Its tough to keep up with geo-political posturing in the modern world; however it’s clear that Asia is the new epicenter of Great power alliances. Recent months have seen: India and Japan draw closer politically, China court India with promises of much needed infrastructure investment, greater Russian Chinese economic cooperation. It is Russia however that is on the precipice of uncertaintanty of whether it is really an Asian power and whether it wishes to once again seek a strategic alliance with China in Asia.
President Putin’s state visit in May, amidst the Ukrainian crisis and the well-documented decline in Russia-West relations, might well have significant implications for the creation of a new world order, whilst not about the creation of a military-political bloc (which neither side have interests in re-kindling), it is seen as a response to the Western policy of attempting to contain both Russia and China.
Russia is embarking on a strategy of developing the Russian Far East by increasing its economic integration within East Asia. Russia’s goals in Asia include: the promotion of multipolarity (limiting the influence of the United States but also managing China’s rise), developing beneficial economic relations, having a visible presence in all major Asian institutions and minimizing the adverse impact of regional disputes.
Economically the relationship is fraught with difficulties. While China has now become Russia’s main trading partner, their bilateral trade was less than $100 billion in 2013, much lower than that between China and its major Western partners. Diversification is the key for Russia, limiting its exposure to any one block in terms of natural resources and opening new trade routes into Asia. One such resource is Natural Gas where procurement from Russia is likely to reduce the so-called Asian gas premium and lower the market price for many Asian economies, this deal now appears to have come to fruition in the form of a 30-year, $400 billion deal between CNPC and Gazprom.
Of significance to the Gazprom deal is the relatively low price agreed for delivery: Russia’s is seeking ways to counter the feeling that Siberia is simply becoming China’s raw material backyard and the contract provides for the development of major infrastructure in Siberia.
Whilst Chinese officials make a show of treating their Russian counterparts as representatives of an equal great power, a status they deny India and Japan: in China’s “Silk Road” strategy, there is a growing tendency toward Chinese influence in the post-Soviet arena amongst the Central Asian Republics. This causes a dilemma for Moscow as to reconciling this influence with Putin’s strategic vision of Eurasian integration, whilst maintaining power parity with China.
With the convergence of their models of government and their national ideologies, Russian and Chinese leaders increasingly share a common conceptual framework that is distrustful of popular democracy and of unconstrained free market economics. Internationally they reinforce each other’s legitimacy and in the long term will inevitably draw closer both economically and politically.