skating on the ice rink of world politics continues. In Sochi, we have observed with pleasure yet one more element in the routine of this increasingly harmonious duet. Let us call it elegant support. Fearless athletes have emphasised the modest dignity of a reliable partner.
The fact that partners have a well-developed mutual understanding is not their only merit. Paradoxically, the antipathy of foreign audiences has made a considerable contribution to the development of a team spirit. The torrents of grim reality that were poured out ahead of the sporting celebrations in Beijing in 2008 and in Sochi in 2014 could not but give rise to a response. The clumsy work of the Western media regarding the Sochi Olympics is exactly the same as in 2008, when they aroused the mass indignation of Chinese people around the world. This fact has been emphasised in nearly all the reports in the Chinese press, which has devoted considerable attention to Xi Jinping’s visit to Sochi. Here are just a few quotes: «the new cold war that soldiers in the West are so eager for», «the persecution of Russia is going too far», and «criticism should not be confused with hostility».
Also of interest is one more comparison from the Chinese media. Despite the March riots in Lhasa in 2008, George Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy still honoured the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics with their presence, while Gordon Brown attended the closing ceremony. Nothing like those riots has taken place in Russia in the last two years, yet there were no major Western leaders. From this, the authors of editorial columns have come to the completely obvious conclusion that the West is particularly hostile towards Russia. As a result, they believe that Xi Jinping’s extraordinary visit to Russia seems to be quite a deliberate move strategically.
Vladimir Putin has shown his appreciation for the help that the President of the People’s Republic of China has given both to Russia and to Putin personally. At the start of the conversation, he remarked that the Chinese rarely travel anywhere over the Chinese New Year public holiday, which was celebrated by the Far East on 31 January, unless it is to friends or relatives. «We will regard your visit to Sochi as a visit to a good friend». I do not know whether those who watched the Olympics’ opening ceremony noticed, but the Chinese team was one of the few whose athletes were waving Russian flags as well as Chinese ones. Was this just a gesture of friendly solidarity?
The fact that both sides once again declared outside interference in the internal affairs of other countries to be intolerable during the Chinese leader’s visit to Sochi seems to be of fundamental importance. In terms of the open support and encouragement being given to Ukrainian rebels by the West, including at the recent Munich Security Conference, independent observers are viewing it as Beijing’s clear approval of the position being maintained by the Kremlin.
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The two presidents have been discussing a number of things in Sochi, but first and foremost they have been discussing world affairs. And here, too, Moscow and Beijing have common approaches to many problems and conflicts. In fact, they are coordinating their activities in the international arena with increasing diligence. Both in the UN Security Council and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, both on land and at sea. At the end of January, the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Petr Velikiy (Peter the Great), part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, took part in the second phase of transporting Syria’s chemical weapons, leading the operation in the Mediterranean Sea alongside the Chinese frigate Yancheng.
This year, Russia and Chinese also have an extensive agenda of bilateral cooperation. In May, the Russian president will pay an official visit to the People’s Republic of China and take part in the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia which will be held in Shanghai. A meeting is also being planned between the countries’ two prime ministers to take place in Russia in the autumn.
There are great expectations associated with the growing volume of mutual trade (trade between the two countries has already reached the USD 90 billion mark!) and economic cooperation. Its key spheres are energy, including the oil and gas sector and nuclear power plant construction, the aircraft and car industries, information technologies, scientific-technical and military-technical cooperation, and tourism. Rumour has it that talks on gas prices, the finalisation of which will promise multi-billion dollar gas contracts to both sides, have entered the homestretch. Amid the still sluggish economic climate in Europe and the general stagnation of business in the world markets, Chinese investments would be an important and opportune step for the Russian economy. Chinese investments could speed up the economic expansion of Russia’s regions in the Far East, and it is a prerequisite for their integration with the dynamic Asia-Pacific Region in the interests of developing both Trans-Ural Russia and the country as a whole.
The Russians and the Chinese are communicating with each other more and more, and Moscow and Beijing are using the spheres of education and culture as a catalyst for humanitarian cooperation. Russia and China have declared 2014-2015 to be a Youth Friendly Exchanges Year. The official opening ceremony of this large-scale project of public diplomacy will take place in St. Petersburg at the end of March.
The decision announced at Sochi by the two leaders to carry out an appropriate level of events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of victory over German fascism and Japanese militarism in the Second World War was also completely appropriate in the complicated global situation. China is Russia’s only ally in the country’s uncompromising fight against the historical rewriting of the last war. While one and a half billion Russians and Chinese remember this terrible tragedy and remind others of it, the horrors of the war and the heroism of our people will not be forgotten.
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It is symbolic that the Black Sea resort caught a slice of China’s spring warmth, and it is interesting that the first time in history a Chinese leader has attended a sporting event abroad has been in the warmest corner of Russia’s harsh winter. The fact that this resort will now be seen by Chinese tourists is also important. There is a good chance that it will be streams of these Chinese tourists that, over time, will make up for the considerable amount of money Russia has spent on the Olympics. Especially as in one of his interviews, the erudite Chinese leader mentioned the dense saturation of ancient cultural artefacts in areas around Sochi for which the Chinese have always had a particular reverence – as they also have for monuments and people associated with the harsh revolutionary period, incidentally.
And even a certain amount of lagging behind by China in the winter sports (and sport in China quickly becomes large-scale by definition) is yet another obvious practical opportunity for mutual cooperation, including in the Siberian regions where winter lasts for longer and the air is purer than across the Khingan mountains. And this is the reason, although not the only one, why Russia’s support of China’s bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022 is completely natural, and its approval could be another important signal for Russia’s tourist industry.
The fact that the pairs skating is not being enjoyed by all TV viewers is obvious. Some are nervously replacing ambassadors both in Russia and China. After all, an alliance of these two countries (which is still not under discussion) would be a nightmare for traditional Atlantic geopolitics. Using Siberian resources to support global manufacturing is equally as unpalatable with traditional approaches (which is under discussion, but so far only on a limited scale).
Perhaps all that is needed, however, is to bring outdated concepts into line with the conditions of the changing world and get rid of ideological prejudices. In fact, this was called for by the well-known American analyst Robert Kaplan, among others, on the eve of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Remarking on a greater need for the centralisation of power as a result of the rising anarchy in the world, he concluded that the weakening of authoritarian rule in Russia and China is threatening to lessen democracy, and increase instability and ethnic separatism in these countries, as well as others. And so the conclusion is logical: «What follows Vladimir Putin could be worse, not better. The same holds true for a weakening of autocracy in China».
As the saying goes, we must be thankful for small mercies.
I am not ruling out, by the way, that certain details and the geopolitical context of the Sochi Olympics will, over time, enter the history books. Or the diplomacy. Perhaps not in every country, however.
The subject of «The Meeting in the Foothills of the Caucasus», in the style of the revolutionary paintings of the 1950s and 1960s that are still being sold in the People’s Republic of China for millions of yuan, is already being recommended to artists. Who knows what else the duo talked about. There are not going to be any leaks on YouTube, and the records will be kept in a safe place.