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Grand Eurasian Alliance Needs More Thought

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In the mid-to-late 1990s, many Russians became disappointed with their relations with the United States. Instead of adopting a post-communist Russia as a coequal ally and partner, Americans went on a policy of expanding NATO all the way to the Russian border and started to practice "geopolitical pluralism" in the former Soviet space. The Russian elite, insulted and indignant, resolved to stand up against the US. It adopted the Beijing-born idea of multipolarity and adapted it to use against what looked like US's coming hegemony in Eurasia.

As a pole, however, Moscow was too weak to challenge Washington, except verbally. It needed allies. Ex-Soviet republics were way weaker than Russia, and unwilling to link up with Moscow again so soon after reaching independence from it. More importantly, they had no interest turning against the US, which appeared as a source of support and, if need be, protection. So a number of Russian academics and government advisers turned to China. A Russo-Chinese alignment, they argued, would check US's threatening influence and raise Russia's power and prestige.

The Chinese, always politely, poured cold water on these ideas. China, they said, highly valued its new relations with Russia and saw Moscow as a true strategic partner-in-the-making. Cooperation with Russia was beneficial and needed to be expanded and deepened. An alliance of any kind, however, was out of the question. China was fully capable of standing and walking alone. The 1950 alliance with the Soviet Union was an exception, never to be repeated. Beijing's overriding goal was domestic development. It had no grand designs for the world at large.

More privately, Chinese scholars and academics were rather outspoken. Russia, they said bluntly, was a declining power; the US, by contrast, the world's leading one. Despite all the issues between Beijing and Washington, China was vitally interested in using its US connection to capture markets, gain access to technology and attract investment.

Now Russians are beginning to hear for the first time something that years before would have been music to their ears. With US foreign policy pivoting to Asia, and Beijing coming under pressure from Washington along a broad front, some Chinese scholars are beginning to speculate whether a closer alignment, perhaps even an alliance with Russia, might be in China's interest to balance the renewed US focus on Asia-Pacific and Washington's search for new allies on China's periphery, from India to Indonesia to Vietnam.

A "grand Eurasian alliance" would not, of course, be an ideological compact or a military bloc. However, it would be every bit strategic. China and Russia would coordinate their policies on such issues as protection of their national sovereignty from foreign encroachments and advancing their interests on the global stage, whether in the Middle East, the Caucasus or the South China Sea.

They would strike an energy pact, bringing Central Asia on board. They would use the complementary nature of their economies to assure the transfer of Russian defense, nuclear and space technologies to China, and the flow of Chinese investment into Russia to help rebuild Russian manufacturing. They might even come up with a joint asymmetrical response to US's emerging global missile defense systems.

Some, in both countries, may be ready to sign up for this generally illustrative list even now. The project itself, however, looks doomed until and unless the US commits a series of major blunders to push China and Russia into each other's arms.

Putin, who is coming back to controls in Russia, is certainly not hostile to China, or inordinately fearful of it, but his project of a grand Eurasian alliance sees Russia eventually linking up with Europe, not with China. Asia is only beginning to develop an Asia-Pacific policy for the new century, but that policy will not be wedded to any one country.

While the idea of a new Sino-Russian alliance appears unworkable, one should not throw the baby away with the bathwater. The Sino-Russian strategic partnership is a major boon for both countries, and one of the pillars of peace and stability in Asia. One needs to work hard to fully explore and enhance the potential of that partnership. China and Russia need to be friends, but not against a third party.

Source: Global Times

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