For Sino-Russian relations, such fundamental uncertainties may be a blessing. Both leaders can count on the other not to create additional problems and even to help passively on geopolitical questions.
On Syria, for example, the two countries have shown that we are indeed living in a multipolar world, and those new oil and gas deals will buttress both economies.
In the long term, Sino-Russian relations will depend largely on whether Russia overcomes its current stagnation and, among other steps, starts to develop the vast water and other resources of the Trans-Baikal region. To do so, capital and technology will be needed not only from China, but also from Japan, South Korea, the US and Southeast Asian countries. The Trans-Baikal region could relatively easily expand ties with the resource-hungry Asian economies, to the benefit of all.
Even the labor problem is solvable, with millions of workers from former Soviet Central Asia — and perhaps from a gradually liberalizing North Korea — able to take part in the ambitious development that will be needed.
The first step is to start to create conditions in the region that make living and working there attractive to Russians. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok last year created a mere enclave of development. A growth strategy for the whole region is yet to come. If it does not, the current Sino-Russian entente cordiale is almost certain to sour. Russia will start to feel vulnerable and will be pushed toward either geopolitical brinkmanship or submission to China’s will.
However, at this point relations between China and Russia appear to be far better than the mythical friendship of my childhood. Putin and Xi will do everything to emphasize that.
Sergei Karaganov, honorary chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, is dean of the School of World Economics and International Affairs at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics.
Copyright: Project Syndicate