Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Shanghai on 20-21 May drew the attention of the whole world but, for a variety of reasons, its significance has not yet been fully appreciated. It seems that the West is unable to give up the illusion of its own global supremacy and prefers not to see its emerging alternative in the form of the Russian-Chinese alliance. Unlike the practices of the past, however, Moscow and Beijing do not want to alert their opponents with loud, but not always specific, declarations, preferring to work quietly and methodically towards filling their bilateral relations with comprehensive and practical content.
The majority of reports regarding Putin’s visit therefore centred around gas agreements, while the military, political and strategic components of his meetings in Shanghai have mostly gone unnoticed by experts. Critics reduced everything down to the supply of Russia’s raw materials and «China’s penetration» of the Russian market, but the true meaning of the visit goes much deeper, and may only be fully appreciated by historians of the future.
If we look closely at the «Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on a new stage in full-scale partnership and strategic relations» adopted by the Heads of State, it is not difficult to see that the document contains a number of elements similar to an agreement creating a military and political alliance, but without final legal implementation. After all, if the implementation procedure maybe needed to be done in a very short time, it is much more difficult to agree on the principles. A kind of standby agreement is always ready to go, however. Russia and China have called it a «new type» of interstate relations, emphasising that «the outcome of a comprehensive and equal partnership of trust and strategic cooperation at a much higher level will be a key factor in ensuring the vital interests of both countries in the 21st century, and the creation of a just, harmonious and secure world order.» And this will now have to be taken into account by everybody.
The Joint Statement outlines the general philosophy of both countries’ attitudes toward the global problems of our time, pointing to the fundamentally sound and organic, rather than opportunistic, nature of their partnership. It says, for example, that «both countries will continue to give each other strong support on issues related to such core interests as sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. They will oppose any attempts and methods of intervention in internal affairs, and support strict adherence to the fundamental provisions of international law enshrined in the UN Charter, unconditional respect for the rights of their partner to independently choose their own development path, and the right to preserve and defend their own cultural, historical, ethical and moral values.» And this is a sadly average liberal model that is by no means universally imposed by the West.
Both countries highlight the need «to reject the language of unilateral sanctions, or organising, aiding, financing or encouraging activity aimed at changing the constitutional system of another country or drawing it into any multilateral bloc or union.» In others words, the categorical rejection of numerous ‘colour revolutions’ orchestrated around the world by the West, and the expansion of traditional NATO-style military and political blocs. The «new type» of relations chosen by Moscow and Beijing are also convenient because they do not give the US any grounds or justification to expand the bloc. In the process, however, China and Russia are allowing for the expansion of their own ‘proto-union’ through the inclusion of another major power in world politics – India. They consider the interaction of three powers as «an important factor in ensuring security and stability both in the region and the world. Russia and China will continue their efforts to strengthen the trilateral strategic dialogue to increase mutual trust, develop common positions on important regional and global issues, and promote mutually beneficial practical cooperation.» It should be noted that India’s newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, judging by his statements, is ready to work in such a way.
«There remains a need to reform the international financial and economic architecture, to realign it to the needs of the real economy, and to increase the representation and voting rights of emerging markets and developing countries in the system of global economic governance in order to restore confidence in the system.» It has been noted that the countries consider the ‘G20’ to be the main forum of international economic cooperation rather than the notorious ‘G7’, and intend to make active efforts to strengthen the union and increase the effectiveness of its activities. Celebrations over Russia’s expulsion from the ‘G8’ were therefore in vain. It also gives a clear perspective for yet another union, BRICS, which Russia and China intend to transform «into a mechanism for cooperation and coordination on a wide range of global financial, economic and political issues, including the establishment of a closer economic partnership, the speedy establishment of a BRICS Development Bank, and the formation of a pool of foreign exchange reserves.»
Important agreements have also been reached on a Silk Road transport corridor, the creation of which the West has also been pushing for, believing that it would be an alternative to the Eurasian transit route through Russia, as well as a bone of contention in Russian-Chinese relations. This project, which has worried Russia for a long time, is turning out to be to the benefit of Russian-Chinese cooperation. Moscow has declared that «it considers China’s initiative for the development of the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ to be important, and appreciates China’s willingness to take Russian interests into account during the course of its development and realisation. Both countries will continue to search for possible ways to join the Silk Road Economic Belt project and the Eurasian Economic Union currently being created.» Thus the new Silk Road will not serve the geopolitical interests of the West. Instead, it will respond to the urgent demands of both countries, including in terms of their strategic presence in regions bordering the Silk Road route. Through joint efforts, Moscow and Beijing are completely capable of taking the area out of the hands of the West, which would be yet another huge strategic defeat for Washington.
Putin’s participation alongside Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the opening of joint naval exercises at the Woosung Naval Base added a particularly symbolic shade to Putin’s visit to Shanghai. It is appropriate to remember that something like this took place at the start of what became the Franco-Russian Entente, which was marked by the arrival of the French squadron at Kronstadt.
The countries have also decided to carry out joint exercises to commemorate the 70th anniversary of victory over German fascism and Japanese militarism in the European and Asian theatres of World War II, as well as continue their «resolute opposition to attempts to falsify history and undermine the postwar world order». This issue has considerable strategic, as well as historical, significance. Effectively, Moscow and Beijing are recognising each other as having played a decisive role in the victory over Germany on the part of the USSR and Japan on the part of China. After all, the West constantly belittles the role played by both Russia and China in the last war. The US has firmly imposed on the world the view that their own contribution to victory in the Second World War was decisive, if not in Europe then certainly in Asia. However, Japan’s ground troops were mostly decimated in China, while the Wehrmacht was decimated on the Eastern Front. The Americans mostly wiped out the civilian populations of the Japanese Islands through bombing campaigns, including the use of atomic bombs. It is no mystery why the million-strong Japanese Kwantung army did not move toward Siberia; it did not move toward Siberia because it was unable to leave China fighting behind enemy lines. Thirty-five million Chinese died in the war, compared to half a million Americans. Glory to all those who died for a just cause, but from these figures it is clear which nations’ shoulders bore the brunt of victory in the Second World War. This defines not only the content of historical memory, but also the special role played by two powers – Russia and China – in determining the postwar world order.
Of the practical economic agreements entered into by the two countries, as well as energy plans, the agreement on the joint development of long-rang wide-body aircraft is of particular interest. It is planned that in the summer of 2014, the Russian United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation COMAC will present a feasibility study of the project to their governments. The countries’ investment in the joint enterprise has not yet been specified, but UAC has stressed that it will be comparable to the Boeing 787 (nearly USD 32 billion) and Airbus 350 projects. Given the fact that Russia has already mastered the short-haul Sukhoi Superjet 100 and should shortly be starting on the wing of the mid-range MS-21 aircraft, Russia and China, and later perhaps Russia and India, may enter a whole line of passenger aircraft into production with improved engines and a high proportion of advanced composite materials. Moreover, they may even have a competitive advantage over Boeing and Airbus as they will be geared towards the domestic market – about 2.5 billion people. There is also going to be a joint development of a heavy helicopter, a successor to the already unparalleled Mi-26. And it is not just the expected commercial success of these projects that is important; their main importance lies in the creation of a new global centre independent of the West for the production of key technologies.
US analyst Robert Parry has called the rapprochement between Russia and China historic, believing that the Ukrainian crisis gave China, a country with rapidly growing economic power, and Russia, with its abundance of natural resources, additional and significant impetus. «China and Russia have joined together recently as a bloc on the United Nations Security Council to block Western initiatives. That means that instead of isolating Russia at the UN, the State Department’s hawkish approach to Ukraine has had the opposite effect. Russia now has a new and powerful ally».
Does this mean, however, that Moscow and Beijing are joining forces to launch a powerful counter-offensive in the West? Hardly. They have no need to. What they need is fair competition without manipulation, without double standards and without subversive activities. Then it will be clear who is more successful and whose model is better. With each passing year, it is going to be harder and harder for the West to ignore the just demands being made by the new poles of global politics.