Today, bilateral relations between China and Russia, actively developing on the principles of mutual respect, are drawing the attention of experts and analysts around the world. In the analyses, prepared by foreign observers, various aspects of this cooperation are being analysed and, sometimes, not the right conclusions are being made. In this regard, it seems appropriate to focus on the following very important issues in Russian-Chinese relations:
- what is the interest of China in the Russian Federation;
- is this kind of interest equal;
- what areas of strategic cooperation between Russia and China can be observed in the medium and long term perspective;
- how China and Russia can jointly resist global challenges, especially given the systemic economic crisis of the Western model of development, and constant political pressure from the West on the countries’ key international issues.
In order to have a clear understanding of these issues, it is necessary to understand what the common strategic interests of China and Russia are. Both countries have not currently overcome the industrial stage of development, and therefore, have not moved to the post-industrial society. For this reason, both countries need favourable conditions for development in peaceful surroundings, in order to focus on the problems of creative building and economic development. These considerations have prompted China to initiate the creation of strong legal relationships between the two countries, and the cessation of all territorial disputes with Russia.
Today, Russia is China’s most attractive partner in terms of freshwater resources, because now China is experiencing a huge shortage of this resource. For this reason, China is trying to implement a project that failed during the Soviet Union era – this is the turning of Chinese rivers. At one time, Russia had tried to turn the northern rivers to the south, and now China is trying to turn the southern rivers to the north. At the moment, the Chinese have managed to build two powerful channels that extend from the Yangtze River to Beijing and Tianjin.
Another acute problem of China is the question of food security, because it is necessary to feed a quarter of the world’s population with the harvest from an area, which is only 7% of the world’s arable lands. Chinese agriculture has reached its peak intensity; the main granary of China – the area between Yangtze and Yellow River – is the space that, from an environmental perspective, is dead. It is very hard to call this ground even soil, because without fertilizer, this territory is not suitable for the growing of crops. China desperately needs arable lands, which is why China has bought huge areas of fertile land for cultivation in Ukraine to grow food. Russia, in this regard, is of particular interest to China, because it has abundant fertile, and still undeveloped, lands.
In China, there is an influx of young skilled workers from Russia, the most recent graduates of Far East universities today are coming to China. Currently, China has managed to create quite a large Russian Diaspora. However, the Chinese do not tend to see this as a threat, as they have great respect for the Russian people. According to them, the Russian people have enormous creative potential, and therefore communication with people from Russia teaches the Chinese initiative (according to their own words). After all, the main feature of Chinese mentality is the brilliant execution of tasks, but this task has to be defined.
In addition to economic interests, there is a mutual interest in cooperation on a range of international issues, such as the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the world. Russian-Chinese strategic partnership is a factor that contributes to the strengthening of the international position of each party. This partnership strengthens international standards, because both powers aim at maintaining stability in the world arena, promoting the credibility of the United Nations authority and promoting peaceful political solutions of international conflicts.
We should not underestimate the creativity of Russia and China in the field of international relations and international law. Today, everyone is trying to sign bilateral agreements on strategic partnerships, whereas such terms as “strategic partnership” were implemented in the international law on the initiative of Russia and China, which in 1996 signed a joint communiqué, the full legalization of which occurred in 2001, with the signing of a treaty on good-neighbourly friendship and cooperation.
Speaking about the possible cooperation between Russia and China, in opposition to politics of the dictates and interference in internal affairs, practiced by our Western partners, as was the case in Yugoslavia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and now Ukraine, China is implementing a policy, dictated by its pragmatic interests, in this respect. The Chinese are trying not to take on too many responsibilities, either if the country does not have enough opportunities to implement them, or if the implementation of these responsibilities requires too many sacrifices, which will be taken at the expense of its own interests. Chinese foreign policy is based on learning from experience gained during the last quarter of a century, which was extracted from the Soviet Union’s downfall. The analysis of this experience tells them that any state must, first of all, take care of its own national interests and the interests of its own people. “Our influence on international events, our positive example will only be effective when the welfare of our people is at an appropriate level,” say the Chinese. That is why the Chinese are willing to participate in international initiatives according to their possibilities, but they do not wish to lead them. They will never sacrifice national interests for the sake of things that do not have any connection to China’s security and development. It is a fairly tough position of the current leaders of China. Moreover, China will not sacrifice its national interests, nor make concessions on those issues that relate to these interests.
China is ready to build relations with other countries based on mutual benefit, it is not inclined to profit from the suffering of people in other parts of the world. In this regard, Russia and China are not impressed by the policy of force – the “fist”, or “imposed settlement”, which has been cultivated by various Western countries for centuries and quite often even today. General framework of these two countries’ policies is the respect for the sovereignty of other states.
Mikhail Titorenko, Academician of Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Philosophy, Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“