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Why Russia and China Aren’t Friends

While Russia and China constantly toast their deep friendship, their ambitions and their interests—except for a common interest in seeing U.S. power checked—are not aligned. Here’s a big reason why: China’s attempt to build a “New Silk Road” will, if successful, vastly expand China’s influence across Central Asia. The Washington Post reports that China has been building infrastructure in the region, which Moscow considers its “back yard” and which is home to ex-Soviet states, some with large Russian populations:

Slowly but surely, a four-lane highway is beginning to take shape on the sparsely populated Central Asian steppe. Soviet-era cars, trucks and aging long-distance buses weave past modern yellow bulldozers, cranes and towering construction drills, laboring under Chinese supervision to build a road that could one day stretch from eastern Asia to Western Europe […]

Here the oil and gas pipelines, as well as the main roads and the railway lines, always pointed north to the heart of the old Soviet Union. Today, those links are beginning to point toward China.

“This used to be Russia’s back yard,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, “but it is increasingly coming into China’s thrall.”

Nor is this the only big question on which the two giant powers disagree. Perhaps the biggest: China likes oil prices low, and Russia desperately wants the price high. It’s worth recalling that even during the height of the Cold War, when China and Russia might have been allies on ideological grounds, they hugged only when necessary.

Vladimir Putin’s current course of hostility to the West actually involves him in a two-front geopolitical contest that he and Russia cannot win: The Kremlin is estranged from the West, and facing surging Chinese influence in the East and South.

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  • Shivermetimbers

    Ask most Russians and they will say America is their biggest adversary. It will be interesting to see how they feel when the eastern half of Russia completely falls under China’s sphere of influence through settlement.

    • GS

      Because of their great affinity for authoritarianism, they will grumble a bit and learn Mandarin. To live free can be quite a challenge.

      • Shivermetimbers

        “In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, make us your slaves, but feed us.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, The Grand Inquisitor.

        • GS

          I was born and grew up there, Shivermetimbers. Fortunately for me, I got out decades ago. There is no need to quote Dostoevsky at me, I know these slaves and scoundrels only too well even without him.

  • ljgude

    I have always looked at the map of Russia and China and with the demographics of the two countries in mind can’t help but see Eastern Siberia as China’s ‘Northern Resource Area’.

  • Dhako

    I think some are projecting their subservience understanding of what they consider a friendship should be. After all, according to the tendentious wisdom of some, Japan and EU are a real friends of the US. While, if truth are allowed to raise it’s disobliging head around here, one could say, both Japan and EU, are nothing but a vassal states, in geopolitical terms, to the agenda and the priorities of Uncle Sam. Hence, it’s understandable for some to forever equate the sort of friendship America has with her captive alliance in the EU and Japan, as the “gold-standard” or the template in which other nations friendship with each other should closely cleave to.

    Consequently, when Russia and China, come across to them, as if they are following a different script, then, lo and behold, these two states are really not “friend” according the ever laughable wisdom of the geopolitical geniuses in here. Pity, really, for they could of easily see that neither China nor Russia, are looking for a subservient relationship with each other. And, therefore, they will cooperate with each other like a grown up states; particularly, in checking whatever delusion the US has still has about her being the “law-giver” to the rest of the world.

    And in the meantime, they will also trade with each other, for the benefit of both. And, no small way, they are also putting in place a mechanism whereby the Western’s sanction against Russia can be ameliorated, by way of opening Chinese banks and Russian banks to each other without going through dollar inter-mediation process, as the case was before both of these nations realize how US is using its “exorbitant privileges” which is what dollar is in the international financial markets, as a cudgel to which to beat others if they fall foul of the US’s self-preening assumption about itself in the global order, as the Russians are finding out now due to the sanction.

    All in all, the budding geopolitical relationship between Russia and China, is just putting on it’s boots, and it will be a permanent feature of the global order in this century; despite, the occasional differences in managing their respective economical agenda in the border areas between them. Hence, it’s best for the brightest geopolitical light in the US’s landscape to really pay attention the Macro-alignment understanding of these two powers, instead of sweating the small-bore micro-differences, that is liable to crop up inside of these kind of multi-faceted relationship, in which these two states are singularly determined to develop it.

  • Z’ing Sui

    To me it seems Russia is entirely confident in its ability, for now, to militarily deter any potential Chinese aggression. It also doesn’t observe or expect any Chinese military encroachment in its direction. Modern Putin’s politics and his support in Russia seem to be rooted in Russia’s historic fear of an outside (mostly Western) military threat. I think the Russians are worried about Chinese economic expansion, but not overly much, because foreign economic encroachment isn’t something they have a national trauma with (at least when it doesn’t come with an associated threat of invasion).

    There have been military tensions with China in the past, but it left little mark on Russian “national psyche”, and there’s plenty indication that China doesn’t have anything to gain in antagonizing Russia – Chinese interests of that sort lie almost entirely in SE Asia.

    From Putin’s perspective, I think he aims Russia to eventually become one of the separate global powers, not as powerful as China or the US/Europe, but powerful enough to deter any aggression and benefit from its rich resources and geographical position bordering two of the leading powers. If that fails, a lesser China’s partner is a fallback plan, but Putin probably resents that idea.

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