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Foreign Policy

Interaction Drives Development of Major-Country Relations

Dec 20 , 2013
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

Bilateral relations among the three major countries — China, the United States and Russia — remained the most subtle and noteworthy big-power relations in 2013. The China-US, China-Russia and US-Russia relations showed some differences, but they all developed amid interaction. Actions are still needed to achieve positive interaction and avoid a malicious one. 

Yu Sui

The triangle among China, the United States and Russia are not equilateral. The United States is a developed big power, while China is an emerging big power and Russia has become an emerging big power from a developed one after the collapse of the Soviet Union; among them, the United States is the most powerful. In 2013, the triangle relations became more unbalanced. The China-US relationship made progress amidst twists and turns, while US-Russia relations were fairly struggling, and China-Russia relations were further deepened and consolidated. Overall, the US-Russia bilateral ties were the worst performer. For China, its relations with the United States and Russia are equally important. 

In 2013, many major events happened to the relations among the three countries. For instance, top leaders from China and the United States met several times, reached consensus on the importance of building a new type of big-power relations and vowed to advance relations. However, unfair or ambiguous stances taken by the United States on such issues as the Diaoyu Islands cast a shadow on their relations. The US-Russia relations were tense and full of disputes and contradictions on issues like the Snowden incident and the Syrian chemical weapons, and US President Obama once said relations with Russia needed a “reset”. In the China-Russia relations, however, new progress was made on all fronts — political, economic, military, cultural and diplomatic fields. 

Several events in 2013 also rekindled memories about the relations among the three countries. This year marked the 70th anniversary of the Cairo Declaration. During the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union, with distinctively different social systems, cooperated closely in fighting against their common enemies — the fascists in Germany, Italy and Japan. Joseph Stalin highly praised the realistic approach of the Americans, saying this spirit “is an overwhelming force.” Today, however, the United States, running counter to the realistic approach, applies double standards on issues left over from the WWII history. During WWII, the United States, in collaboration with the United Kingdom, decided to give the Kuril Islands (called the northern islands in Japan) to the Soviet Union in order to coax it to declare war against Japan, and this is a fact that the United States does not deny today. The Diaoyu Islands have been in Chinese territory since the ancient times, and the Cairo Declaration, concluded and signed with the participation of the US President, expressly stated that the islands should be restored to China. The United States government, however, still favors and takes sides with Japan on this issue. This year also marked the 72nd anniversary of the Pearl Harbor incident, and the United States should not have forgotten this miserable lesson from history. 

In the contemporary world, relations among China, the United States and Russia can all develop amidst interaction. First, in consideration of their respective national interests, they need one another and can’t do without cooperation from others. Second, in the face of economic globalization, they know well that “a peaceful bilateral relationship benefits both while a confrontational one harms both.” And third, none of them will give up their pursuit to maximize their international status and global influence, but they should no longer resort to the life-or-death Cold War tactics, and instead, should know that they are in the same boat and should share the benefits. 

To dispel misunderstandings and concerns, an inclusive mentality is needed. The biggest concern the United States has about Russia is its nuclear arsenal and resource potentials, and the US does not want to see the emergence of another Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin once said that there is no deadlock in US-Russia relations. On December 3, commenting on the military and strategic significance of the North Pole region to Russia, Putin said that Russia will never instigate conflicts with the United States, and will seek to develop a partnership with the US. And President Obama has also made numerous comments on the importance to improve relations with Russia. 

China’s peaceful development underscores the principles of harmonious coexistence and mutual benefits, and China has done its best in improving relations with the United States. China has always been advocating the principle of seeking common ground while shelving differences. The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China put forward the concept of “inclusiveness and mutual learning.” “Inclusiveness” is the sublimation of the principle of “seeking common grounds while shelving differences”, because this concept not only stresses to shelve “differences”, but also mutual learning from the “differences.” 

Joint efforts are needed in promoting positive interaction. Any country should, in defending its own interests, respect the interests of others, particularly the core interests; should recognize the coexistence of cooperation and competition and abide by the principles of honest cooperation and fair play in competition; and should pursue the mutual benefit and win-win outcome, not unilateral gains. The progress made in solving the Syrian chemical weapon and the Iranian nuclear issues this year was a manifestation of the possibility for positive interaction between the United States and Russia. 

Media buzz and speculations about the relations among China, the United States and Russia more than often imply the complexity of big-power relations, particularly in regards to the US-Russia relationship. For example, Foreign Affairs, in the September/October 2013 issue, published an article entitled “Why Convergence Breeds Conflict”. The article claimed: In fact, until relatively recently, China and the United States got along quite well — precisely because their interests and attributes differed. Today, it is their increasing similarities, not their differences, that are driving the two countries apart. I find it impossible to agree to such a paradox that rejects the principle of “seeking common grounds while shelving differences” but advocates for a fallacy of “seeking differences while shelving common grounds.” 

For another example, on November 27, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Tehran Conference, sponsored a roundtable forum “New World Order: The Russian Position and Role”. At the forum, some speakers said a weakening United States is an inevitable process, and some said China failed to play a positive role in the international politics. Then, who is the main political force in the world today? The forum speaker’s answer is: Russia. Such comments are rather inconceivable. It is crucially important for the media to spread positive energy and not to play a hindering role in the positive interaction in big-power relations. 

Yu Sui is a Professor with the China Center for Contemporary World Studies.

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