Talk of bromance between Russia and China may be premature - Roddy Gow

Looking at events in perspective is always important, as is recalling the historical context within which most things occur. The recent developments between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping with their meeting in Moscow is no different, hailed by many in the West as an alarming bromance that bodes ill for the future.

It is not the first time that China and the then Soviet Union came together in a shared enmity toward the United States. In 1950 Mao Zedong established an alliance with the Soviet Union against what it regarded as the US-led revival of Japanese imperialism in Asia. Mao’s resentment of Soviet condescension poisoned the relationship, leading to a split by 1963.

In 1971 Richard Nixon created the opening resulting in an agreement aligning the US and China against the Soviet Union. This grew over two decades, ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chinese massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. With 9/11 both China and Russia supported the US in the common fight against fundamental Islamist terrorists, with each country confronted by similar threats.

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Since then that sense of common purpose has faded, especially as Putin’s dreams of rebuilding Russia’s former imperial past has grown. Yet its lamentable performance in Ukraine has weakened perceptions of Russia and heightened Xi’s discomfort of drawing too close to Putin, whatever the external appearances of a bromance between the two might be. Shortly after the Moscow meeting, Xi reached out to the leaders of the five Central Asian republics to convene a summit in Moscow in May.

Roddy Gow OBE, Chairman, Asia Scotland InstituteRoddy Gow OBE, Chairman, Asia Scotland Institute
Roddy Gow OBE, Chairman, Asia Scotland Institute

A few weeks ago, the Asia Scotland Institute hosted Dr Paul Clifford at the Business School of Edinburgh University where he spoke about his book The China Paradox. Updated to reflect recent developments, he concludes that his feelings over China are pulled in many directions.

Advocating concentrated pressure to make China back off from actions that the global community see as crimes against humanity, he stresses the need for widespread collaboration in areas that make sense such as climate change, environmentally sound technology, biotech and AI for medical applications. “I have a deep admiration for China’s remarkable and unanticipated achievements over the last four decades,” he said. “I not only feel some pride at what has been achieved but also sadness at aspects of the China that is emerging from this long transition.”

Recently, our Institute mounted a webinar with Susan Shirk, Chair of the 21st Century China Centre at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. Her book Overreach, How China Derailed its Peaceful Rise, has been called “essential reading for everyone concerned with relations between China and the West”. Her conclusion is that “the festering resentment created by hostile US rhetoric and actions, which is then fuelled by CCP propaganda, could become a liability for stabilising the relationship”.

Writing in The Nation, Jake Werner reflects on a path away from great power conflict. He suggests that “Washington is girding for a long-term contest with China and often views the war in Ukraine as an early skirmish in that larger struggle. Beijing views the conflict differently, feeling itself pushed by US hostility to back Putin despite substantial misgivings about his action.”

Maybe any talk of a bromance is premature. Maybe the couple will never make it to the altar.

Roddy Gow, Chairman and Founder, The Asia Scotland Institute



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