We wondered aloud on Wednesday if events in Ukraine would strengthen the geopolitical alliance between the revisionist powers—Russia, China, and Iran. We’ve been getting our answer in dribs and drabs ever since. First we noted how Russia has already gestured at going easy on Iran. And now we see that China appears to be cautiously backing Russia’s claims in Crimea. Here’s the key passage from the Global Times (a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party):
For quite a long time in the future, the most strategic pressure will come from the US-led West. This pressure is not only geopolitical but also ideological. China promotes a multipolar world and a powerful Russia can accelerate this, which is much better than a unipolar world led by the US.Putin holds on to the outdated thinking of “sphere of domain,” which may trigger frictions with China as its influence in Central Asia expands. But the divergence between the two is not beyond management, and the two have initiated the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So let’s turn back to Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Russia has been driven away from its original sphere of influence. Restoring its influence in Eastern Europe is an unavoidable challenge for Russia during its revival process.As long as Beijing properly handles its cooperation and divergence with Moscow and joins hands with it on global issues, the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership will become a solid foundation of their global diplomacy.In the coming years, Russia will not pose a strategic threat to China. China should become used to Russia’s revival, and maintain its own interests when dealing with Russia.
It’s an interesting read, and to the extent it accurately captures the thinking of top Chinese leaders, it should give American leaders pause. We refer you back to (yet another) prescient essay by Walter Russell Mead from December of last year:
Sometime in 2013, we reached a new stage in world history. A coalition of great powers has long sought to overturn the post Cold War Eurasian settlement that the United States and its allies imposed after 1990; in the second half of 2013 that coalition began to gain ground. The revisionist coalition hasn’t achieved its objectives, and the Eurasian status is still quo, but from this point on we will have to speak of that situation as contested, and American policymakers will increasingly have to respond to a challenge that, until recently, most chose to ignore.Call the challengers the Central Powers; they hate and fear one another as much as they loathe the current geopolitical order, but they are joined at the hip by the belief that the order favored by the United States and its chief allies is more than an inconvenience. The big three challengers – Russia, China and Iran — all hate, fear and resent the current state of Eurasia. The balance of power it enshrines thwarts their ambitions; the norms and values it promotes pose deadly threats to their current regimes. Until recently there wasn’t much they could do but resent the world order; now, increasingly, they think they have found a way to challenge and ultimately to change the way global politics work.
Clearly, Western policymakers have yet to awake from their postmodern reverie, though the Crimea crisis certainly appears to have rattled some cages. One hopes it won’t take too many more egregious provocations before our best and brightest wake up to the game that is actually being played.