This year Moscow and Beijing celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in 2001, just a few months before the September 11, a Eurasian geopolitics watershed leading to the peak and subsequent declining of US power. Ever since China and Russia have been actively contributing to a multipolar world which right now is at a dramatic juncture.
Facts point towards closer Russia-China ties
This year’s Vladimir Putin’s 10th visit to China will probably mark a new milestone in bilateral ties in which Xi Jinping is the leader whose first visit abroad was not to the US, but to Russia. Unlike during Cold War, facts not ideology have brought closer ties in both countries much aligned in worldviews. It includes common perspectives on sovereignty, the use of force, the role of Washington in the world, and the present and future of the international system.
At the same time, since 1991 Russia is seen by Beijing as an important supplier of military equipment and energy resources. By the end of 2015 Russia announced the selling of 24 Su-35 fighters (its most high-tech aircraft on sale) worth $ 2 billion to China (to be delivered over the next two years). For its part, on March 3 the Bank of China extended a €2 billion credit line to Russia's Gazprom for a 5-year period, defined as the biggest direct transaction from a credit organization, and the first bilateral credit agreement with a Chinese bank. No matter how much suspicion and doubts international analysts cast on the long-term trust levels between both countries (a redundant speculation for the present and foreseeable future), Putin has insisted in calling the excellent status of these ties as «unprecedented in history», and most recently, in mid-March, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang defined them as an «all-dimensional relationship».
Is it a convenient close relationship? Undoubtedly.
First. Unique interrelatedness. Both powers are neighboring countries (each one is the other’s biggest neighbor along the 3,645 km of common frontier); they are members of major power élite (both are nuclear states with permanent United Nations Security Council’s seats); they are members of BRICS; and they belong to such international institutions as SCO, G20, OBOR and AIIB.
Second. China and Russia embody a necessary touch of realism on the international arena, a condition transcending utopian approaches supposed to solve problems worldwide, often through fictional democracy and American traditional interventionism. For unlike Thomas Friedman’s theory stating that «the world is flat», actually it is not. Russia and China are paradigmatic countries with complex and rich histories in managing land, demography, with distance and resources at a unique scale. China is the most populated country in the history of the mankind with the biggest economy, and Russia is the largest state with the most abundant natural resources. They have both been invaded several times in their respective pasts, they have negotiated with different powers at least over a millennium in a way the US has not (and also more than the EU, which as such is a relatively new organization in history). Russia and China challenges and travails in their own developing and their security experience should be studied in-depth by both underdeveloped and developed nations. In other words, and as a result of the abovementioned, both countries know well that although technology and democratic values are valuable, there are not magic solutions per se. Let’s just think of the persistence of the burka in Afghanistan (whose 2001 invasion was explained to Western public opinion as a «liberation» war, including the abolishment of burka). Or let’s think of the Arab banking system called hawala that operates beyond international banking control and is able of mobilize immeasurable amounts of money with geopolitical consequences.
Third. Russia and China are Eurasian powers behaving accordingly. China’s OBOR main routes blueprint includes Moscow, Teheran, Almaty, Samarkand, Athens, Istanbul, Duisburg, Rotterdam as nodal points coupled in the near future with a high-speed train network reinforcing Russia in similar ways as it is reinforcing China’s comprehensive network; Yiwu-Madrid train (known as Yixinou), crisscrossing Eurasia between China and Spain just turned one year old; Russia’s Siberian energy network (developed and to be developed) is both European and Asia oriented; both capitals played a decisive role in the Iranian nuclear settlement last July and are now actively calling for resuming the Six-Party Talks to reach a deal meaning more predictability and stability in the Korean Peninsula. It is worth remembering that Beijing and Moscow are de facto leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) whose latest progressive enlargement milestone, last July, included India and Pakistan in the accession process, plus the observing status for Belarus, and the upgrading of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Nepal into dialogue partners status.
Fourth. For the time being and significantly enough, the EU has managed (by inaction) to position itself almost as a peripheral geopolitical corner of Eurasia, as the reactionary joint position on the refugee crisis that led to a deal reached with Turkey in March shows together with its conformist politics in Syria, the Middle East and Central Asia. By some of their combined action Russia and China could produce a positive reaction from the disconcerted and defensive Europe in order to regain assertiveness. After all, successive US administrations have certainly shown once and again that in fact they are not interested in the formation of neither a strong Europe nor an integrated and prosperous Eurasia.
Fifth. An increasing abyss in values and security visions between the US and the EU is in the making, and it matters very much to China and Russia as part of their long-term analysis of the Northern Hemisphere future. Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia jihadist forms of terrorism will continue to disrupt life. If one is to look at the sophistication of methods and techniques used by the jihadist leader just detained in Brussels last weekend accused of the massacre in Paris last November, one will realize the urgent need for the broadest coordination possible. The case enlightens the absurdities of the current Cold War-like rearmament led by Washington. The ISIS that seemed contained, is mutating into a deadly terrorist force able to strike Eurasia in terribly sophisticated ways. Nevertheless, according to a powerful current of thought in the US establishment such a possibility does not represent an existential threat. The implications of that view represent a threat to Russia and China since that emergent doctrine is most likely to be favored by Hillary Clinton once she wins the presidential US race.