[OUTLOOK]Friends over weapons and oilThe Year of Russia celebrations opened magnificently in China on Wednesday. In preparing for the event, the Chinese government showed exceptional efforts to consider Russia, as they hung special emblems bearing the image of a panda and a bear cub throughout the streets of Beijing.
Russian president Vladimir Putin congratulated the successful launching of the Year of Russia event in person leading a 1,000-member official and unofficial entourage that accompanied him on his China trip. The Chinese leadership, including President Hu Jintao, stressed that the two nations were “brother nations” as the similarity between the panda and the cub on the emblem suggested.
Since being elected president in March 2000, Mr. Putin has made a total of four visits to China including the most recent one. His Chinese counterpart, Mr. Hu, has also worked to maintain frequent contact with Mr. Putin, as Russia was his first foreign destination and the two also held talks on occasions like the summit meeting during the Shanghai Co-operation Organization. During the past year alone, the two leaders have met no less than five times.
Whether you look at the number of meetings in the recent days or the China-Russia joint military exercise held in August last year near the Shantung Peninsula, one obvious thing is that the two nations are no longer cold-blooded competitors. Now they have surpassed the strategic partner stage and are now considering each other as “brother nations.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even went so far as to say that the strategic partnership of cooperation between Russia and China is “irreversible” at a press conference on Wednesday.
As a result of the summit talks, the Russian and Chinese governments signed 22 agreements. Among them are contracts for Russia to construct two gas pipelines in China within the next five years and various agreements to strengthen cooperation in nuclear power. The two nations also showed a firm solidarity on international issues. The atmosphere was so good that the Chinese media called the relations between the two countries, “relations stronger than an alliance,” “more than just neighbors” and “new alliance.”
But like the fact that pandas and cubs are completely different breeds and have different attitudes and tastes, it is unrealistic to jump to a conclusion that the two nations are completely brothers yet.
While the leaders of the two nations show passionate exchange, the national sentiment of the Chinese and Russian people is still half hearted. The illegal border crossings by the Chinese into Far East Russia and Siberia are serious. Both militaries continue to maintain a high level of tension on the 4,300 kilometer border as a result of territorial conflicts in the past.
Russia’s Prime Minister in the late 1990s, Yevgeny M. Primakov, strengthened the need of a regional alliance between Russia, India and China. But the three nations have yet to develop the relations further than a solidarity-stage. This is because the amount of interest among them is not certain enough to develop their relations into an alliance.
Even during the recent summit talks, China tried to get a definite promise from Russia on the route of the Far East oil pipeline, which Russia declined. This is because the Russian leadership decided that it would not be beneficial to the interest of Russia to acknowledge the predominance of either China or Japan at the current stage.
There are many obstacles that need to be overcome for gas to be supplied to the Chinese market. Even if the problem of supply prices is put aside to be decided later, the instability in Western Europe, the largest market for gas, should be resolved. In order to satisfy the increasing gas demand in Western Europe and enhance supply capabilities, investments totaling $11 billion is required. Russia, however, has been making it difficult for foreign companies to make new investments into the energy sector. Oil from Siberia to China continues to be moved by railway and the monopoly on pipelines by Transneft shows no sign of weakening. In order to maintain the competitiveness of its munitions industry and curry favor with the military, investment in research and development of modern weapons is essential. But the Russian military is no longer open to transferring next-generation high-tech weapons to China.
China and Russia have formed a new honeymoon relationship on the basis of weapons and oil. The relationship is expected to continue for some time in the future but it is uncertain as to whether it will develop into a full-fledged alliance or not. It is not desirable for the rest of the world for the two countries to form an exclusive alliance. The international community must work to get China and Russia to open their doors and cooperate with other nations.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan