As Beijing’s economic ambitions have grown in Central Asia, and now increasingly in the Arctic, Russia has taken a decidedly different approach to that of the United States and Europe. Despite the overlapping interests near its borders in countries once part of the Soviet Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown a willingness embrace China as a regional partner, more than competitor.
So writes Artyom Lukin this week, as he looks back on the Kremlin’s road to acceptance of China’s rise. Though the unveiling of Xi Jinping’s flagship New Silk Road vision in 2013 was met with apprehension in Moscow, last year Putin was the main guest of honor at the One Belt, One Road Summit held in Beijing. During his speech, Putin laid out his vision for how China’s initiatives, far from being a threat, can be integrated into a larger Eurasian partnership.
“I believe that by adding together the potential of all the integration formats like the EAEU, the OBOR, the SCO and the ASEAN, we can build the foundation for a larger Eurasian partnership,” Putin said. “This is the approach that, we believe, should be applied to the agenda proposed today by the People’s Republic of China.”
In contrast, the United States eschews China’s efforts to harness trade potential around the globe, while the European Union “sets a collision course” over a Silk Road rail project.
Meanwhile, much-needed funding for projects that can be of benefit to the global economy are being welcomed by Russia inside and outside its borders, where China can help build powerful icebreakers and fund LNG (liquefied natural gas) projects.
Washington’s increasing antagonism toward both Russia and China has certainly helped push the two nations closer together, and not just their leaders. A recent poll from the Levada-Center cited by Lukin shows that China is viewed by the Russian public as second only to Belarus among Russia’s best friends.
Despite the potential benefits of emphasizing cooperation over competition, the United States has made it clear it will not follow suit. In the new National Defense Strategy released last month, Russia and China were called out specifically for “undermining the international order from within the system,”and “undercutting its principles and ‘rules of the road.’”
Missed opportunities aside, the rhetoric from Washington will also further alienate the people of Russia and China, with a message that can easily be construed by Moscow and Beijing as one of keeping others down, not of lifting them up.