China, Russia can jointly stabilize region

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/21 20:13:40

Photo: IC

Editor's Note:

How can Asia-Pacific regional members enhance security architecture? Where are China-Russia-US relations headed? Alexander Lukin (Lukin), head of Center for East Asian and Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations and head of Department of International Relations at Higher School of Economics in Moscow, shared his insights with Global Times (GT) reporter Yan Yunming on the sidelines of the ninth Beijing Xiangshan Forum on Sunday.

GT: What do you think are the biggest risks in Asia-Pacific? 

Lukin: There are quite a lot of problems in this region. First of all, it does not have any security system like some other parts of the world do, such as Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Even in Europe, it does not work very well, but in Asia-Pacific, there is no such system at all. 

There are several challenges. For example, international terrorism and Islamic radicalism is growing in some countries. There is also the "block system thinking" of some countries. For example, the system of United States alliances with Japan and South Korea, and some new ideas such as the so-called Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which are obviously aimed at isolating China and Russia.

There are also some local conflicts and territorial disputes. To solve these problems, a lot of effort is needed.

GT: How should we establish a new security architecture to maintain peace and stability in the region and how can China and Russia cooperate in this regard?

Lukin: I think in future it would be important to create some kind of organizations like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. There are also organizations in Africa, such as the African Union which are also dealing with security problems. But it is not very easy to do. So most countries, especially larger ones, need dialogue and discussion on creating such a system. And mutual understanding is needed. That's why such forums, like Beijing Xiangshan Forum, is very important. The opinion of China, which is the most influential country in the region, has been presented very clearly. 

In terms of security, Russia and China are probably the most influential, apart from the US which is also a part of Asia-Pacific. The cooperative relationship and strategic partnership between Russia and China plays a stabilizing role in this region. It's very clear, because on the basis of this partnership several regional organizations and processes emerged. For example, Shanghai Cooperation Organization basically grew from the Russian-Chinese dialogue, which is an influential regional organization. Also, the BRICS, which is not a regional but a global group that is influential in global governance, also grew mostly from Russian-Chinese dialogue and then the dialogue between Russia, China and India.

So, now close Russian-Chinese military and security cooperation will also play a stabilizing role in this region.

GT: Given that global political dynamics are undergoing dramatic changes, do you think that a new international order is needed? What do you think it should be like? 

Lukin: I would say that we don't need to have a revolution, but we need to modify the current international order so that it fits new realities. I think that the current international order is in the phase of transition. 

We used to have an international order based on a bipolar world after World War II. There were two main centers of power. Then after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a tendency at unipolarity, because only one Western center of power remained powerful. But now many other centers are growing, such as China, Brazil, India and some others. Because these countries - new non-Western centers of power - are becoming more powerful and more important, the international system needs to adjust to this reality - the reality of a multipolar world. 

But the Western center of power does not want to accept this, so they have created all kinds of theories to claim that the growth of non-Western centers was not an objective process, but a kind of plot by some "bad leaders" to undermine the so-called "liberal world order." In fact what they call "liberal world order" is an order based on domination by the US. 

The usual phrase of US diplomats and scholars used in international relations is that "there should be no spheres of influence in the contemporary world." But what they really mean by that is that the West should have the entire world as their sphere of influence, and that only the US and NATO members are allowed to have their own interests in the so-called liberal order. This position will never be accepted by the rest of the world, especially by growing non-Western centers of power.

The reality is, however, that the liberal world order never existed. It is a utopia that the West wanted to realize after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In reality, the order which was dominated by the US and its allies only existed in a part of the world, even when there was a bipolar structure. It only worked in the part which was controlled by the US and NATO. In the Soviet-dominated part, it did not work. 

At that time, the West managed to understand that it had to accept some kind of rules shared with the Soviet Union. For example, it did not question the dominance of the Soviet Union in some regions such as Eastern Europe. 

What they mean by liberal world order is not a reality, but their ideal. They want to control the entire world and call it a liberal world order. Other countries - non-Western centers of power - of course cannot accept this ideal. Because they want a world where they also have a say and where they play an appropriate role and have their own interests. 

The new world order should be a product of negotiations among all centers of power. They should all accept it, like during the bipolar order it was accepted both by the West and the Soviet Union. A manifestation of that was the Helsinki agreement as well of many other documents: nuclear non-proliferation treaty, nuclear test ban treaty, treaty of conventional armed forces in Europe, among others. All countries agreed to some kind of rule. So now we need an agreement of that type like Helsinki agreement or Helsinki process, but not between two centers, but between all major centers, including China, India and others. They should agree on some common principles, and only such an order will be stable.

But unfortunately, the West does not want to accept it. It insists on its own rules and tries to position its own rules as international rules. This will not be accepted by other countries. 

The USA and its allies will have to accept it since their relative economic and political power is relatively declining, just as they did when the Soviet Union reached the level of strategic parity. But before they understand that this is the only way to go ahead and to have an agreement with other centers including China, Russia and India, it will be a very dangerous and turbulent period.

GT: Is the world being split into two independent and rival systems - a Western one and a non-Western one?

Lukin: I don't think the world can be divided into two parts. There are many parts. The tendency is at multipolarity. There is no tendency toward another bipolar world. Because within the non-Western world, there are other centers. For example, China and India cooperate in some areas, but they are not under the same center because they also have their differences. 

The tendency in general is toward a multipolar world. Of course, less influential non-Western centers tend to cooperate more closely for geopolitical reasons, because each non-Western center on its own is not strong enough to confront the US and its allies. But in the process of their growth, they will be more and more independent and maybe even have some more differences between themselves. 

GT: A US national security strategy plan identifies China and Russia as strategic competitors. How do you see this? 

Lukin: Actually, I agree. They are strategic competitors of the US. But it depends on the goals of the US. 

If you understand the goals of the US as world domination and creation of the so-called liberal world order, which is in fact an order dominated by the US, from that point of view, Russia and China are not going to accept it. Not only Russia and China, other countries as well. India is not going to accept it. Although India has better relations with the US at the moment, in general it will never accept the so-called liberal world order. Brazil is not going to accept it. So I agree with them. 

But you can understand American interests differently. If the US is interested in living peacefully in a stable world without trying to dominate it, it will still be a great power, probably the most powerful country in the world. Instead of dominating others, it can cooperate with them. If you see American interests like this, from this point of view, China and Russia are not its strategic rivals.

So it depends on how you understand the goals of the US.

GT: Is the US launching a new Cold War? How should China and Russia respond?

Lukin: Yes, but it is a unilateral cold war. The Cold War between the US and Soviet Union was bilateral. The goal of the US was to dominate the world and impose its development model on everybody, and the goal of Soviet Union was the same. 

But now it is different. The US is trying to dominate the world and impose its model on others. But Russia and China are not trying to do that. They are busy with improving their own economies and achieving more security for themselves. They are not imposing anything on other countries. 

So I would call it a unilateral cold war. The US is waging a war against Russia and China, but Russia and China are not waging a war against the US. They are just trying to defend themselves. 

This is the kind of the last attempt of a weakening center of power to try to maintain its leading position in the world. When you kill a lion, the king of animals, its last movements could be the most dangerous. 

Russia, China and other countries should defend themselves and explain to the Western center of power to leave them alone and accept the idea that other countries should have a right to their own model of development.

We need an understanding of the world of real equality. The Western center of power does not understand and accept the idea of real equality. Equality means that one center of power does not have to accept another model and does not have to say that another model is better or more effective. You have to accept its right to exist. 

For example, I don't like many things in the US, and I also like many things in the US. But I will not go to the US and tell them that you must do this and that and you must change your system. This is ridiculous. This is for the American people to decide. 

Every country must mind its own business. That's what we should explain to the US because Americans always go everywhere and tell them what to do: "You should change your political system;" "You should change your economic system;" "You don't understand yourselves and what you are doing, so we are going to tell you what you must do." 

Even in American academic writings and policy papers, you can read this very often. "China must change its policies, and China must do this and that." But this is not for them to decide.  

This is the real equality: You do not have to like other models, but you should give them the right to exist. We should explain to them that other countries and other ways of development should have a right to exist. If they are not effective or if they are bad, they are going to change, but not by the US. Their own people are going to change it. 

GT: The US is a major source of uncertainty on the globe. How should China and Russia cope with the uncertainty created by the US?

Lukin: Russia and China are already cooperating in many areas, including in military and economic areas. But the main area I would say is still political and security cooperation. Russia sells military equipment to China, the most advanced one, and helps China develop its own military system. China invests quite a lot in Russia. And the trade between the two countries is growing. So they are already cooperating and will continue to do it. 

GT: Some US strategists believe that China-Russia partnership won't last. For example, US strategist Mearsheimer recently said in China that "most of China's neighbors, including Russia, will join hands with the US to contain China's power." Do you agree?

Lukin: I know Mearsheimer quite well. He is basically a realist. That is why he thinks China is the strongest challenge to the US and everybody should unite against China. But this theory does not look very practical, because at the moment, China and Russia are coming closer and closer to each other. 

For example, President Putin mentioned in early October at the Valdai Forum Russia is going to help China create its own early warning missile defense system, which at the moment only Russia and the US have. This very close military cooperation is moving to a real alliance. 

As a scholar, I can say that I don't see any reason why Russia and China should be hostile to each other. Reality shows that they are becoming closer and closer to each other. The US is pursuing a hostile policy against both countries and this policy is moving them together. 

GT: Where is Russia-US relationship headed?

Lukin: It is very bad at the moment. I don't remember such a bad relationship even when I lived in the Soviet Union about half of my life. Even at that time, relations were better. We considered ourselves as rivals, but at the same time the diplomatic relations were normal. But now we have all these diplomatic conflicts and spying scandals. It is very unstable, much more unstable than during Soviet times. It is of course regrettable. And I do not think this is going to change in the near future.

GT: Do you think that the US is weakening its influence in the Middle East? How do you see Middle East situation in the future?

Lukin: The Middle East is a big region. It's hard to say this in such simplistic terms. But in general, the influence of the US is much weaker now than before. The US is quite influential in Saudi Arabia and the UAE for example. They can be called its allies. But at the same time, Russia's influence is growing, and China's influence is also growing because it invests quite a lot in these countries. 

In other parts of the Middle East, there is a mixed picture. I think that a big blow to the influence and image of the US there was operations in Libya, the assistance of the US to the anti-governmental rebels in Syria, and before that, the American operations in Iraq. People in this region now understand very well that the involvement of the US brings disasters and chaos to most countries.

The US declared that they were fighting for democracy in Iraq. But now Iraq has a permanent civil war and the country is divided. It is basically a less stable country than before even after a long period of turbulence. 

Libya is in a total mess. Syria could have been in a total mess. But now with the help of Russia and Iran, it is becoming a little more stable. But it is still pretty messy.

So now people in many countries in this part of world, actually not only in this part of the world, understand that the unrealistic ideas of the US and the ideology of regime change bring chaos and disasters to many countries. That's why US influence is much weaker. 

Trump said he wanted to withdraw troops from Syria and other parts of the world. I think we should agree with that, because this will bring peace and stability to this region.

I like China's idea that all countries should decide their future for themselves without outside interferences, unless a legitimate government asks somebody to help. For example, the Syrian government asked Russia for help. So I think the situation could be more stable. There is some positive development in Syria now. There is some positive development in Libya as well. It is becoming more stable. 

I think after the defeat on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the tendency is generally positive in this region.  

GT: According to some points of view, the US and Russia are competing for influence in the Middle East. Is that so?

Lukin: There is no such competition. Russia does not need any influence in this part of the world because it is far away from Russia. What Russia is doing is not fighting for influence. It is trying to fight terrorism and help the legitimate government maintain its control against terrorist organizations. 

I'm quite sure that if stability is installed in Syria, Russia will withdraw its troops from Syria very quickly because there is no need of station of troops there. 

This "competition for influence" is also a Western concept. Russia, and China of course, are not struggling for influence. China's interest is mostly in the economic arena because China buys a lot of oil from the region and needs political stability. Whoever rules a country, it should be stable. And the best way would be to have secular governments. That is why China and Russia may help legitimate governments to fight against terrorism, but they are not going to create their areas of control and keep their troops for a long period. So I don't think there is a struggle for influence. 

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus