Another Split Between China and Russia?

It was a time of turmoil in China when Kissinger landed in 1971 at Beijing’s airport. Covered as a secret meeting, he cleared the way by setting formalities with Zhou Enlai, which years later became known as Nixon’s visit to China or Triangular diplomacy in academic jargon. The sino-Soviet split created an opportunity for the U.S. to fill the vacuum after only 12 years when certain circumstances allowed. Other events proved that two powers reaped the roots of rapprochement. China benefited from two digital GDP growth, while a new market with cheap labor generated more income for American investors. However, as in every state-state relationship, we witnessed ups and downs. We saw the strict American position on the Tianmanes massacre, great debates about whether human rights should be the decisive factor, and Chiesse’s grievance over the 1999 incident when NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrad, resulting in 3 people’s death. 2001 the soy incident was when an American pilot was imprisoned for two weeks and released after prolonged negotiations between Bush and Jiang Jamin. Most strikingly, China was deemed a revisionist power alongside Russia. Countries who are determined to overthrow American liberal hegemony and establish their rules and norms.

Most recently, Xi Jinping introduced a new security initiative that covered broad issues, but it’s essentially a new world order led by multiple great powers. Furthermore, Putin and Xi 2022’s joint declaration reminds us of the tripartite alliance of axis power. We are missing Iran if we follow such kind of scenario. Although Vladimir Putin put the green light on what he deemed a special military operation. Starting from February 24th, it was already doomed to fail as initial objectives were not achieved. The rhetoric of changing the fascist regime in Kyiv swiftly changed to liberating Donbas and Luhansk as major setbacks and defeats followed on the battlefield. The Russian invasion already caused food insecurity, destabilization of European security, and a diplomatic dilemma for the West when and was forced to Ukraine halt the ongoing counter-offensive that could be filled by nuclear attacks – the only way of expressing the might of the superpower. This not only placed western countries in a complex situation but also made China feel uncomfortable. Despite the great personal relations between Xi and Putin, the latter admitted that Chairman Xi had concerns about the conflict. Furthermore, in the latest summit of G-20 in Bali, Xi tacitly denounced the possible nuclear escalations and threats. Following such diplomatic maneuvers, it is notable for asking if this situation is another opportunity for the U.S. to play another triangular diplomacy script.

Will Antony Blinken become another Kissinger?

Most often, American diplomats are engaged with getting the Kennan’s prize by drafting the new containment policy for China. On the other hand, there is another option that history repeats itself. If we observe Chinese actions from the eve of the conflict, we can surely claim that Russia and China are definitely not allies. Moreover, Chinese firms abstained from buying extra volumes of oil in fear of Western sanctions. Even though Beijing has not officially condemned Russian actions, it supports Ukraine’s sovereignty. Such statements stem from five (5) peaceful principles of Chinese diplomacy where respecting sovereignty is the main point.

Furthermore, references such as Crimea further endangers Chinese national integrity, especially if the cases of Xinjiang and Tibet are considered. Thirdly, Ukraine is a kind of linchpin of the Chinese BRI to the west, not to mention the trade issues between the two. Finally, China avoids diplomatic isolation and Western sanctions, which will follow if she tacitly supports Moscow. That is the main reason why Russia is trying to achieve its military objective with Iranian drones and not the Chinese.

Another driver of grievance is the increased dependency which Russia avoided throughout the times. However, especially after the Crimea invasion and Western economic sanctions, China became the only alternative instead of the western markets. In the same year, a 400 billion gas contract was followed by Moscow’s reluctance to sell high military hardware and weapons, which Moscow avoided for years. Under Putin, Russia tries to play great power plays. The dependency that inevitably increases over time should not be the country’s aim if one wants to pursue its diplomatic agenda. Chinese verbal and political support cannot be counted as sufficient for the two countries relations to reach the historical highest point.

As the Chinese economy benefits from openness, she also admits the problems which can cause many problems for the CCP. The aging population, imbalances between regions, protests regarding zero covid policy, and decoupling are among the many headaches. Avoiding competition with the U.S. can be beneficial for both sides. Such small pieces can break the ice between two countries. They can return to the position which American politician Moverich called the responsible stakeholders. Furthermore, détente would ease the economic burdens of ongoing antagonism, which can be spent on tackling internal problems.

However, for many, such trajectories may be seen as fantasy. The last G-20 summit in Bali raised some hopes. The 3-hour meeting between Biden and Xi where they underscored that the two have to work together on transnational challenges. According to the verbal agreement, we should wait for Blinken’s upcoming visit to China.

On the other hand, there are many contradictions to being sanguine. The historical conditions are quite distinct from how it was during the Cold War. Firstly, China regarded the major threat as the Soviet Union following Mao-Krustchev’s grievances over the Ussuri River as ending the small-scaled conflict. Secondly, Chairman Mao’s view of international relations was based on balancing one superpower with another; even though China possessed nuclear warheads as early as 1964, it was relatively weak compared to the Soviet Union and the U.S.A. Finally, the rapprochement allowed Deng Xiaoping to process his reforms opening China to foreign companies, resulting in joining the country in WTO after decades.

Assertive foreign policy is regarded as wolf warrior diplomacy similar to the tensions over the Taiwan strait, which spurred the Cold War era rhetoric of new, great power competition. According to Western pundits, China now has altered the will of Deng, having a low profile within the international arena. The ideological battle between democracy and authoritarian rule, according to many, will be decided between the U.S. and China. Biden’s call for the democratic league underlines such a course. 

China has two options. In one, she stays with Moscow fully, and, therefore, the real cold war begins, or she continues the role of the observer limited by only political support. The second way is condemning Russian and joining sanctions are mere fantasies that even liberals do not dare to claim. Finally, in their article Zhang Xiaotong with Colin, Flint utilized the Kondratiev diagram arguing about the decline of American power and stressing the importance of geopolitics. The bad news is that we are in an era of decline, which according to Kondratieff, should last over 25 years. The U.S.-China decisions will decide the forthcoming economic upheaval if we trust the economic cycles. Without Sino-U.S. rapprochement, such a trajectory is doomed.

Shota Mgeladze

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