Russia snubs overtures from Western partners to convince Moscow of ‘China threat’
Published: Dec 02, 2021 01:00 AM
The national flags of China and Russia are seen on Red Square, Moscow. Photo: Xinhua

The national flags of China and Russia are seen on Red Square, Moscow. Photo: Xinhua

Editor's Note:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has slammed the "China threat" theory hyped by the West. "People have been trying to spook me and intimidate me with China starting with the year 2000. Since then, those who tried to spook me, they got afraid themselves and they tried to change their policies towards China," Putin said at the 13th Annual Investment Forum "Russia Calling!" on Tuesday. Will the West succeed in driving a wedge between China and Russia? How has Western containment affected the two countries' relations? The Global Times collected views from both Russian and Chinese scholars.

Danil Bochkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council

From the larger context of President Putin's speech, he could be implying the US leaders as well as the heads of the European states with whom President Putin had a lot of interactions over all these years of being the country's top official. As he said on the same day, Russia experienced nearly "cloudless" idealistic picture of the relationship with the West in the early 2000s until NATO started moving eastward and getting closer to Russian borders. So there could have been some overtures from the Western partners to convince Russia of the "China threat." President Putin also mentioned that now the policy towards China of those who used to frighten him with Beijing's ascendency has changed resulting in the usage of sanctions and various restrictions, which is an obvious reference to the US and the EU.

Ostensibly, US-led opposition and even hostility towards most of Russia's or China's global or regional moves and initiatives naturally reinforces their rationale of seeking closer cooperation for counterbalancing unified front of confrontational stance. Furthermore, in recent time that approach has even obtained a new character of regarding Russia and China as a joint threat not separate challenges as it used to be before. NATO in particular has claimed that approach as a new paradigm for assessing external threats. 

On the other hand, I tend to believe that Russia-China relations are not just regulated by the US-driven acrimony, though it has significantly fostered the dynamism for closer collaboration. Moscow and Beijing are geographic neighbors with large economic potential for extending cooperation and a long history of building up relations over the previous centuries. They also share perspectives on issues of world concern, have similar approaches to the global order structure as well as common opposition to the Western-style ideology, as outlined in the recent publication of both states' ambassadors to the US. 

Any military build-ups carried out either by the US and their allies or Russia and China are motivated by the geostrategic turbulence of recent time and continuous destruction of the global arms control mechanisms. The process of global powers to acquire military might and further accelerate the development in most advanced military technologies has already turned unbounded, since the rise in level of suspicion of each other's moves has reached its zenith and is about to climb up even higher. But a reassuring factor for Russia-China relations is that President Putin has now repeated (not for the first time this year; the other was in NBC interview) that Russia does not view China as a military threat. Even most importantly it regards its advancement in military technologies as "natural" and stemming from its economic bulge. 

President Putin in Tuesday's commentary also drew attention to the fact that US attempts to construct alliances (such as AUKUS) could not lead to stabilization of the regional security, but on the contrary only contributes to its deterioration. He also concluded that Russia-China relations serve as a significant factor of international stability. So, Russia and China as global nuclear power states, members of the UN Security Council and leaders in their respective geographic regions have all the potential to guarantee stability. And it would be even more effective if the relations with the US could be, if not improved, at least mitigated to the level of normal interaction for coordination on the most pressing global issues.

Sergey Biryukov, a professor at the Siberian Institute of Management in Novosibirsk of Russia

It is obvious that in this case, President Putin meant the so-called collective West, which has been appealing to this topic since the beginning of his first presidential term, inviting Russia into a conditional "coalition" against China. At the same time, the initiators of this "coalition" obviously underestimated the independent role of Russia as a subject of world politics. Apparently, the initiators of such fears were afraid of the increase in China's economic and military power, which they did not expect - and as a result was forced to abandon the propaganda of the "China threat" and began to use softer technologies.

I believe that with the development of the strategic partnership between China and Russia, Western pressure on both countries has long ceased to be the main factor stimulating the development of bilateral relations between the countries. The modern architecture of international relations is unlikely to be stable and predictable without the multilateral cooperation of these two countries. The solution to a large number of issues related to global security also seems impossible without the China-Russia partnership.

I think that the threat of the use of force, as well as provoking conflicts with the help of military forces, are far from the most effective tools in modern world politics. The scale of the use of such tools in the modern world is becoming increasingly limited, since the possible use of force by nuclear powers is fraught with global risks and shocks. Both Beijing and Moscow are well aware of this fact. I think that China and Russia are able to give a decent and adequate response to such challenges by developing bilateral partnerships in various fields and involving third countries in such cooperation. It is also necessary to develop the functionality of such cooperative institutions as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, filling their institutional framework with concrete activities.

Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Putin was obviously referring to those US-led Western countries. Not only China, but also Russia is regarded as a "threat" by the West as well. For a long time, Western countries have adopted an unfriendly position of strategic containment against China and Russia, trying to drive a wedge between the two countries by hyping the "China threat" theory. But this intention is clearly a failure.

As Western countries exaggerate the "threat" posed by China's military modernization, Putin said that Russia is not worried about the improvement of China's military strength. "It [China] has the right to build its defense policy in a way to ensure the security of that huge country. Who can deny it this right?" Putin said.

The West has not only tried to encircle Beijing and Moscow, but also wanted to provoke their relations. China and Russia share a high degree of military mutual trust. Russia has a clear understanding about China's military strength, and so do Western countries. What's different is that the West has its own political goals. For example, by hyping the "China threat" theory, the US-led Western countries want to find fault with China over the South China Sea issue and the Taiwan question. In fact, the US military spending was four times that of China in 2020.

Putin has spoken highly of China-Russia relations and has also remained vigilant against Western provocations. While Western countries are suppressing Russia, they are also warning Russia against its friend. As Western countries are bullying around, they're also trying to make the world believe that China and Russia are the real "threats." This is ridiculous. The West's continuous containment of China and Russia is one of the important reasons that draw the two countries closer.

As the West has been creating tensions worldwide, China-Russia relations can help the world maintain peace and stability. Western countries' attempt to form a small circle against China and Russia will be in vain, as long as justice is still the mainstream in the international order and our two countries still maintain a high level of cooperation.

The high level of political mutual trust between China and Russia is formed by history and determined by the current international relations. China and Russia are facing common challenges in the international environment. No matter how the Western countries provoke and play up the so-called threats, China-Russia relations will not be affected. Both are major countries and permanent members of the UN Security Council. China and Russia have confidence in their own development path, which cannot be shaken by the outside world.