Why China and Russia draw closer together

One possible pipeline route

A possible gas route

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.
    ==Donald Rumsfeld

In April President Obama visited nations on the rim of eastern Asia to reassure them of U.S. support against China, whose government has aggressively laid claim to islands in the East China Sea that these nations regard as their territory.

China’s response has been to strengthen its ties with its inland neighbors, especially Russia and Russia’s client states in central Asia.   Last week China announced a $400 billion deal to buy natural gas from Russia.

At the same time President Xi Jinping called for greater military co-operation among China, Russia and Iran.

Another possible route

Another possible route

Guests at the Russian-Chinese conference included Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Nasr al-Maliki of Iraq and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  Ironically, their presence together was made possible by the U.S.-backed regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq, he would not be found in the same room with a leader of Iran.  And the Taliban in Afghanistan, before the invasion, were much more anti-Russian than anti-USA.

Pepe Escobar, who has long reported on these developments for Asia Times, says that the most important event of the 21st century will be the economic integration of the Eurasian continent.

Many things could go wrong with this.  Just because something is announced doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen.  But I don’t have any specific reason for doubting this will come true.

0912ChinaSeaTerritory2

I don’t know why the Chinese government is so interested in these islands. It is likely that China wants to control any offshore oil and gas in the vicinity of these islands. It could be that the Chinese government wants to stir up international conflict to divert the Chinese people from serious economic problems at home.

And since the Chinese have historically regarded small neighboring nations as their fiefdoms and tribute-payers, maybe the Chinese government wants to remind them of their powerlessness. This goes along with a racist contempt that some Chinese hold for other Asia peoples.

I don’t have specific knowledge of U.S. and Chinese naval strength, but my guess is that the United States Navy is well able to protect these islands. While the USA has not fared well in land wars on the mainland of Asia, a naval battle would be a different matter. The USA is still supreme at sea.

The threat would be if the conflict got out of hand. I don’t anticipate use of nuclear weapons by either side, but the United States is highly vulnerable to economic warfare and to cyber-warfare. So is China, but that might not be enough to prevent a war.

map_russia-oil-gordon

So it is not surprising that China pivots to Russia as an alternative energy supplier. Its pipelines into the heart of Eurasia, unlike supplies by sea, are not subject to blockade.

I think China has the upper hand in the Chinese-Russian relationship. China, like the USA, is a great industrial power with many potential sources of supply, including direct pipelines to central Asia and the Middle East. Its potential relationships with those nations, unlike with east Asian nations, is not fraught with memories of past conflicts.

Russia is not a great industrial power. Its economy is based on exploitation of natural resources, which are not in infinite supply. Russia’s need for an alternate market is increased by conflicts with Ukraine, the European Union and the United States and the threat of economic sanctions.

I don’t think it is possible for the United States to prevent the extension of Chinese influence into the Eurasian heartland or the linking of the Russian and Chinese economies.   We Americans need to concentrate more on the sources of our own economic strength and less on trying to prevent the prevent the rise of other nations.

§§§

Much of my information on this topic comes from reporting and analysis by Pepe Escobar and other writers for Asia TimesHere are links to Asia Times articles on this topic that I recommend.

The future visible in St. Petersburg by Pepe Escobar.

China pivot fuels Eurasian century by Pepe Escobar.

Russia offers China a bridge to Europe by Francesco Sisci.

Cold War heats up in Asia by Peter Lee.

Pipelineistan and the New Silk Road(s) by Pepe Escobar in 2013.

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