China, Russia and US define world order

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/16 21:53:40

Andrey Kortunov    Photo: Lu Yuanzhi/GT

Editor's Note:

In terms of global strategic architecture, China, Russia, and the US are crucial to the world. How can Beijing and Moscow deepen cooperation? How will the 2020 US presidential elections affect Russia-US ties? Global Times (GT) reporter Lu Yuanzhi talked to Andrey Kortunov (Kortunov), director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, on these issues at the sidelines of the Eighth World Peace Forum held in Beijing recently.

GT: Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a visit to Moscow in June and both sides agreed to upgrade their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. Where are bilateral ties headed?

: It will partially depend on the overall development of the international system, because many things remain unclear, including fundamental challenges and opportunities for Chinese-Russian cooperation. However, it's important the two countries are committed to long-term shared approaches and future vision, such as how to reconcile the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative with Russia's Eurasian Economic Union, or how to handle international crises that might affect both sides. For instance, Americans are likely to leave Afghanistan before too long; Russians and Chinese are already working on how they could jointly prevent Islamic fundamentalism from spreading to their territories or to neighboring countries.
It seems likely Moscow and Beijing will deepen cooperation not only in security, but also in development and high-tech areas. For example, Huawei is now under attack from Washington, and the US has threatened to block it from Google software. Russia and China can work together on alternative software for smartphones and on other things much more sophisticated, including AI. 

GT: Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will step down when his term ends in 2024. Without Putin as president, will China-Russia relations change? 

: It will be one of the most important tasks of Putin to make sure his successor has good relations with the Chinese leadership. I suppose he will invest plenty of time and effort in continuing the kind of personal chemistry he enjoys with President Xi. 

However, it's not just about leadership change. It's about how we can adjust our respective economic and social systems so they will be more compatible than they are now. There are many things to work on here. One of the challenges is to go beyond the primary public sector cooperation and incentivize small- and medium-sized enterprises from the two countries to work together. 

GT: US President Donald Trump met Putin in Osaka, Japan. Putin said Russia would do all it could to upgrade US relations, but it was up to the US to decide how to develop bilateral relations. How do you interpret Putin's statement?

: Putin's message is clear. When Putin thought Washington was ready to work with Russia, he made a couple of specific proposals to Trump. For instance, Putin offered practical ways in which both sides could strengthen strategic arms control. There were specific proposals on Syria, Iran, and North Korea. However, Putin made it clear he would not deviate from defending Russia's basic principles and interests. 

It is up to the US to take it or to leave it. If the White House is ready to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) agreement or work with the Kremlin on Syria, the Russian side will go the extra mile to accommodate the US. If the US is not ready, Moscow will wait. This pause is regrettable, but it is not the end of the world. Russia can provide for its security even without the New START and can handle Syria with other partners. It is up to the US to decide what to do. 

GT: How will the 2020 US presidential elections affect relations with Russia?

: It is hard to tell because so far we do not know who will win. Today, it seems likely Trump will be re-elected because the US economy is doing well. He is also smart enough not to engage the US into another bloody and expensive war. 

Trump is thinking mostly about his re-election, so he has to be nice to all political and social groups within the US that might impact voters. This consideration clearly affects his foreign policy decisions on China, Russia, the EU, or whatever. If he is re-elected, we will see a president no longer constrained by election considerations. We do not know for sure who this unleashed Trump will likely become and what kind of policies he would make. 

Our country is perceived as evil or at least Putin is perceived as evil. I do not think this negative attitude will change fast. That is why relations between Russia and the US will be on a bumpy road long after 2020, no matter who comes to the White House. 

GT: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) may cease to exist from August 2. How will it affect geopolitics? 

: The absence of INF may put into motion a chain reaction. With INF gone, it becomes very difficult to extend the New START. If the New START ceases to exist, it might mean the end for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If there is no NPT around, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty may be the next chip to fall. It resembles a house of cards. If you take one card out, the whole house will collapse. From this viewpoint, the death of INF is very risky because it might lead us into a world without any arms control whatsoever, not just a world with no bilateral US-Russia arms control agreements. 

GT: How would relations among China, the US, and Russia affect world order? 

: They would have a very important impact because these countries define the rules of the game. For example, if Russia and the US do not want to disarm, nobody will be ready to disarm. If China and the US cannot agree on free trade, who would agree? 

The united world that we know today might well split into a number of competing blocs. This is not a very bright prospect for anyone. If there is a technological war between Beijing and Washington, other countries cannot sit on the fence, they will have to choose their side in this war. 

The three countries should act on the assumption that they understand their responsibilities. They should set a good example on how to make compromises among themselves, but also on how to take interests of smaller states into account. If the three of us fail to do that, the world will not be a safe and sustainable place. 


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