The Russia-China Relationship Points to a Better Future for the World

The United States is openly stating its desire for a better relationship with Russia. At the recent meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland, United States secretary of state Blinken and his Russian counterpart Lavrov held what has been termed as a cordial meeting. It is well known that United States president Biden is anxious for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Putin. The Russians are correct to be cautious about such a meeting. Biden has some lost ground to make up. His television interview shortly after being elected in which he agreed with the interviewer that Putin was a “killer” has not been forgotten in Moscow.

The Americans have made other gestures to signify that they are interested in a better relationship with Russia. Among these gestures is the dropping of United States attempts to stifle the completion of the Nord Stream 2 project that will bring electricity from Russia to Germany. That deal is due for completion later this year and will probably be delivering Russian power to Germany by September.

United States opposition to the deal always had a high level of self-interest as they wished the Europeans to buy their own, much more expensive, electricity. The Germans were never interested in that deal, for multiple reasons, not the least being that it would place German industry even more susceptible to United States influence than is already the case.

Although Nord Stream 2 now looks highly likely to be completed, it is not yet a done deal. There is some significant opposition within Germany itself, somewhat surprisingly, coming from the Green Party who are currently polling well is advance of September’s elections. It is surprising because the Green Party attitude placed them in line with the American view, which is one indicator of how far the Greens have travelled from their early days.

The support of German industry is likely, however, to be decisive, regardless of the outcome of September’s elections. The election also marks the retirement of Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been the dominant German leader for the past 15 ½ years, making her Germany’s third longest serving leader.

The United States gestures toward improved relationships with Russia has, of course, a subtext. The Americans have decided that the greatest threat to their continued domination is the rise of China. If the Americans are to compete with China, they see the need to separate Russia and China.

It is a fact that the Russian-China relationship has grown markedly in recent years. In trade terms alone, Russia’s trade with China grew 20% in the first quarter of this year. Apart from trade there are a number of other areas where the two nations are building an ever-closer relationship, not least in their bilateral trade, but also through the joint membership of the Shanghai Corporation Organisation and other international organisations.

Those organisations have a common interest in developing strong trade relations, freed from the often-suffocating embrace of the western dominated financial institutions that have dominated world international trade for the past 70+ years.

China has been at the forefront of developing this new system. It is exemplified, for example, by its Belt and Road Initiative, which now embraces more than 140 countries around the world, having representation in all of the world’s regions including Africa and Latin America. Those two regions have historically been under the heavy influence of the British and the Americans respectively.

It is no surprise that the United States is a prominent non-starter with the Belt and Road Initiative, seeing it as a threat to their earlier domination. Unsurprisingly, they are joined in this antipathy by Australia whose federal government recently blocked moves by the state of Victoria to participate in the BRI. The Australian government has gone out of its way to antagonise the Chinese in recent years, which, to put it mildly, is a singularly stupid policy to pursue with one’s largest trading partner by a considerable margin.

Australian ministers have recently complained that their phone calls to Chinese counterparts go unanswered and not returned. According to the Australian government it is all China’s fault, which tells one more about the Australian mindset than it does about the reality of the relationship.

China in the meantime continues its relentless advance. As measured by the more reliable indicator of parity purchasing power, rather than gross domestic product, China is now the world’s largest trading entity, having passed the United States some years ago. One of the reasons for China’s success, in the BRI and elsewhere, is that they base their relationship with their trading partners on what Chinese leader Xi calls a “win-win” situation.

Unsurprisingly, this approach, so different from the West’s way of doing business, is one that finds favour with a vast number of countries. United States attempts to contain China and limit its ever-growing influence around the world is therefore unlikely to succeed.

That does not make the United States challenge any less serious and one fraught with potential risks. United States has had things its own way for so long, and has used and abused that power with virtual impunity, that it will not take the emergence of a serious competitor lightly. Therein lies the greatest danger to the world.

The Chinese are not going to allow any return to the dark years when they were dominated by Western influence. If the Americans do something stupid, like a military response to their declining power and influence around the world, then the Russia-China close relationship will doom that effort to failure. The majority of the world’s countries who are benefiting from the new form of partnership will certainly lend their influence to ensure the return to the old days of United States dominance remains very much a matter of the past.

James O'Neill is a retired Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He can be contacted at Read other articles by James.