(From Nikkei Asian Review)
By Mathew J. Burrows and Robert J. Manning
It was a brilliant move in 1971, when President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger took advantage of China’s desire for support against the USSR with the historic US opening to China. That chess move created a strategic triangle with the US in the driver’s seat and turned ideology upside down, playing the two communist regimes against each other.
Now with few in the US and Japan paying attention, tensions with Russia are resulting in Washington getting the short end of the stick, with risky implications for the Asian and global order: Sino-Russian relations are the closer than they have been at any time in the past half-century, giving them a chance to reshape the global order to their liking.
It is Henry Kissinger’s worst nightmare. Where the strategic logic of the Nixon-Kissinger opening to China was to gain advantage for the US by having better relations with both Moscow and Beijing than they had with each other, now it looks like China will be the winner as the rift grows between Washington and Moscow. While there is a tendency to focus on historic differences, racial fears and geopolitical competition, the new Sino-Russian trend may be more of a marriage of convenience than anybody in the Washington foreign policy elite will admit. Their new amity is reflected in two recent Pew polls, Russians had a 79% favorable rating of China; and contrary to a global trend of negative views of Russia and Putin, 51% of Chinese polled had a favorable view of Russia.
It is not a coincidence that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently accused the US of a military build-up in Asia, and also criticized US-Japan-ROK cooperation on missile defense. US-led sanctions against Putin’s Russia has led it to look East, particularly to China, even if it means a weakened Moscow being the very Junior Partner. Its long term energy future lies in Asia, and nearly half a trillion dollars in gas and oil deals with China will bolster a sagging Russian economy.
China gains a valuable partner-instead of a rival-for stabilizing and modernizing Eurasia-which increasingly China sees not as a backwater, but its economic future. China’s new “One Road, One Belt” pivot West to Eurasia seeks to turn its vulnerability – a border with 14 nations — into a strategic asset. Together they seek to realize MacKinder’s vision of a dominant role in the Eurasian heartland.
A successful partnership in Eurasia-boosting its economic prospects by putting in infrastructure and countering extremism that threatens authoritarian regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Central Asia-would underline the success of the non-Western model of authoritarian state-centric capitalism. Not just the region, but also in Africa and Latin America-where China already has made inroads with its development largesse-are bound to take notice. Read more