Country Report: Russia (May 2020)
One message stood apart in Russian coverage of international relations in the Indo-Pacific in the early spring of 2020: what is the impact of the pandemic on China and on Sino-US relations? In the background is the question: what will be the impact on Russian foreign policy? As for China, numerous questions are raised about its xenophobia, speed of recovery, political psychology, and alternative ways to defend its reputation. Yet, more than the impact in China, the impact on Sino-US relations aroused debate. Pessimism prevailed, including much talk of a new cold war, marked now by an intensifying war of narratives. Confrontation over Taiwan was considered more likely. On Sino-Russian relations, they are generally seen as growing closer—for instance, in space, as Sino-US competition there intensifies, and even in energy. Yet a strong warning that relations have peaked and Russia needs to be cautious can also be found.
In Profil’ on April 23 Ivan Zuenko wrote that the epidemic has revealed how widespread xenophobia is in China, explaining that it exposed many problems in various countries that people had preferred not to notice. In the West, racism toward Asians were suspect as virus carriers. Now it is Chinese accusing foreigners, forcing dark-skinned people into isolation and even Russians. Along with a history of the “yellow peril” in America and Europe, Zuenko uses the term “Westphobia” to capture attitudes in China. In the 1980s when many in China were exuberant about all things western, some warned of prostrating before the West and were angry at the privileged position of Westerners in China. As China’s economy grew, a different view spread, including looking down on Russians, whose material existence has fallen behind across the border despite efforts by Chinese to be polite. The Beijing Olympics were a milestone in liberating Chinese from age-old complexes, now voicing assertive claims over territory or against Russian skinheads attacking Chinese in Moscow. Confidence in national superiority grew annually, leading to Xi Jinping’s call for restoration of China’s greatness. As in Russia, such chauvinist leanings were mainly confined to commentaries on the web, and it was safer to be a European in Beijing than an Asian-looking person in Moscow. Lots of people found menial jobs in China illegally.
Zuenko cites two preconditions for the escalation of dissatisfaction: viewing China as pariahs earlier in 2020, and subsequently, images of other countries being less successful than China in controlling the epidemic, lacking the discipline Chinese had shown. Although cases in China were overwhelmingly brought by returning Chinese, public opinion was aroused against foreigners. An infected Nigerian on April 1 bit a nurse trying to restrain him in a hospital. Rumors spread of the virus growing out of control in Guangzhou enclaves. The US consulate in the city on April 11 warned of racism against African Americans. By mid-April xenophobia was rampant, as seen by the expulsion of foreign nationals from rental units and harassment on the streets. Discrimination was not sanctioned by central authorities, but the golden age for expats in China has ended. Illegal work and other crimes will no longer be overlooked. Without signaling out Russians in China, Zuenko may be sending a message that the pathway for unqualified work there may now be closed.
Andrei Petrov of the Russian embassy in the PRC in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’, No. 4, asked how the Sino-US trade war will play out. The US launch of the trade war will lead to years if not decades of confrontation with an impact on global economic ties. He argues that the January first-phase trade deal raises more questions than it brings answers. Trump proceeded on the basis of public opinion aroused by China’s growing economic and military power, argues Petrov, omitting mention of US grievances over unfairness. In turn, the trade war is turning opinion even more negative. A dark cloud was cast in December 2018 with charges against Huawei, a symbol of the PRC’s technological modernization in which Chinese take pride—seen as an undisguised effort to eliminate a competitor and contain China’s technological development. The January 2020 deal was the fourth “approach” to manage the trade conflict. This is really the end of the first phase of the trade war, only arousing skepticism among many that much room remains for conflict.
Before the ink had dried on the agreement, the epidemic had hit, casting doubt on China’s ability to deliver on its promises. Washington is also conducting an ideological campaign to justify its behavior, including attacks on BRI as a debt trap and on the danger of China’s 5G. China has answered these attacks. The author cites Snowden on major US companies assisting intelligence gathering by the US. China has tried to neutralize the conflict and normalize relations, stopping the trade conflict from turning into a political confrontation. Many see China as having a real chance to become a superpower, which the US seeks to prevent. Americans have long talked of containing China, but Trump is the first president to act on this. A successor could blame him, restoring relations on a peaceful track. Yet success in pressuring China will encourage the same modus operandi by Trump’s successors, intensifying containment of a geopolitical opponent.
On April 30 in rbc.ru, Aleksandr Gabuev and Temur Umarov explained how China is defending its reputation in the crisis. Attitudes toward China after the crisis depend heavily on this public relations campaign against the accusations of the US and its allies. International society led by the US demands that China explain the whole truth about the origin of the virus and even to compensate other countries for their losses. We have gone from a trade war to a virus war, which has become the main foreign policy subject of the US electoral campaign, as Trump puts all US troubles on China for fear of losing. Early in the year Trump praised Xi Jinping for transparency when his trade deal appeared to be a winning issue. The worse the US epidemiological situation, the harsher Trump’s accusations. Democrats responded with criticisms of Trump’s China policy.
Other countries joined the US accusations, demanding more information from Beijing or permission to conduct an independent investigation. In response Chinese diplomats and propagandists took two approaches: aggressive (“wolf warrior”) nationalism and caution not to ruin relations with the establishment in the US, while praising China’s role in buying time for all humanity to fight the virus and its humanitarian aid. A third direction was aggressive diplomacy to shift the blame through conspiracy theories. The target was, first of all, internal consumption to distract attention. The leadership is gathering feedback on how to improve the country’s image in this increasingly unfortunate situation. Any country that demands an independent investigation will be pressured, beginning with Australia. Russia officially supports China in its struggle against “politicization of the pandemic” but it needs to watch carefully how China shifts its foreign policy philosophy and implementation.
In Valdai Club as early as March 16, Artem Lukin warned that the coronavirus could lead to a new confrontation of bipolarity, as the US elite viewed China as an equal and dangerous adversary. He sees mutual accusations flying back and forth, with the US taking the initiative. Many in the US early did not hide their satisfaction that the epidemic struck a blow to China. Chinese officials responded in kind. After the epidemic wanes, Lukin foresees a new wave of confrontation as practically inescapable. China’s effective fight against the virus demonstrates its system’s superiority in organization and use of new technology. The US elections will have little impact, given anti-Chinese attitudes in much of the US establishment. The turn to containment began under Obama, and Biden could well make pressure on China more systematic. The deepening confrontation, on the one hand, is good for Russia, shifting US attention to China and looking to make a deal with the Kremlin. On the other hand, it would make Russia a peripheral player in a new bipolar framework. Russia could follow the model of France, keeping its status as a great power and relatively independent foreign policy while leaning to one superpower.
On April 24, Andrei Kortunov wrote in RCMD on the battle over the “coronavirus narratives,” occurring all over the world. Instead of postponing discussion about issues that are not urgent, the battle is raging, leaving the impression that it is being fought more fiercely than even the war against the coronavirus. This should not surprise anybody, creating a mythology that may prove no less important than today’s myths about victory in WWII or the Cold War. Statistics favor China in winning against the virus, obliging the West to create an alternative narrative in defense: 1) to discredit the official statistics of Beijing on the virus; 2) to pretend the West is superior on all counts while hiding the bungled responses of its leaders, especially Trump; and 3) to conceal the fact that contemporary capitalism is at fault, more Reagan than Trump, for total privatization and refusal by the state to assume traditional social responsibilities. The principles of political liberalism account for the failure. Authoritarianism has its shortcomings, too, but if China wins the battle of narratives, doubtless much will change in the dominant images of the desirable future for humanity. There will be more pandemics. People will ask if it is better to live in authoritarian Wuhan or to die free in New York. Perhaps, the theory of convergence, popular in the 1960s-70s, will make a return, concludes the analysis.
In Valdai Club, Vasilii Kashin on May 5 asked about China’s “guilt” for the epidemic, given that the US blames it on the “criminal nature of the PRC regime” and argues the PRC intentionally concealed key information and even facilitated the spread of the epidemic. This is nothing new in international relations and just proof that the world has returned to the epoch of the first years of the Cold War. Kashin finds the politicization predictable and sad, seeking who is guilty in an epidemic. In the past, China, due to its fauna, climate, and dense population, has often been the birthplace of epidemics, fueling racism as in the West in the 19th century. But China, in 1951, supported by the USSR and DPRK, once accused the US of provoking an epidemic in Northeast Asia. The new US accusations are more of the same, dragging us back seven to eight decades. China’s response is that the US army brought the virus to China. Charges against China rest on its restraint in the first stages in providing information, which is a sign of an authoritarian regime unable to respond to a threat due to its information controls. Yet some information was quickly disseminated enabling research on the new virus. Delays in taking serious measures were unfortunate but explicable. Other countries delayed, too, when information was fragmentary.
On May 13 in Kommersant, China’s pushback in the war of words started by the West was analyzed. If charges against the US are somewhat restrained, Australia is hit with the full verbal blast. The US Congress is threatening sanctions, and China is responding with an information attack. The conflict with Australia is deemed most interesting, seen from April 20 in China’s strong tone, charging that Australia was following US instructions in joining a propaganda war, warning about Chinese tourists no longer visiting such an unfriendly country, and that Australia is conducting a full crusade against China and Chinese culture. Prime Minister Morrison on April 29 toned down the rhetoric while still calling for an independent investigation of the origin of the virus before China responded with threats of stopping economic cooperation and student exchanges, as imports from big companies were cut, supposedly due to violations of sanitary norms. Emerging well from the crisis, China is seeing a spike in voices claiming its superiority, even at the price of drawing protests, as in Kazakhstan over blogged territorial pretensions, and raising doubts, especially in the West, about China’s peaceful intentions.
In Kommersant on May 8 Alexander Gabuev assessed positive data from China and warned that its recovery from the pandemic will be a long, torturous process for it and its trading partners. If some in Russia were counting on China spurring Russia ahead, this was put in doubt.
On May 7 in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, Fedor Lukyanov asked about the prospects of a confrontation, warning that the political psychology of the PRC could change in the course of this epidemic. The notion of a “cold war” returned in the mid-2000s, when Russia’s relations with the West grew clearly contradictory. Now the “spirit” of a cold war is drawing greater attention with the anti-China campaign in the US and psychological pressure on China beyond that seen in 1989. The US interest in intensifying pressure is clear; more interesting is what China will do. Until now, it has done all it can to avoid direct confrontation. Angry at charges leveled against it over the pandemic, it may seek to strike back. It has available using its position as America’s biggest creditor. The “liberal world order” is finished, and in some different format a serious confrontation is inevitable, concludes Lukyanov.
In Rossiia v Global’noi Politike, Alexander Lukin wrote about Russia’s strategy toward China in the new epoch, reflecting on the June 5 leaders’ agreement that left vague any qualitative change. Key to the change is Russia’s shift vis-à-vis the US in 2014 and China’s since the trade war began, as each abandoned hope for a constructive relationship with the West. Putin’s fighting attitude made him extremely popular in China. Signs of improved Sino-Russian relations include: permission for Chinese state company investments in Russia’s energy and technology sectors; the beginning of the docking of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) as well as China’s approval of the idea of the Greater Eurasian partnership; cooperation in space; the sales to China of the most advanced Russian weapons; a new level of military exercises; and cooperation in building a Chinese missile defense system. A barrier may be China’s insufficient trust due to its self-confidence in foreign policy, unlike its prior win-win rhetoric. An example is the pressure put on Ukraine to close an exhibition on Hong Kong—still a trivial event compared to classic great power behavior. The style of diplomacy has changed, even crudely dictating and keeping blacklists, reminding one of the “Cultural Revolution.” Arrogance can be seen as a return of the xenophobia of traditional Chinese empires, which led to their ruin. China’ popularity has fallen in neighboring states, casting doubt on programs such as the BRI. The battle with the coronavirus is further evidence of “self-confidence.”
Lukin turns to Sino-Russian relations, saying that China’s popularity is still rising, but he warns that China’s assertiveness can be directed not only at enemies. It blocks books and television shows from Russia, more strictly of late, and in Russia, China has spread its version of Sino-Soviet relations, keeping foreigners including Russians away from Chinese museums on this theme. Memorials to Russian soldiers who liberated Northeast China have moved—more than in Eastern Europe—to the outskirts. The behavior of Chinese students and teachers not only interferes with academic cooperation, but has resulted in Russian schools declining to invite Chinese for permanent work and a decline in the number of students. Russia tries to limit the Confucian Institutes to no more than Russian centers in China, seeking to close some for illegal activity, as accusations of spying has made cooperation in the sciences dangerous.
Despite positive opinion of China, 46 percent do not want to go there—compared to 27 percent who would choose so—while 49 percent would choose Europe. A stable minority is cautious about China, either extremely Western-oriented or nationalistic. Russian strategic interests turn it toward China, given its economic and political might and sanctions pressure. Yet relations are two-sided: no fear yet in the public sphere of a deepening divide economically and militarily, which China will deal with unceremoniously; and fear that demands for complete support for China’s policies will complicate Russian ties with other partners, as in territorial disputes. There are limits to this relationship, unless the PRC overtakes the US in power, but strengthening ties now is necessary, while also drawing closer to less powerful states for balance. Given the pandemic, Russia can be more cautious in choosing between partners, including those who are not counterweights to the US. It seems that “self-confidence is an inevitable product of a stronger China; Moscow should not agree to closer relations such as a formal alliance, which a confident China also does not need. The peak in relations has probably passed.
In RSMD, Danil Bochkov foresaw intensified competition in space between China and the US as a major part of the new cold war. China’s 2020 mission to Mars will be part of it, and the US is pressuring allies to withhold cooperation from China in technology. More and more, countries will be drawn into this struggle. China will strive to find new partners and strengthen ties in space to old ones, including with Russia, as a means to lower the risk of dependency on partners in the EU. Countries will regroup, taking sides. Attempts to straddle will fail, as the US gives ultimatums, “with us or against us.” Russia can support free choice.
On April 17, Vasilii Kashin asked how the coronavirus is impacting Sino-Russian relations. The reorganization of Russia’s cabinet in mid-January delayed the response to Chinese news about the virus. Until January 20, opinions varied on the virus, but on that day, Xi Jinping began to warn of its danger. Only on January 31, Putin sent a telegram to Xi, expressing sympathy and offering help. From early February, aircraft loaded with medicines left for China. When the tide turned and Russia was in need, recipient cities in China turned around and assisted the donor cities in Russia. Yet China did not share in a timely manner the strain of the virus, which Russia had to request from another country. Russian epidemiologists went to China and were not given direct access to patients despite some cooperation. Problems may have resulted from the specific system of management of the Chinese companies, whose moves were tightly controlled from above, inhibiting information sharing. Other problems were connected to early cases in Russia of discrimination against Chinese (later followed by cases in China against Russians and other foreigners). Another factor was the behavior of Chinese propagandists, exaggerating China’s successes and contrasting these to failures elsewhere, mainly in the West but at times Russia. Yet in comparison to the grandiose scandals at times raised between Western countries, such tensions did not amount to much. On the whole, the partnership held up well. China is now the subject of an information attack, as the US politicizes responsibility for the pandemic. There is reason to expect further strengthening of the Russo-Chinese “consensus” on an anti-American axis.
On May 6 in RCMD, Ivan Danilin reviewed the Russo-Chinese dialogue on innovation technology, referring to a complicated history with slow progress in the 1990s and a jump since 2000. Two blocks are seen in nuclear reactors and aviation technology. Technical cooperation at the company level and higher education has been complicated despite some Chinese investments in Russian venture businesses. There has been an imbalance, with China importing advanced Russian technology and Russia importing components and equipment. Periodically, sparks of activity in joint techno-parks have been seen, but this has not led to commercialization of Russian work in the Chinese market or to Chinese investment in Russian projects. Results in 2018 were meager and not systematic. One reason is that the Russian sector is undeveloped; another is China’s preference for the US and Western Europe. The situation began to change in 2018 with the Sino-US technological conflict—Russia and China drew closer geopolitically and Russia stepped up its relevant activity, leading to an intensive boost in cooperation, involving major Chinese firms such as Alibaba and Huawei. China is methodically opening channels to Russian talents. The Chinese strategy now only partly depends on Sino-US relations. Also, conditions in Russia matter, and results will lead to adaptation. Problems for Russia are the strategic asymmetry, where Russia could be the net donor, and conflicts of interest between corporations in the two countries. 2020-21 are designated years of cooperation in scientific and technological innovation. Yet, lawyers are needed in defense of intellectual property, the article cites as one of Russia’s tasks.
On May 4 in RCMD, Andrei Kortunov suggested that Russia has replaced China as the wise monkey who sits on the mountain watching two tigers fight. It stays in the shadows unlike China under Xi Jinping. The Sino-US relationship has turned into a full confrontation—economic, technological, geopolitical, military, and even ideological. The pandemic has accelerated it into a new bipolarity. Is Moscow capable of sitting on the mountain top, carefully maintaining a balance of relations between the two? The obvious answer is no, since Russia’s reputation in the US is in no way better than China’s, even if it is not considered as serious a strategic competitor. Russia is seen as a spoiler—not a good starting point for an effective role as a balancer. Mutual dependencies have also made it harder to sit out without having to choose, and in its forays, it will unavoidably turn to the side of China. The White House has nothing to offer Putin and is unwilling to follow Kissinger’s lead with Mao of 50 years ago.
Even so, the monkey, descending into the valley, is fully able to play an autonomous role. Further worsening of Sino-US confrontation is not in Russia’s long-term interest, posing strategic risks in stability, regional crises, proliferation, and economic strains. Also, Russian interests to some degree differ from China’s as seen in Chinese corporations and financial institutions de-facto abiding by US sanctions on Russia and China not recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, while Russia is not fully with China on the South China Sea, India, and Vietnam. There is no necessity to forge a formal military-political alliance. Finally, the monkey can find common interests with other animals; the trends toward bipolarity could be reversed, especially with maximum cooperation with the EU—another monkey on the mountain.
On May 12 in Chinologist, Sergei Tsyplakov asked why China’s scenario of victory over the coronavirus was not followed in Russia. China declared a “people’s war”—and not as empty words. Success was realized in limiting the spread to a few critical spots, by using the traditional “baojia” system in local social structure and contemporary platforms like the internet. It was impossible to apply the Chinese model in Russia, which has no community infrastructure and could not go on “military rails,” Moscow was not isolated from the rest of the country or even, for a long time, from Europe, and the mass media disoriented the people without giving them a sense of the real level of danger. Many accusations in the West toward China are baseless, some distorted for Trump’s reelection bid. Yet, one wonders whether local authorities or Beijing was at fault for the long delay in responding. Answers are needed. The US has had some success in spoiling China’s image, spreading anti-Chinese emotions, and China has used nationalist emotions for its political interests—both dangerous for cooperation today.
Many recent technological advances have helped China in controlling the virus and will likely accelerate. The current stage of restoring the economy will last at least to the end of the year and perhaps longer, including stimulating demand. Russia has a different economic structure, and the Chinese experience is hard to copy. Bilateral trade will fall with a decline in the price of oil and other natural resources and the devaluation of the ruble. Many foresee China emerging from the crisis stronger with a greater role in the world, but China needs a rise in demand as the main engine for its economy. A stable and prosperous China is always in Russia’s interests, Tsyplakov concludes.
In Argumenty Nedeli, an interview with Sergey Karaganov asked with whom Russia should save the world: the US or China. The world is rife with problems—capitalism is at a dead end; the global project of the US is in ruins; Russia helped undermine the foundation of the 500-year rule of the West based on military superiority; climate change and environmental degradation continue to worsen; and Western alliances are in crisis—which ordinarily would result in war, but fortunately nuclear weapons stand in the way. Distraction by the epidemic is temporary, and we are ignoring much more important problems, such as economic reforms. Elites happily seize on the crisis to cover up problems. Ahead, the south and center of Europe will move to Eurasia. A big struggle will ensue over siding with the US. The US erred in allowing Russia to draw close to China, and now China relies on Russia’s strategic might. China is a gigantic resource, giving Russia a chance to develop, even if Russia is not using it well. China in 15 years will be the first world power. Karaganov’s comments show his confidence in China and Sino-Russian relations.
On April 24 in MKRU, lessons were drawn from China in fighting the virus with the advice that Russia is 2-3 months behind in returning to normal life and that it is still insufficiently studying the Chinese experience. Officials at Russia’s embassies and consulates need to do more. Regret is shown to the weakening in Moscow over decades of “powerful sinology,” civilian and military. But marshalling all national forces using the lessons can still enable Russia to restore normal life.
On April 21 in Business Online, Iurii Tavrovskii estimated the cost of the US conflict with China and the role of the pandemic in the battle for world domination. He notes that China is fearful of a second wave, which can arrive from outside to what has become an oasis in the sea of Covid-19. He would not rule out that the US would, in the end, simply confiscate $1 trillion in Chinese inputs into US treasuries, perhaps just before the elections. China is cautious, depending on exports and seeking to avoid a trade war and buy time to 2049. Yet, its patience is wearing thin, and the blogosphere is full of sharp accusations against the US. Succeeding, China uses the Communist Party and a system of social organization and surveillance foreign to Russia. Also, its urban youth are very disciplined. Despite first impressions, China did what was needed. Russia has been following China’s example, but others did it poorly and got poor results. No matter how much Russians speak of strategic partnership, China sees Russia as a second-rate country. China’s image slipped at the start of the epidemic, but improved with success and then with humanitarian assistance. China is emerging stronger than before, despite a new anti-Chinese campaign due to pretensions for world domination. The cold war between China and the US will be the main theme of the first half of the 21st century. Unfortunately, Russia cannot participate in the struggle for world domination but should maintain its relatively independent position, as hard as that will be. China’s help is vital in the pandemic, but all fear giving it carte-blanche, the author adds. Nobody will save Russia; it must find its own way forward.
On April 21 in carnegie.ru, Alexander Gabuev and Temur Umarov wrote about how the pandemic is strengthening Russia’s dependence on China, even if there is still a high level of distrust between them. Russia has no other choice. The impact of 2020 is similar to the crisis of 2014, greatly accelerating the relationship. Russia’s economy and technological development are ever more dependent on China, which influences other spheres of cooperation. This is happening too fast to win support from society and the elite in both countries, which could lead to distrust and other problems. In the “Turn to the East,” China’s share of Russian trade rose from 10.5 to 16.6% over six years to 2019. Suffering less from the pandemic, China is in a position to buy more, as after 2008. China will have a big say in the vector of Russia’s economic development. China’s role will grow in Central Asia, too, with Europe turning inward and Moscow lacking resources, which may strain Sino-Russia ties. As for distrust, China did not supply Russian doctors with the virus need to find a vaccine. Despite all the negative consequences, Russia has no other alternative.
On April 27 in Evraziia Ekspert, Vladimir Nezhdanov described the impact of the pandemic on Sino-Russian energy relations. Recovering, China requires resources, and its energy demand is at a record level. China’s imports of oil from Russia in March rose 31% from a year earlier, even as Saudi Arabia seeks further growth in its exports. China has promised to buy more US energy. Both factors put pressure on Russia, but it has advantages: pipelines and unique trust with China. Moreover, China’s demand for gas is falling as it produces more at home, in which Russian companies can invest. The tone is rather hopeful about Russia’s prospects in the China market.
In Zavtra on May 7, Iurii Tavrovskii wrote about Taiwan, warning that the US was provoking a military crisis as part of its multi-pronged cold war against China. It actively supports the Taiwan government in its declarations of sovereignty, provides support for provocative war games. New measures are being taken on the Chinese side. Against the background of the pandemic, both sides have stepped up military maneuvers. Raising the chances of a confrontation is the more active anti-China mood in the US, which is destroying the basis of its relationship with China and of international peace, concluded Tavrovskii.
Gleb Ivashentsov, ambassador to India, wrote about that country in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’, No. 4, referring to it as one of the new great games in international affairs. He classified its economy as third in the world in purchasing power parity and its military as fourth. Also, its geopolitical position is viewed as important. What is needed for India to enter the “top world league?’ The opinion is heard that developing at its current tempo, in the spirit of “perestroika a la Modi,” India after some time will overtake China. Its advantages include a large population, many of whom speak English, an Anglo-Saxon system of rights, rather firm democratic political traditions, and close elite ties with the West. However, there are many problems not easy to resolve—such as tax reform, the grey economy, bureaucratic red tape and corruption, and infrastructure. It remains at 77th in the index of ease of doing business. It is very short of natural resources. Yet outsourcing is a path for mutual dependence with the West. In practically all large American companies in information technology or electronic posting, ever more people from India, including women, are in leading engineering and administrative positions. Members of the Indian diaspora in the US are distinguished by high incomes, a high educational level, a major role in the scientific-technological sphere, and political and social influence. In other countries they also hold high positions. Members of the Indian diaspora in the US have close ties to India, leading to greater bilateral trade and investment, explains Ivashentsov.
Turning to the Indo-Pacific region, Ivashentsov calls India the key state, even if India is not “leaving to the West.” It prefers to avoid firm declarations on serious international issues and to keep maximum freedom to maneuver on the global arena, while affirming its key role in the Indian Ocean and part of the Pacific Ocean. “Act East” policy means not only to broaden economic ties and political cooperation with countries in Southeast Asia but also to bring India strategically closer to such leading countries as Vietnam, ASEAN as a whole, Japan, and Australia. In ties with Russia India shows understanding of its international behavior, the Soviet introduction of troops into Afghanistan, and not joining the chorus condemning the return of Crimea. It has not imposed sanctions against Russia. Its two main problems with Pakistan and China cannot be resolved without Russia’s participation. Modi attended the 2019 Eastern Economic Forum with the intent to widen economic participation in the Russian Far East, and he has interest in a North-South corridor through Iran to Russia and Western Europe as well as in control of terrorism in Central Asia.
Strategic Russo-Indian ties concern India, atomic and military cooperation, and the peaceful conquest of space. Only with India does Russia cooperate on atomic submarines. As its weight grows, India speaks of the Indo-Pacific region, which resonates with Russia’s interests. It participates in the US Quad over apprehension about the growing power of China, but it fears a formal alliance and loss of its “traditional autonomy.” India is aware that Indo-Pacific assumes a split in the Eurasian continent, excluding China, Russia, and other continental states, while the “community of one destiny” includes all of Eurasia. Not viewing India as an autonomous center of power, the US wants to drag it into a cold war when it is a natural ally of China interested in restructuring the global order, consistent with Russia’s call for the Greater Eurasian project. This optimistic take on how India can serve Russia’s regional aspirations downplays Sino-India issues.
The article ends with a call for RIC (Russia-India-China) within BRICS, since the three have no objective contradictions. Such discussions so far only have a declarative content. That could change with agreement on a financial order and an energy regime as well as on opposition to “double standards” on human rights and interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. The RIC summits in December 2018 and June 2019 were unavoidably brief, Ivashentsov notes, but he is insistent that Russia and India have a strong foundation to strengthen ties, avoiding any mention of the myriad problems still interfering with Sino-Indian ties and affecting Russia too.
On April 27 in Profil’, Fedor Tertotskii asked who would lead North Korea if Kim Jong-un were to die suddenly. He warns that, in that event, the country could face an unprecedented political crisis, but he proceeded to follow North Korean news in greatly doubting that the problem will arise any time soon. Informal rules will apply, which mean the preceding leader chooses his successor. In the absence of a choice, the first question is will it be a Kim family member or not. If the latter, one can expect serious reform, as after Stalin’s death. Members of the elite would contend not over their visions but over their survival prospects.
On May 16 in Profil’, Andrei Lankov asked what does the DPRK expect from the cold war between the US and China, which most experts assume will continue even under a new president. It welcomes this, putting it back in its customary, comfortable position. At the start of the 2000s China resumed help for North Korea, one reason for which was the first signs of a new conflict with the US and rejection of unification under Seoul as something in conflict with China’s own interests, which offers support but only to keep Pyongyang on a leash. Oil has an increasing role, but not at a reduced price even if on credit. While its trade with Russia over the past decade comprised only 2 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, China is really the only exporter—in return for coal, fish, and cheap labor. North Korea sees China acting in its own interests, not a reason for gratitude. Under Kim Jong-un, confiscation of Chinese investments has happened quite often, as in 2012 when a company lost $35-40 million, and China’s attempts to interfere always end in failure. What has bothered China the most are the missile and nuclear ambitions of Pyongyang, providing an excuse for the US military presence in Northeast Asia. Beijing often showed its displeasure, even stopping oil product supplies and reaching the end of its patience in early 2017 after an ICBM test and a hydrogen bomb test. Only once North Korea had declared a moratorium and started talks with South Korea and the US, did China change course, renewing some help and weakening customs controls. When in the spring of 2018 the US began the trade war, China further softened its stance on the North as a means to pressure the US. Things are looking up for the North. It can count on China to its good luck, concludes Lankov.