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Foreign Policy

China, US and Russia Contrasted Relationships in Perspective

Feb 24 , 2015
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

Among the sets of major-power relations in the world today, those between China and the U.S., between China and Russia, and between Russia and U.S. are most eye-catching. For each of these relationships involved, the countries involved do have the subjective needs and objective conditions to cooperate and coexist. In reality, however, the three sets of relations are quite different from one another, a fact quite thought provoking.

Why did the three talked about strategic partnership?

During Russian President Yeltsin’s visit to China in April 1996, the two heads of states signed a joint statement declaring their decision to develop “a strategic and cooperative partnership based on equality and mutual trust and oriented towards the 21st century.”

Then when the Chinese President visited the U.S. in October 1997, heads of states of the two countries decided to “build toward a constructive strategic partnership between China and the United States through increasing cooperation to meet international challenges and promote peace and development in the world.”

During Russian President Putin’s visit to the U.S. in November 2001 and visit to Russia by U.S. President George W. Bush in May 2002, joint statements on their “new relationship” and then “new strategic relationship” were issued. According to the joint statements, Russia and the U.S. “have overcome the legacy of the Cold War. Neither country regards the other as an enemy or threat.” And the two countries were moving into “a new era of friendly relations.”

There are reasons for all three to want strategic and cooperative relationships. Since the end of the Cold War, peace and development has become the prevailing theme: all major countries follow a policy of seeking self-improvement internally and co-existing amidst competition externally. Internally, countries prioritize economic development and changes and pursue economic growth driven by scientific and technological advancement with a view of improving their overall national strength. Externally, they try their best to improve the global environment and win over favorable strategic positions so as to create sound external conditions for their own development. More prominent is ,the momentum for countries to cooperate for their own security and development interests.

Facts have shown that not only do conflicts between U.S., China and Russia affect the world, their interdependence and sometimes synergy also shapes world affairs.

Why have the three sets of relationships developed rather differently?

The key lies with political will or political mutual trust. China-Russia relations develop and deepen because both countries are devoted to national rejuvenation. China and Russia are both transition economies and both focus their reforms on expanding interaction with the world community and striving for better economic performance and higher levels of scientific research with a goal of achieving higher productivity, greater overall national strength and higher living standards for their peoples.

In this connection, China and Russia are naturally attracted to each other. They rally for cooperation, guard together against common threats and unite like passengers in the same boat. They do not seek the creation of any nominal alliance, attach oneself to the other, interfere in the other’s internal affairs or pursue double standards in international affairs. These principles China and Russia follow have helped to create a sound situation in which they trust each other politically, complement each other economically, interact with each other in the military field, foster a cultural attachment towards each other and stand ready to consult each other diplomatically.

China-U.S. relations seem to be in constant agitation. Though there have been twists and turns, economic ties bind them together. A complicated world situation further pushes the two nations to strengthen links where their strategic interests converge. They are now taking incremental steps to make true the vision of a new model of major-country relationship, which is a logical succession and development of the constructive strategic partnership idea proposed in October 1997.

There are indeed many noises in China-U.S. relations, mostly caused by misgivings about whether China will truly rise peacefully. But there are always people of vision in the U.S. For example, an American writer published an article in Japanese foreign affairs website on January14th this year, pointing out that what happens in China “sharply contrasts the alleged obsession to dominate Asia or the whole world.”

Russia-U.S. relations, on the other hand, move amidst constant struggles. Maybe both of them should think about why. Perhaps the U.S. should reflect over what benefits it has gained from NATO expansion and deployment of missile defense in Eastern Europe and what harm these moves have done to its relations with Russia.

Can the Russia-U.S. relationship have greater calmness as that between China and U.S. does?

The strategic partnership between Russia and the U.S. has a fragile basis. It is generally believed that there are three defects. First, they do not have a long-term cooperation mechanism in the military-political fields as the one developed between the U.S. and its NATO allies. Second, economic cooperation is not as solid as that between Russia and China. And thirdly, the two countries’ views on terrorist threats slightly differ and the focuses of their anti-terror efforts are also different.

To ensure national rejuvenation, Russia must make sure that its country is unified, its economy grows and its political situation is stable. Yet U.S. policies towards Russia tend to undermine Russia’s confidence in all three aspects.

Russia and the U.S. are now moving further away from each other, though cooperation is not impossible. Both countries need to draw the aid of the other while each repels the other. When the former factor prevails, cooperation and coordination increase; and when the latter factor gains the upper hand, their struggles and contradictions become more salient. In the long term, national interests, major power status and global influence will be the fundamental factors in Russia-U.S. relations.

These two countries might as well learn from the development of Russia-China and China-U.S. relationships. Maintenance of sound interactions among the three countries will be a significant contribution to world peace, development and cooperation.

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