Futile US bid to pit Russia against a rising China

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/9 20:53:40

Futile to pit Russia against a rising China

Henry Kissinger Photo: IC

The Helsinki summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump presented the possibility of a thawing Russia-US relationship. After the summit, US media outlets reported that former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger had suggested Trump that the US should work with Russia to contain a rising China.

Then US president Richard Nixon's China visit and the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the US are often cited as the biggest accomplishments of Kissinger during his tenure as secretary of state for Nixon and former president Gerald Ford.

China and the US worked together to curb the global influence of the Soviet Union, thoroughly changing the trilateral relationship formed during the Cold War. Kissinger's reported suggestion of working with Russia to "box in" China is a continuation of the Cold War strategy that structural realists used to tweak the balance of power among major countries.

Now that the US domestic situation, the relationship and the degree of economic interdependence among major powers are different from those during the Cold War, Kissinger's old-fashioned ploys won't work.

To begin with, the US domestic political situation leaves no room for a détente in US-Russia relations. The Trump-Putin meeting had been repeatedly postponed due to US domestic political opposition. Investigation into the "Russiagate" allegations and the uproar over alleged collusion of Trump with the Kremlin to turn the election in his favor is still rife.

Shortly after the Trump-Putin summit, US strengthened sanctions against Russia. The attitude toward Russia has been taken as a measure of political correctness. Though insightful people realize that continuing confrontation with Russia is not conducive to US interests, they cannot publicly call for support for a thaw in ties.

After Trump took office, he has been treading carefully to maintain a balance between reaching out to Russia and avoiding riling the domestic opposition. Holding the summit with Putin was the most Trump could do. Any leeway to Russia will ignite domestic outrage.

Second, European allies of the US won't allow Washington to be easy on Moscow. The biggest obstacle to improving US-Russia relations is the Ukraine and Crimea issues, which are very sensitive for European countries. The Crimea issue challenged the bottom line set by the Helsinki Accords that the territorial integrity of European countries cannot be compromised.

New EU members such as the Baltic States and Eastern European countries are even more sensitive to a US-Russia détente. Those countries are heavily dependent on NATO in defending them against Russia. Washington has to take into account the concerns of its European allies in its relations with Moscow. Seeking a rapprochement with Russia should not lead to a division in the Western world. Although Trump blamed European allies for not contributing enough to their collective defense, the US has never considered giving up the alliance.

Third, given the common strategic interests and close relations between China and Russia, there is no basis for Kissinger's proposal. During the Cold War, both China and the US needed to work together to confront the expansion of the Soviet Union. Had the Sino-Soviet relationship not broken, or the USSR had not deployed massive forces on the border with China, Kissinger's strategy to contain the Soviet Union by working with China would not work.

There is no current strategic conflict between China and Russia. With increasing interdependence and common interests in nation building and development, bilateral relations have kept improving. Russia will carefully weigh the pros and cons and is unlikely to be influenced by the US. 

Kissinger is a practitioner of the "balance of power" theory. The success of his strategy of working with China to contain the Soviet Union has a specific historical background. The same won't work in a changed environment.

The author is an assistant of scientific research at the Research Center for Co-development with Neighboring Countries, East China Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Newspaper headline: Futile to pit Russia against a rising China

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