[The Times, U.K.]



Gazeta, Russia

2009: Another 'Chinese' Year


"Although almost all of the attention in 2009 has been focused on President Obama, the greatest influence on global politics has probably been exerted by China. … China's Communist Party functionaries gracefully outplayed Obama."


By Fyodor Lukyanov*



Translated by Yekaterina Blinova


December 25, 2009


Russia - Gazeta - Original Article (Russian)

Chinese President Hu Jintao addresses the U.N. General Assembly in September: Is his country a predator or just looking after its own? Debate in the West rages.


BBC NEWS VIDEO: China is being accused of causing damage to wildlife and forests in neighbouring Russia, Dec. 24, 00:02:32RealVideo

Argentine Federal Judge Octavio de Lamadrid has a chance to enter the annals of history. The decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of the former Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, for crimes against humanity (suppression of the Falun Gong religious movement) is in sharp contrast with the general political atmosphere that has developed around China.


Since 1999, when the country was headed by Jiang Zemin and the PRC [Peoples' Republic of China] announced its entry into a globalized world with Chinese investment, the PRC's weight on the international stage has grown steadily. China deliberately focused almost exclusively on the expansion of its own economic capacity while eschewing political ambition. This has provoked confusion among others - it's unclear how to conduct oneself with them. And as the situation is unclear, everyone at least tries to be cautious. For instance, with the recent suppression of protests in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the Western world responded with restraint, far different from the response to the events in Tibet a year earlier. 


Although almost all of the attention in the past year has been focused on U.S. President Barack Obama, the greatest influence on global politics has most likely been exerted by China. And China has done so not so much with its actions, but through its sheer presence.


The year began with almost simultaneous statements by the two gurus of American foreign policy - Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger - regarding the fact that America and China must create something like a duumvirate for global governance. The January statement by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner criticizing Beijing for the under-devalued yuan put China on high alert, but there was no follow-up: during his trip to Beijing in the second half of the year, Geithner sought to diffuse the tension. The February visit to Beijing of newly-appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set the tone for the dialogue: The United States outlined what it wanted from the PRC (assistance in supporting financial and economic stability), and what they aren't planning (interfere in China’s internal affairs).


China’s answer to this series of curtseys rapidly became clear. The idea of the "Big Two" didn't provoke enthusiasm. Beijing saw in this America's desire to guarantee China's continued financing of its deficit, in other words - the inflating of a new bubble based on the model that has already led to a worldwide recession. Over the course of the year, senior Chinese officials made a number of harsh statements of this general orientation: "Regrettably, today we have no alternative but to invest in American bonds and dollars; but this must stop as quickly as possible." The reasoning behind the creation of other reserve currencies and the reorientation of the Chinese economy from foreign markets (primarily American) to the domestic one - is the refrain of 2009. It is clear that both are a matter of time - a long time - but the direction of events is clearly marked.


[El Tiempo, Colombia]


China’s policy priority is clear as well - not to take responsibility for anything that doesn't directly affect Beijing. The development of the situation with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have largely determined global events, have been discussed without the active participation China.


While invisible, Beijing was nevertheless present, since its economic interests in Pakistan and Iran are very high and Afghanistan is part of a region in which nothing can be done without the PRC. But China has avoided engaging in such conversations, seeing, for example, how a torn Russia is trying to maintain the geopolitical balance and not spoil relations with the United States, but at the same time distance itself from American policy and maintain its own economic interests.


Thus, Beijing’s position on sanctions against Iran is very simple. If Russia allows its relations with Washington and European capitals to be aggravated and votes “no,” China will offer moral support without conflict with anyone on its own. But if Moscow agrees with sanctions, Beijing will abstain, again maintaining good relations with everyone - including Tehran. Beijing appears somewhat more willing to act in regard to North Korea. But here it would like to minimize its own risk in regard to its volatile neighbor by participating in global efforts [Six-Party Talks] to de-nuclearize Pyongyang.


[International Herald Tribune, France]


The October celebration of China's 60th anniversary became yet another symbol of forward motion. But the most revealing in terms of Beijing's global position was the China visit of the U.S. president and the Copenhagen conference on climate change.


China's Communist Party functionaries gracefully outplayed Obama. He was shown honor and respect, but was received just like any other American president - no more and no less. There would have been nothing unusual about the visit without Barack Obama's special character. In many respects, his foreign policy resources are based on the image of an untraditional politician who lays the foundation for a new international system, and therefore deserves special treatment. In Shanghai and Beijing, Obama was allowed to go through all of the obligatory motions, but their effect was carefully limited - some of the events the U.S. president participated in weren't shown or were shown in a special way: some events had smaller audiences than expected and certain questions weren't asked. Overall, the visit came out looking fairly bland.



At the Copenhagen climate summit, Beijing demonstrated the futility of attempting to impose global obligations on it. In order to control the formulation of the final declaration, Americans had to “shove” their European allies to the side and negotiate directly with China in order to prevent major developing countries from making a deal without American participation.


For Russian-Chinese relations, it has been a remarkable year. The issuance of billions of dollars of credits extended to our state-run oil companies, decisive intervention in the Cherkizovsky market situation [see below], as well as pledges of a future visit by Prime Minister Putin to Beijing - all indicate greater Chinese attention to economic opportunities in Russia. This transforms the nature of relations, because China grows stronger when discussions about a multi-polar world are bolstered by objective economic interests.


[Editor's Note: Moscow's "Cherkizovskiy market" was the largest open-air market in the world, and became a symbol of the criminal business practices, corruption and mafia wars of the 1990s. It was finally closed by the authorities in June, 2009. In July, China sent a delegation to negotiate on behalf of Chinese vendors at the former market.]


In this connection, Russia faces the acute problem of formulating a clear strategy in the direction of China and more broadly, Asia. Up to now, Moscow has largely limited itself to general political statements about the importance of this region. China’s presence is becoming a more important factor in Russian policy on the world stage and in regions vital to Russian interests. For example, the end of the year was marked by a debilitating competition between Russia and China for access to Central Asian resources. So far, Beijing and Moscow have played to a draw (the launch of the first post-Soviet gas pipeline into China, which happened without Russia’s participation, versus the new contract for Gazprom to supply gas to Turkmenistan) and has forced Europeans to think. But this isn't the end. It's just the beginning of the game. Just look at the determination with which China is implementing its strategy of conquering resources and markets, for example, in Africa.


Russia and America are, of course, in entirely different positions in respect to China. For Russia, China is the largest and most influential neighbor with which relations will hopefully take on an increasingly asymmetric character. For the United States, it is the main partner with whom economic ties, due to certain specifics, are becoming increasingly political in nature.   



At the same time, while China is Russia’s regional competitor, to the United States it is a potentially global one.


Be that as it may, for both America and Russia, developing forms of coexistence with China is perhaps, the central systemic challenge of this century. There are no answers yet, although the scale of the questions grows larger and larger every year.


*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief Editor for the magazine Russian in Global Affairs



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