Country Report: Russia (January 2023)


At the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 Russians were asking about how much room they had to maneuver in Asia given their dependence on China. While the mainstream was doubling down on an “alliance” with China with strong ideological overlap, it was also hinting at anger with those looking for other partners in Asia. Answers were offered to many key questions.

What is the nature of the Sino-US competition? What is the impact of Chinese behavior on other Asian countries? How do they position themselves between the US and China? To what extent does Russia need to diversify in Asia from its bilateral bond with China? How flexible should Russia be with countries developing closer security ties to the United States? What is the right approach to India and its embrace of the Indo-Pacific concept, which Russia has rejected? What will be China’s impact on the world order? How does the Soviet legacy impact the direction of development in Central Asian states? What is the relevance of the “China Dream” to Russia? What is needed to overcome transportation problems at the border with China? What will trigger China to take action against Taiwan? What will be the impact of Japan’s new security strategy? These are some of the questions addressed in the latest batch of Russian articles.

In Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, January/February 2023, Aleksandr Lukin wrote about the Sino-US competition in the Asia-Pacific region, arguing that there is a fundamental difference in motives because the US is fighting for regional leadership for ideological motives. Every threat to US hegemony in any region is taken as an existential threat to the US itself. Morality and security are inextricably linked. China seeks to become a modernized, socialist country with attendant power and influence and is forced to be anti-American due to US containment policy. In Bali, Xi Jinping underscored to Biden that China does not seek to change the existing world order or to replace the US as world leader. The rise in Chinese influence due to its economic growth is seen as an existential threat to US hegemony, Lukin argues, ignoring any Chinese responsibility. The main problem, readers learn, is that China did not adopt US values and become pro-American.

Much was ignored prior to Xi Jinping for the sake of economic growth, but he decided to stop further departures from the principles of socialism. China was strong enough to no longer have to compromise with the bourgeois world for investments and advanced technology. It could now insist on its core interest, which are more broadly defined, and impose sanctions against unfriendly countries. In the US the Party Congress led to a loss of all hope for a liberal economic course as Xi’s opponents were ousted, but the Party Congress did somewhat moderate anti-US and anti-Western rhetoric with the aim of preserving constructive relations as well as peaceful coexistence. Nonetheless, The Washington Post, which of late reflects the radical, imperialist wing of the Democratic Party, editorialized that “coronation of Xi portends a troubled time for China and the world,” criticizing Biden for his constructive appeal to China for cooperation. The Republicans hardly differ from Biden’s course except for eschewing his tendency to consider the interests of allies. The US warns that BRI activities by Chinese companies lead to economic dependency on China, arousing local dissatisfaction, ignoring the environment and labor laws and corrupting local authorities, while exclusively using Chinese workers and technology. Such accusations played a role in Malaysia, Sri-Lanka, Fiji, Vietnam, and elsewhere, where the US used them to increase its influence. Countries are ambivalent, wanting to use the economic and financial possibilities but fearful of falling into economic and political dependency. Policies of China in some cases lead to illegalities through Chinese diasporas and local influence agents.

Lukin mentions past Chinese agents in Malaysia and the significant role of debts to China in the destabilization of Sri Lanka in 2022 over as well as Vietnam’s interest in cooperation with the US over China’s territorial claims that arouse anti-Chinese emotions and Singaporean officials routinely accusing China of trying to use ethnic Chinese as agents of influence. In this struggle the US is viewed as a natural ally. The US uses the fear in many neighbors of the PRC over the use of its power to forge a traditional, medieval system of domination over its neighbors. These fears are especially widespread where large Chinese diasporas are used to increase influence. This explains interest in closer strategic cooperation with the US as a counterweight to China.

China is Russia’s most important and reliable strategic partner, but developing relations with other states in Asia, even those fearing the rise of China’s interest, is also important. Russia needs to support China, but not unconditionally. In relations with states closest to China, as the DPRK and Myanmar, it is possible to fully align with China’s approach, as on the nuclear problem on the peninsula. In the case of countries developing ties with the US (Vietnam, Mongolia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and, to a degree, Singapore and South Korea), a more flexible line is possible. Usually, their interest in the US is to guarantee security and receive investments. Russia could use its influence, limited as its resources are, to resolve problems for balancing the influence of China and the US.

India requires a special approach, turning into an important partner amid anti-Russian sanctions. It is extremely dissatisfied with the aspirations of the US and its allies for world hegemony; however, it has tense relations with China. A major element in its growing power is the concept of the Indo-Pacific region, which is not interpreted as anti-Chinese and, even more, anti-Russian. Russia’s total rejection of this concept is met with incredulity in India. It would be better to reinterpret the concept, so widely accepted in India and Southeast Asia, with contents favorable to Russia. In Central Asia it is necessary to coordinate with China to counter the rising influence of the US and its allies, accepting the inevitable rise in China’s economic influence. It is better for Russia than US or European influence. Russia should prioritize security without neglecting trade and investment. As for US allies which fully share the US anti-Russia position, e.g., Japan, Russia can take a harder line and support China’s pretenses to them.

In Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, January and February, Aleksandr Lomanov described how Xi Jinping is preparing China for a new epoch. He warned that the unexpected protests in November 2022 were a reminder of the possibility of sudden turns in the development of China, which could mean a “color revolution” capable of destabilizing the country and halting economic growth. Xi’s proposal to Obama of equal relations based on mutual respect failed. Under Trump relations turned confrontational, and Biden added ideology. There is little chance of a Xi-Biden agreement. Chinese policies in the 2030s after Xi could thaw, attenuating “harsh authoritarianism.” However, by then nostalgia for friendship and cooperation with Americans will have disappeared after the experience of fierce competition in the 2020s. China is spared Western technological blackmail due to its own industrial base. By the end of the 2020s it can facilitate a multipolar world by supplying allies with a spectrum of contemporary technology (including civilian aircraft) and means of production (including for microchips). Unification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should occur by 2049, the PRC centennial. Time is not on the mainland’s side, as Taiwanese society grows non-Chinese and anti-Chinese in identity. Efforts to eradicate alternative interpretations of history, which could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the existing system, will be decisive under Xi. A collapse of the Soviet type is least likely, given the lessons learned from the demise of the CPSU and collapse of the USSR. In October the PRC will be 74 years old, after which it will surpass the duration of the USSR—an important symbolic victory in the historical competition between the two. If modernization in the face of growing confrontation with the West is realized, China can transform the entire, familiar world order.

Aleksei Mikhalev and Kubatbek Rakhimov in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, January/February, wrote about the battle over Soviet heritage in Central Asia, praising the impact of integration through the EEC or EEC+. On October 14 at the CIS summit in Astana Tadzhikistan president Rakhmona asked that the countries of Central Asia not be treated as in the USSR. Yet, this article stresses the significance of what was created in the period of the USSR’s existence in terms of resources and values for this century, noting nig enterprises, resource extraction, borders, energy infrastructure, culture, etc. Some problems lingered, but many resulted from new borders and diverse economic models of development. Infrastructure has degraded, leading to accidents and problems with irrigation. The current geo-economic situation derives from a complicated complex of Soviet heritage foreign investment, and resource nationalism. Since the collapse of the USSR these countries have constantly confronted the contradictory interference of Moscow, Ankara, Beijing, and Washington. Within the EEC these countries can achieve a stable, strong, region-wide position, but that takes time. Only resource nationalism now serves as a popular program in opposition to the ruthless exploitation of local resources and infrastructure by trans-national companies. The Soviet legacy held that natural resources must belong to the nation, which is the most important part of the legacy from which the sides can be spared the idea of decolonialization of the Soviet past. The egalitarian side of the Soviet project is now excluded from declarations of rethinking the shared past and social values, which influences their political systems. The battle over the Soviet legacy continues, in as much as the industrial base and infrastructure built through Soviet civilization will long draw the interest of world powers and transnational companies. Qualitatively new relations could, if spheres of influence are finally redistributed or an entirely new economy arises, emerge not based on the export of natural resources. This reflects on Russia as the successor of the USSR and the Soviet heritage as a whole. This discourse is especially salient in the new geopolitical map of the world, whose active phase of formation began at the end of the winter of 2022. Competition for gold, fresh water, uranium, and gas will intensify near India and China, reshaping geo-economics.

In MKRU on November 28, Iury Tavrovsky wrote that the “China Dream” is embodied in Russian reality and that China has created a new form of human civilization. Tracing the idea back a decade to Xi’s speech at the National Museum on November 29, 2012, he finds remarkable success with traditional enemies already convinced of the impossibility of stopping the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation even if they resort to “trade wars,” “color revolutions,” and military operations. Traditional friends of China are delighted with its successes, guaranteeing a global world and a model of development worthy of repetition. In Russia there is an analytical center, “Russia Dream, China Dream,” where an academic some years ago concluded that a new world order had arisen in China, following feudalism, capitalism, and socialism, which is called “integralism,” synthesizing socialist ideology and creative realization of one’s productive activity, centralized strategic planning, market competition, and state control over the exchange of money, and private enterprise. Deng Xiaoping in his one-year study in Moscow in 1926 observed the effectiveness of NEP and studied the works of Bukharin, who inspired him in the 1980s. Although Mao criticized the Soviet model, other high officials defended it. Five-year plans are the backbone of the economy. The state owns critical parts of the economy. Russia is similar but lacks long-term patriotic goals and a communist party with 100 million members and 4 million branches to regulate the interactions of the state and private sector economy, facilitating mobilization of the nation at critical moments of the pandemic and the unfolding “cold war.” Harmony and effectiveness, i.e., synergy, require this. Forging a “Russia Dream” with “socialism with Russian specifics could become as effective an engine for Russian progress. After the first decade of the “China Dream” a new stage has begun called the “new era” with a “new approach.” There is no reason to doubt its success to 2035.

In MKRU on December 17 in an interview Iury Tavrovsky asserted that whoever has not been sleeping sees that there is an overlap in national interests since Xi strengthened his power. He describes a year of achievements from the Winter Olympics to the end of “Zero-Covid,” but he rates the “historic” 20th Party Congress at the top. The final goal is 2049, and 2022 marks the end of one decade and the start of Xi’s second decade, which may go to 2035. Putting aside leftovers of the Deng era, which was correct for its time, it is moving away from “reform and openness,” which has lost effectiveness. In parallel to the CPSU 20th Congress decisions, this is a “self-revolution.” In China, Xi has moved away from foreign markets, adopted assertive strategies, and actively joined in building a new world order in place of US hegemony. Xi has shifted to a total war against corruption and for a green economy. Under Deng, the orientation was to the US, the West. Americans paid for China to take a hostile approach to the Soviet Union, dragging it into a war on two fronts. Alarmed by China’s successes, Americans began to contain it, economically and militarily. Xi tried to get equal relations, but was refused, starting a rapid plunge in relations, which in 2018 acquired the full dimensions of a “cold war.” Under Deng, relations with Moscow saw mutual suspicions. Under Xi, “strategic partnership” gained completely new contents, practically becoming a military-political alliance as two fronts in the global cold war of the US against “autocratic regimes” that do not accept US hegemony. In place of the “new era,” China has turned to a “new approach.” It is not accidental that right after the congress Xi led the Standing Committee to Yanan, rekindling “red patriotism.”

With success in “Xiaokang” over a decade, sharply reducing poverty, Xi has moved on to “common prosperity” (gongtong fuyu) to raise the living standards of the poor and limit the super-rich. It remains unclear if this will be communist redistribution on behalf of the entire nation. As hard as this may be, Xi succeeded in Xiaokang lifting 100 million out of poverty despite doubters. In Xi’s favor, the chances of war over Taiwan have diminished, and the US will find it very hard to press Tsai Ing-wen to proclaim independence or to draw China into a war, diverting it from constructive construction and worsening its ties to neighboring states. Xi is correct to lower tension with “strategic patience.” He was restrained too in Xinjiang, foregoing a full-scale counter-terrorist operation in favor of “reeducation centers” and in Hong Kong, where the situation was normalized without a “new Tiananmen.” Americans were itching for war over Taiwan, counting on the Pelosi visit to be the “trigger.” Xi awaits a declaration of independence, blockading then and convincing local electors to vote against risky experiments.

Asked about his new book, The Chinese Miracle: Roots and Fruits, and the view in the West that China’s economy has fallen into stagnation, Tavrovsky said the lower growth rate would still be envied in lots of countries and that “Zero-COVID” played a role. China chose lives over the economy, humanistic versus the US approach. China was a little slow given the lesser severity of “Omicron,” but restrictions have now been relaxed, and normal life is forecast for mid-spring as optimism abounds. Already Chancellor Scholz has visited, breaking the “great anti-Chinese wall,” and Xi triumphed at the G20 summit and in Saudi Arabia with many leaders.

China’s Party Congress has the most positive significance for Russia. In our capitals there are people connected to American think tanks, companies, banks, or whose relatives live in the West, who are blind, but those concerned with national interests have wised up. Only in 2018 did pressure, previously centered on Russia extend to a “second front of the cold war” China. Chinese dropped their illusions. Their only fault was to succeed. Biden has expanded the scale. Russia diverts part of the Western potential against China on its front, and China’s demand for Russian exports saves Russia. Imports from China make things easier too. In the “new era” the strategic partnership with Russia will grow. Close ties have persisted for these ten years not because Xi loves the Russian classics and his wife loves to sing Russian folk songs. Xi is doing what is in China’s interest. As long as he is in charge, bilateral ties will proceed positively.

On January 13 in Kommersant the end of pacifism in Japan was explained in light of Kishida’s summit with Biden to great fanfare in US media. Japan has become a powerful ally of the US in containing China, North Korea, and Russia, it noted, citing the Wall Street Journal on the Kishida-Biden talks possibly becoming the most significant diplomatic event of 2023. One US objective is to convince Japan to unite in limiting access to American technology in the production of semi-conductors. This summit was described as a prelude to the visit of Secretary of State Blinken to China. Although tension between the US and China over Taiwan has somewhat subsided, strengthening cooperation with Japan gives the US a trump card in talks with China. Japan’s plan to double defense expenditures to 2% of GDP by 2027 is a clear signal of the goal of meeting the NATO standard. The US-Japan 2+2 meeting was a sign of alarm about the growing strategic, military cooperation between Russia and China, including their joint exercises close to Japan. Ekaterina Mir concluded by saying that Japan plans to have a “sword” as well as a “shield,” which only can happen with the help of the US.

In Kommersant on November 29, Sergei Strokhan’ reported that Western allies cannot agree on a common approach to China. Unlike Great Britain and the United States, states in the EU are choosing to preserve their “naivete” in trade ties with Beijing, seeking to sustain their economies in conditions of a sanctions war with Russia.

On December 1 in Kommersant, Tat’iana Edovina noted that quarantines are hampering trade with China. The load on land routes at peak periods significantly exceeds the projected capacity as quarantine measures and sanitary restrictions, even leading to prohibitions against certain types of production hold back increases in Russian non-raw material exports. Lockdowns hurt imports to Russia as does congestion at the border. New crossing points are needed to resolve transport problems. Increasing trade volume occurs against a background of new complications in delivering goods. Russian companies working with Chinese producers note new waves of limitations owing to growing numbers of infections in the context of “Zero-COVID.” Such problems have existed since the start of the pandemic, some inexplicable and unpredictable. A fish fillet was deemed dangerous with the potential to transmit the virus, while crabs and other marine products went through. Nonetheless, trade has risen 27% this year and may hit $160 billion. For the first ten months of the year, Chinese exports rose 13%, Russian ones 50%, largely due to the price of oil. Crossing points, under various restrictions imposed by the Chinese side, face a 30-60% increase in volume, as Chinese goods fell by 2%. Hours have been expanded. If plans are realized, an additional 20 million tons a year will be handled. At a meeting on logistic limitations a week earlier, there was discussion of the need to remove barriers and simplify procedures for rail and auto cargo. Problems have extended the time to reach Moscow from 40 days at the beginning of summer to 2.5-3 months. Vorsino station is so much in ruins, trains are no longer passing it. Other stops are simply overloaded with insufficient platforms.

On January 16 in Profil’ Dmitry Trenin forecast Russian foreign policy in 2023. He blames Japan for abandoning the Abe legacy and returning to the hostility of the Cold War era. If Japan did not intend to cut energy ties with Russia, its tightening alliance with the US along with the growing military-political closeness of Russia and the increase in tensions on the Korean Peninsula contributed to three against three in Northeast Asia. Despite all of the US strain to split Sino-Russian relation against the background of the Ukraine conflict, economic and military ties have strengthened. A spring visit by Xi Jinping will be proof of this. Yet, countries react in light of their own national interests, and the US today is an opponent of Russia and only a potential opponent of China, which is insufficient to forge a military alliance, China’s leadership values its economic interests in the markets of America and Europe. Beijing may reconsider, treating the US as an enemy, but it will not do so for Russia’s sake. Relations with India are complicated. Within this decade it has set the task of completing its rise as a powerful economic force, making it deeply interested in economic and technological cooperation with the US, the EU, and Japan. Moreover, it views China as a major opponent and source of a military threat on the border. Moscow in 2023 should decisively strengthen its position with India, convincingly explaining its foreign policy and refuting efforts by Western media to distort it, which orient the Indian media. Trenin is concerned about continuation of the drift in ties.

On October 16 Sergei Tsyplakov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that there is still no way out of the danger that further escalation on the Taiwan strait will lead to a regional conflict. He says that in the spring of 2014 the thaw between Taiwan and China was interrupted by mass student “sunflower” demonstrations in Taiwan against too close ties, with a slogan: “We do not want to turn into a second Hong Kong.” Supporters of independence enjoy a solid base of youth support. Under Tsai Ing-wen polemics grew more ideological, serving the narrative in the West of the clash of democracy and autocracy. As a result, relations with Beijing were frozen and balanced on the brink of armed conflict. No short-term exit from this dead-end can be seen, as seen in opposing statements on October 10 from Tsai and Xi at the October Party Congress.

On November 16 Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a story by Vladimir Skosyrev that Washington is asking Taiwan to commit economic harikari. It proposed stopping the supply of certain semi-conductors as part of the Chip-4 alliance. This would be suicidal for the fastest growing industry in Taiwan, which depends on the Chinese market. South Korea also depends heavily on China for its chip exports, and it is dragging its feet to fulfill Washington’s orders. The biggest US firms producing microchips also operate in Taiwan and cooperate closely with Taiwanese companies. Thus, a division of labor can be established. Taiwan is prepared for the PRC to try to take over its semi-conductor firms, ready to destroy them and already mining them, readers are told.

On November 17 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta Iury Paniev wrote of Taiwan and Ukraine becoming the main themes at the APEC summit. The US and its allies seek to put Ukraine on the agenda. A repeat is possible of the May APEC economic ministers’ meeting, when representatives of five countries, along with South Korea, walked out in protest of Russia, which led to the Russian delegation walking out for the US trade representative. Referring to the summit of China and Japan at APEC, the article emphasizes the deterioration of relations over Taiwan. For Russia, clearly, figuring out the chances of a breakdown in Asia mattered greatly during 2022.

Alexander Lukin on November 27 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta predicted that Sino-US tension would increase. He argues that there is fundamental difference between the two. US euphoria over the “unipolar moment” and “end of history” led it to continue behaving as if the 1990s had never ended and its domination over the world system was normal. Security, interests, and values are interwoven into one. China has the potential to reform the international order. The US ideology cannot accept that. Biden largely continued Trump’s course, but he is willing to cooperate with China in some areas while competing vigorously, i.e., severe containment, without conflict. Lukin reviews the Biden-Xi November summit, listing areas of proposed cooperation. China’s aim is not to get into fights but to advance policies to boost its economic development and increase its influence in international affairs. Xi said that one side’s success is an opportunity for the other, not zero sum, explaining that China never had the pretense to change the existing world order or to interfere in US internal affairs. Biden offered many assurances, which Lukin says, should not be taken at face value. After all, the Washington Post strongly criticizes Biden’s China policy and the entire course of cooperating with China. It calls for a course of unlimited pressure, which will force China to change course in a crisis it is now facing to more pro-American, and the Republicans attack Biden as pro-China. On the one hand, both sides understand the necessity of limited cooperation. On the other, the US will not forego sharp criticisms of China or put aside a provocative approach to Taiwan or soften strategic containment. China will continue to respond and take corresponding measures in security. If some agreements are possible, they will be temporary and very limited in the problems they address.

In Nezavisimaya Gazeta on December 5, Anatolii Komrakov wrote that Russia and China are reducing use of the dollar in trade. The flow of goods across the Russia border has risen after the pandemic. About half of Sino-Russian trade is no longer in dollars, using national currencies. Komrakov says that the approaches of Moscow and Beijing overlap on many current problems, and they are pursuing the formation of a multipolar architecture and are ready to counter new challenges and rising foreign pressure. Trade rose over the first ten months of 2022 by one-third to $150 billion, exceeding the $141 billion for all of 2021 and including a 23% rise in the supply of electricity. The Russian prime minister in a video-call has appealed for stable work on transport arteries, complaining about the continued impact of limits imposed due to the pandemic.  He noted the start-up in 2022 of two new cross-border routes across the Amur River, for autos and trains. Mishustin argued that conditions exist for starting production in Russia with the participation of Chinese companies, noting an auto factory in Tula of “Great Wall,” which issues 40,000 cars a year. He recalled the almost forgotten project for a wide-body, long-range airplane, and stressed great potential in information and telecommunications. Mishustin counted about 80 joint projects before the Russo-Chinese commission, valued at $160 billion, some serving as a force for global energy security. Russia hopes to accelerate realization of projects with China. Since the technology of China as well as India currently lags that of the West and Western companies always played a role in consortiums for big Russian energy projects, complications exist for northern energy projects.  Some proposals by Russia have not won the approval of Chinese partners was the clear conclusion of this article.

On December 25 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Valerii Kistanov wrote that Tokyo accuses Russia of a threat but wants the Kuriles. Kistanov reviews Japan’s recent three documents for their impact on military strategy. They refer to unprecedented threats from China, North Korea, and Russia. By 2027 Japan is set to exceed the defense expenditures of all NATO states except the US and China. Russia is depicted as a serious threat to national security. There is talk of preventive strikes against the bases of an opponent viewed as preparing an attack on Japan. There is no doubt that the revised strategy will heighten tensions and an arms race, leading China and North Korea to further strengthen their missile potential. Seoul will not be pleased, given its territorial dispute with Japan. One can assume too that Russia will take adequate measures for its Far East. If you treat China as a threat, you become a threat to China, Global Times warned. China sent six ships led by the aircraft carrier Liaoning through a Japanese strait on the day the three documents were issued. The US is deeply satisfied, especially regarding Taiwan. The taboo over mention of Taiwan in such documents has been broken. There is a challenge to Russia too, linking forceful reunification with Taiwan to Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. This threatens to forge a military tandem on anti-Japanese grounds. Labelling Russia a threat and accusing it over Ukraine is in fact a trade-economic, political, and information war. In turn, Russia has put Japan on its list of unfriendly countries, deepening the freeze in bilateral ties. This muddies the prospects for a thaw, e.g., an energy bridge between Sakhalin and Japan. Moscow has already stopped negotiations over a peace treaty, joint economic activities on the four islands of the Southern Kuriles, and visa-free exchanges there. The opposition and mass media criticize Kishida’s cabinet for acting hastily without the necessary Diet discussion. Japan has a huge debt, which will be strained by a sudden hike in the military budget. Asia Times calls the three documents the remilitarization of Japan, the article concludes.

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