SPIEF-2019 as the Moment of Truth for Russia and China (and not Only Them)

“Putin and Xi stand up in St. Petersburg as a united front against Trump,” CNN declared bluntly, summarising the results of the SPIEF-2019 in terms of the China-Russia-USA triangle. Equally clear and sober assessments were expressed shortly after the forum by many other influential press outlets and authoritative commentators. There is a “Moment of Truth,” when everyone simultaneously opens his or her eyes and observes the true state of affairs in the world. A moment that is priceless in the midst of information wars and fake news waterfalls. A moment that is impossible to “drown” in caveats and reservations, which differs to global decision-makers, who consider delicacy the surest sign of weakness, writes Viktor Sumsky, Director of the ASEAN Center MGIMO University.

It is clear that the question of whether Moscow and Beijing are becoming allied, given their mutual interests, is not simple. The whole process of normalisation, and the progressive development of these relations over the last quarter of a century, reflects the understanding that the alliance the two countries concluded in the 1950s proved ultimately untenable. Then again, that experience need not be repeated, as it is not necessary to cooperate against any third party.

Is anyone proposing the revival today of the very model of interactions that Stalin and Mao “forged” 70 years ago? On the other hand, the thesis that Russian-Chinese relations have now reached an unprecedentedly high level does not indicate a degree of mutual understanding beyond what was achieved within the framework of “that alliance”. Should the stated moratorium on uniting forces against a third party be treated as a religious commandment that is good for all time? 

Why not, given the rhetorical nature of these questions, come up with a thesis about a New Union, forged in response to the existential challenges that Russia, China and the world as a whole are encountering at the beginning of the 21st century? 

The reference to the existential nature of challenges is not an exaggeration. The updated versions of the US National Security Strategy and National Defence Strategy, approved by President Trump in 2017-18, clearly indicate that China and Russia are considered the global opponents of the United States. Since then, a number of other official American documents have been published which reference this assertion.

The assessments from two seasoned Asian diplomats, who spoke to me separately, are sobering. When the Americans tell you that you are an enemy, they say this with deadly earnestness, one diplomat said. When the Americans tell you that you are an enemy, they mean they want to destroy you, another diplomat said. 

Is it possible to imagine that given the current dynamics in relations that China and Russia have with the United States, as well as in light of Washington’s newest doctrinal exercises, the leaders of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are not exchanging views on how to respond – separately or together – to this alarming situation? When they exchange views, is not this the coordination of activity against a hostile foreign power, which has already implacably declared both Moscow and Beijing its opponents? Why be shy when the Americans themselves are so meticulous about their foreign policy perspectives, dotting every i and crossing every t?

If there is a feeling that for the time being it is better to keep silent altogether, then why not use the favourite catch-phrase of all press secretaries: “No comments”? The Americans, after all, calmly use it whenever they need to confuse matters.

One way or another, we cannot do without a clear answer to this question regarding the essence of Russian-Chinese relations at this stage. I would like this response to be worthy of that Moment of Truth, which we experienced during the three days in June in St. Petersburg.

Viktor SUMSKY, Valdai Club



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