|FROM ADVERSARIES TO ALLIES|
The summit between President Bush and President Putin represents a significant milestone in U.S.-Russian relations. Is this change a result of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war against terrorism? What is at stake in a friendly alliance between former adversaries?
from Melbourne, Australia asks:
How would China view the newly developed relationship between the U.S. And Russia? Would China feel threatened as this relationship also involves the 1972 ABM treaty?
The improvement in U.S.-Russian relations creates potential problems for China. The developing ties between Russia and China resulting in the signing of the Friendship Treaty in July 2001 was based on three bases for China's importance to Russia: economic relations, terrorism and Central Asian stability, and keeping up U.S. interest in Russia. Of these three, only economic relations (China's importance as a market for Russian conventional arms and for Russia's oil and gas exports and development in the Far East) emerge from the shift in the post-Sept. 11 strategic landscape unscathed. For Russia's priority to counter terrorism and reinforce existing regimes (which are secular and anti-fundamentalist) in Central Asia, close cooperation with the U.S. against al-Qaida and the Taliban now plays that role.
On the third, U.S. Interest in the importance of Russia, Putin simply does not need China for Russia to be important to the U.S. Russia is important to the U.S. because of its assets and assistance in the campaign against terrorism.
Missile defense (and China's much more urgent interest in preserving the ABM Treaty than Russia's, because limited U.S. defenses cannot neutralize Russia's retaliatory capability but could erode China's) is part of the problem for China, but would likely have been a problem anyway, because before Sept. 11, Russia and the U.S. were moving toward a compromise on revising the ABM Treaty.
China need not necessarily view the newly-developed U.S.-Russian relationship as a threat, although if the relationship continues to progress in a positive direction it may lead to some recalculation of China's positions in Northeast Asia and Central Asia.
China's own relations with Russia are well-established as a result of the conclusion this July of a Sino-Russia friendship treaty, which cemented economic and political relations and resolved outstanding issues along their extensive mutual border. China and Russia are also co-founders of the Shanghai Cooperation organization which brings them together with four of the Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to focus on border issues (China still has a series of unresolved border disputes with its Central Asian neighbors), trade, security and counter-terrorism activities.
China and Russia share a number of mutual interests in arms and technology sales and energy development. China is a major purchaser of Russian weaponry and technology, which are Russia's second largest earners of hard currency after energy sales. And, Russia wants to sell oil and gas from Siberian fields and Sakhalin Island to China in addition to developing new markets for its energy further afield in East Asia, in Korea and Japan. China's own demand for energy has increased dramatically over the last decade and will continue to do so over the next 10 years.
In addition, mindful of the detrimental effects and high costs of pollution from fossil fuels, and instability in the Middle East, the Chinese government has put a priority on increasing its usage of natural gas over the next 5 years, as well as diversifying its oil imports away from the Persian Gulf. Russia--with around 30 per cent of proven world reserves of natural gas and around 5 per cent of proven world oil supply--is one potential source for meeting Chinese energy demand (if production levels can be maintained and increased and the necessary pipeline and other infrastructure can be created).
For Russia, China is not only an attractive market, but a crucial transportation route for potential new overland pipelines from Siberian fields to the Korean peninsula and the Pacific coast and Japan.
Beyond the mutual economic interests, China and Russia have been brought together by mutual concern about the United States. Both China and Russia have been openly opposed to the United States efforts to abrogate the ABM Treaty to proceed with the testing necessary to the construction of a missile defense system.
And both China and Russia were greatly concerned earlier this year by statements from Bush Administration officials that the U.S. would not renegotiate the provisions of the Treaty and was prepared to unilaterally withdraw if necessary to conduct the next phase of tests. These statements coincided with the conclusion of the Sino-Russian friendship treaty and were certainly a motivating factor behind the signing of that treaty, which included an explicit statement in its communiqué on the importance of maintaining the ABM Treaty.
Russia's current dialogue with the United States on the ABM Treaty is not in fact out of step with its understanding with China. The recent rapprochement between the United States and Russia has in effect resulted in a victory of sorts for Russia and China.
The Bush administration has begun to actively discuss the ABM Treaty with Russia and has opened the possibility of amending the Treaty rather than abrogating it, if the Administration can still proceed with its planned missile tests. During the recent Crawford summit, President Putin also made it very clear that Russia wants this issue and its relations with the United States regulated by formal agreements, which again is not out of step with Russia's understanding with China.
China's and Russia's greatest shared fear in the summer was that the United States was prepared to forge ahead alone on missile defense and many other international issues, which would greatly complicate the international environment for these two powers.
China's and Russia's priorities are really focused on internal development and domestic economic issues and not on external affairs. A confrontation with the U.S. Would be ruinous for both and cordial relations with a United States that is enmeshed in a multilateral context, be it in treaty relations or in a coalition against terrorism, is infinitely preferable to a United States that is unilaterally pursuing security, foreign policy and international economic issues.
However, as China and Russia did see their relationship as a counterweight to the United States, which up until Sept. 11 seemed to perceive both states as quasi-enemies and certainly not as partners, there may be difficulties ahead. You only have to look back to events of earlier this year and the spy scandal with Russia and the spy plane incident with China to see how fraught the two sets of bilateral relations with the U.S. Were and how easily they could be derailed again. Russia has been far quicker than China to respond to the shift in the U.S. international position as a result of the events of Sept. 11 and has certainly been more eager to embrace the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan in spite of its own history there. Although it is also interested in the long-term stability of Afghanistan given its own border with the region, China has been more cautious. This is in part because of the fact that it had sought an accommodation with the Taliban regime rather than its overthrow (a Chinese delegation had just concluded an agreement with the Taliban as the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. took place), while Russia has openly supported the Northern Alliance opposition movement.
Baring complications (of which there could be many, especially if the current campaign against terrorism shifts from Afghanistan to the Middle East), the new U.S.-Russian rapprochement could in fact cause some wrinkles in the Sino-Russian relationship. These will not necessarily be as a result of the U.S.-Russian dialogue over the ABM Treaty, but are more likely to be felt in Northeast Asia and Central Asia, two of the primary regions in which China and Russia interact.
In Northeast Asia, over the last several years the U.S. has come to see Russia as a potential counterweight to a rising China and even as a stabilizing force in a region fraught with tensions and potential conflicts, especially on the Korean peninsula, where Russia has relatively good relations with both Koreas. This is in spite of Russia's military decline in the Pacific and its demographic weakness in its Far East. For its part, China has looked to Russia for possible neutrality in any confrontation with the U.S. over Taiwan, which is one of China's greatest security concerns and is seen as a strong possibility by security analysts in Washington and Beijing. This neutrality may no longer be a sure thing for China with a closer U.S.-Russian relationship
In Central Asia, in spite of their seeming cooperation in the Shanghai cooperation organization, Russia and China were increasingly coming into competition. Over the last 10 years, as Russia's political, economic and military influence there has declined, while China's has gradually risen. China is now a major trading partner of its two immediate Central Asian neighbors, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, is heavily involved in projects to develop rail, road and other communication links between its western province of Xianjiang and the Central Asian states, has invested in energy projects in Central Asian states, has given military assistance to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and has come to see the region as a potential alternative market for its products as well as a bridge to the Middle East. Russia has now entered a new partnership with the United States in Central Asia that may restore Moscow to a more active role in the region and thwart some of China's longer-term plans for economic and political penetration of the region.
What happens next will depend very much on the course of U.S.-Chinese relations not just on how relations between Washington and Moscow develop.
China is very concerned about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Only several months ago a regional cooperation group, which includes Russia and China, the so-called Shanghai Five, transformed itself into an organization, called Shanghai Six, or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Among other things, this organization was supposed to deal with terrorism and security. Furthermore, in July, Russia and China signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, but little came out of it. Instead, China now is facing a possibility of a much closer relationship between Moscow and Washington.
But China is also concerned about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, connected to bin Laden's terrorist organization, al-Qaida, influencing the Turkic Moslem people, the Uyghurs, in Western China (the Xinkiang province). Thus, China is caught between its fear of the U.S. And its concern about the growing ties of Uyghurs with radical fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As to the 1972 Treaty, China has nothing to worry about if it does not intend to develop more nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. territory. I do not understand, how a country which has hundreds of millions of people in desperate poverty is interested in wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear arms race against the U.S.