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UPDATED: October 14, 2014 NO. 27 JULY 3, 2014
A New Orient?
U.S. pressure against China and Russia is creating a stronger Sino-Russian relationship
By An Gang

In the roughly two decades since the end of the Cold War, the United States, acting as the victor, tried to fill the security vacuum of Europe and squeezed into the geo-strategic space of Russia. But the U.S. move ultimately elicited a strong backlash from Russia. The Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008, the Syrian crisis since 2011 and the recent Ukrainian crisis all saw the resolution of Moscow to prevent NATO from crossing the Dnieper River. Putin's Russia has awoken from the pipe dream of embracing the West in the Boris Yeltsin era and will no longer be subordinate to the West. Russia is seeking to regain a major-power status in its equal interaction with the West and restore its international influence.

The current occupant of the White House cannot see through to the enigmatic inner world of Putin, resulting in misjudgments of Washington in its tactics when contesting with Russia. The expulsion of Russia from the G8 by the U.S.-led Western group has sent a political signal that leaves adequate leeway, warning Moscow to stop before going too far over the Ukrainian crisis and begin talks with the West to delimit the boundary between NATO and Russia. However, the move cannot form a substantial deterrence to Russia but rather adds new proof for the overall decline of the West in the world pattern. Putin is now trying to ease anxiety in the global community over worries that Russia may further seek to divide Ukraine into two parts—just not under the command of the West.

With the collective rise of emerging economies, the proportion of the total GDP of the G7 in the world has dropped from its peak of 70 percent to less than 50 percent. The era of Western dominance is gone forever. Russia, despite losing the membership of the G8 by which it could play a unique role as a bridge between emerging economies and the West, can still exert influence through international organizations such as BRICS, the Group of 20, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as its partnership with China.

Tripartite ties

Observers are closely watching the complex interactions among China, Russia and the United States with keen interest, looking for hints of changes of the power balance. If a new pattern emerges, these three countries are sure to be at the center of the action.

The three-way relations between China, Russia and the United States are emerging as the most strategic trilateral relationship in the world. They also form the framework of dominant powers' relationships in a multi-polar world. These relations are marked by a tripartite balance of forces. Notably, the three do not constitute an equilateral triangle. From a strategic and military perspective, Russia and the United States are two big nuclear powers as well as military giants while China possesses only a small-scale nuclear arsenal and relatively poor armament systems. In the economic arena, the United States and China are leading global players while Russia acts in a supporting role.

During the Cold War, China fell between the cracks of the two superpowers and ultimately chose to lean to the United States. Now China can no longer exploit rivalry between two opposing camps, but it has gained the ability to actively leverage competing interests, thus influencing the power balance.

Neither China nor Russia is willing to see the world dominated by a sole superpower. They hope to strengthen their position in dealing with the United States by deepening cooperation with each other. This is the fundamental reason why China and Russia are embracing each other. But both countries have no intention for an "all-out confrontation" with the United States. A "new Orient" might have already come into being, but a "China-Russia alliance" targeting the United States is a figment of scaremongers' imagination.

At the height of the Ukrainian crisis, despite having sympathy for Russia's being besieged by the U.S.-led bloc, China disagreed with Russia's annexation of Crimea as it violated international law. Therefore, China abstained in UN votes on relevant issues. In May, shortly after Petro Poroshenko won the Ukrainian presidential election, President Xi sent a note of congratulations.

The United States, which is still battling the aftermath of the global financial crisis as well as multiple wars, cannot afford a "new Cold War." As an aggressive superpower since the end of the Cold War, the country is on the decline. A world full of challenges and conflicts is a living reality for all the major powers. Thus, the three-way relationship among China, Russia and the United States will eventually return to mutual communication and peaceful cooperation.

At a seminar hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in early June, former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who advocated actively joining hands with China to combat the Soviet Union during the Cold War, noted that the future of the relationship between China, Russia and the United States depends on whether Washington and Beijing will continue to strengthen cooperation. This question will affect the future direction of the China-Russia relationship.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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