Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#18 - JRL 7139
The Future of Asian Security: Russia, China, and India
An Interview with Wayne Merry
Washington Profile News Service

Wayne Merry is a Senior Associate at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Q: What is the Chinese perception of Russia today? 

I think there are different schools of thought about Russia in China, but in 
general they tend to see Russia as an example of having taken an incorrect 
path of reform, engaging in deep political reform before engaging in economic 
reform. The Chinese approach, of course, has been to engage in economic 
reform as a way to preserve the Communist system. Many Chinese commentators 
look at Russia as an example of mistakes, lessons to be learned of what not 
to do. 

They also look upon Russia as demographically weak, a country that has lost 6 
million of its population since the Soviet Union and is going to be losing 
even more. They understand that east of the Urals is only 10% of the Russian 
population, and that most of that is strung out along little settlements 
along the trans-Siberian railroad. And they understood, I think, that in the 
same way that Chinese economic dynamism is coming to dominate the countries 
of Central Asia, that's it's also likely to dominate Russian Siberia and the 
Far East. I don't think they're in any hurry to draw political implications 
from that, they're quite willing to be patient. China's number one priority 
remains Taiwan. That's an issue likely to consume Chinese talent and policy 
for along time, so I don't think the Chinese are looking for the 
rectification of the treaties with imperial Russia, certainly not in the next 
generation and maybe not anytime in the next 50 years, but at some point they 
probably will. 

They tend to view Russian policy under Putin as a policy of uncertainty.  
Russia would still like to be treated more or less on a level of equality 
with the US, but of course, on any level other than nuclear weapons, it 
doesn't have any of the assets. They also know that Putin and most of the 
Russian elite are oriented toward Europe, and after all most of the Russian 
population is in the European part of Russia. They also know that Putin has 
been extremely accommodating to the US since 9/11, and that this policy has 
been very successful for Putin. Relations between Washington and Moscow today 
are a lot better than the relationship between Washington and Berlin or 
Washington and Paris. They also know that Putin is smart enough not to commit 
himself too much to the US, and so Putin wants to maintain good relationships 
with China, with Japan, India, South Korea, in order to maintain 
alternatives, and why shouldn't it? Russia is a huge geographic entity. It 
has every interest to maintain good relations all around its borders - with 
Iran, with Western Europe, with Turkey, with South Asia, with East Asia. 
There's no benefit for Russia, in its weakened status, to be in a conflict 
relationship anywhere in its borders. What the Chinese see when they look at 
Russia is a country that's dealing with long-term weakness. And that's 
something they understand, because Chinese policy for most of the past 200 
years was the policy of weakness, and of trying to deal with strong external 
forces while looking to build internal cohesion, and looking for a better day 
in the future. So they understand that, and they can appreciate the 
limitations this policy imposes. I think they feel that Putin's policies 
after 9/11 went too far in accommodating the US. The Chinese did not do that. 
The Chinese have pursued a policy of neutrality. They certainly would have 
preferred that American bases not be present in Central Asia, though I think 
they understand that those bases really are temporary and of very little 
military significance toward China. I think the relationship between Moscow 
and Beijing is a relatively friendly one, but a secondary one for both 

Q: What do you think is the future of this relationship, taking into account 
the role of America and the viability of Communist rule in China?

The one thing that Russia and China do have in common is that they're 
concerned about the reality of a world in which so much power is concentrated 
in one power center - the United States. This is obviously a concern they 
share with people in Europe and lots of other Asian countries, that given the 
weakness of much of the global economy, excluding the US and China, and given 
the power vacuum that exists in much of Europe and in Russia, that a 
disproportionate amount of influence is concentrated in a single state. This 
is not something the US planned, it's not something people in Washington 
planned to achieve, it happened because of the end of the Cold War and the 
collapse of the Soviet Union, and the lack of a power on the world stage by 
Europe and Japan. The Chinese see, I think, that as time passes, this 
situation is not likely to endure. Their view is that the next great power 
center, not perhaps on the same status as the US but a great power center 
nonetheless, will be China itself.  I think for both Russia and China, they 
are concerned that they have to find ways of both accommodating the reality 
of American power but also protecting themselves against the potential 
negative implications of that power. I think it's indicative that both Russia 
and China have been much less confrontational with the US over Iraq than have 
France and Germany. Both the Russian and Chinese do not approve of American 
policy toward Iraq, they certainly don't want to give approval for the war 
against Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, having realized that it's going to 
happen, they are drawing the logical consequences that it's more reasonable 
to try to deal with this issue than to stand hopelessly in the path chanting 
anti-American slogans and abusing the American president. So I think in many 
ways, the Chinese and the Russians are showing a greater sense of 
self-interest and vision in terms of dealing with the US, but I don't think 
that we should be under any misapprehension that they are not concerned with 
a world that's so unipolar. 

The future of the Communist leadership in China is something that is 
difficult for me to speak about, because I don't know much about China's 
domestic politics. What I do know leads me to believe that in a real sense, 
the Chinese communist party is ceasing to be a communist a communist party  - 
it's already become what 20 yrs ago would have been called a Euro socialist 
party. It's developing the way a communist party did in Italy. The fact that 
you have explicitly capitalist entrepreneurs as members of the communist 
party and you have communist party policies that are as pro-commerce and 
pro-trade as almost anything you can find in an explicitly capitalist country 
means to me that what we're really dealing with is a power system, and 
whether that power system calls itself communist or nationalist or Manchu, 
it's still a power system. I look at the people who are running China today, 
and no matter what they call themselves, the realities of the system would be 
the same. That anyone could think of this as a Communist party in the 
tradition of Marx and Engels and Mao Tse-Tung strikes me as very improbable. 

Q: Russia sells a lot of weapons to China - is this a factor in their 

There have always been conflicting views in Russia about the wisdom of these 
sales within the army staff and a number of institutes. People have asked the 
question of whether this is selling weapons to a China which is increasingly 
going to be a security problem for Russia itself in the Far East. But for 
most of the past 10 years, the issue has been fundamentally economic. One 
Russian expert told me at a conference recently that the entire Russian 
armaments industry is operating at 12% capacity, and that almost half of that 
is accounted for by sales to China. So it's a matter not just of having 
production to employ workers but even of keeping the number of armaments 
production lines and design institutes alive. And so long as the 
international weapons market is depressed, which it has been, both in the 
East and the West and the Third World, for most of the past 10 years, these 
Russian producers are going to be searching for markets anywhere they can 
find them, and the only two big ones they have are China and India. There are 
a few smaller ones in some other places, but since Russian armaments have 
been largely shut out of the former Warsaw pact countries, who are either 
producing their own or buying from NATO countries, if the Russian armaments 
industry wants to maintain anything like its current level of output, it 
really doesn't have much of an alternative to selling to China. 

Q: Does Chinese immigration across the border in the Far East pose a 
significant long-term problem for Russia?

No, it doesn't. I think the problem has been greatly exaggerated. I have seen 
a number of very authoritative studies by Russian demographers and 
specialists, plus one of my colleagues at the Foreign Policy Council made two 
trips which took him the entire length of the Russian-Chinese border, and he 
published a monograph in which he examined this problem. And the notion that 
there are millions of Chinese living on Russian territory is a myth. 
Certainly, there are several hundred thousand, but many of them have been 
there for many years, sometimes even generations. There are also temporary 
workers who come from China into parts of the Russian Federation. But the 
problem is not that there are Chinese coming illegally over the frontier, but 
the demographic weakness of Russia's own population in the Far East, where 
you only have about 7 million people in the entire region and it's declining 
dangerously every year, and the decline is concentrated among younger, more 
active talented people, so it's a situation in which in another 15-20 yrs the 
Russian population of the Far East will be extraordinarily old, relatively 
sick, and quite unproductive. The problem is not that there are so many 
Chinese, the problem is that there are so few healthy and young Russian who 
wan to live and work in the Russian Far East. 

There's the broader population problem in Russia as a whole. Demographics in 
the Far East are among the most severe, but they're not as bad as those in 
Russia's Far North. The only way people were ever encouraged to live in the 
Far East was if they were forced to, in the penal colonies, or if they were 
paid considerable supplements and bonuses to go there. Obviously there are 
some people who would live there by choice, but that's not enough to make 
those places into thriving economic areas. It might be a very different area 
if the major regions in the Far East opened themselves and integrated into 
the Pacific Rim economy. There was a lot of hope for that in the early 1990s, 
and it was because of that that the US opened a consulate general in 
Vladivostok, and invited American business to get involved in the Russian Far 
East. But the governments in Magadan, Primorsky Krai, Khabarovksy Krai have 
been so Soviet in their mentality, so unfriendly to investment and Western 
business, and so corrupt and crime-ridden that many of the Western business 
that were interested in opening up in that part of Russia ten years ago have 
now left. Unless Putin can find a major source of money to subsidize people 
to live in the Far East, the way it was done in the Soviet times, or unless 
you can have a complete change of political leadership in the regional 
governments that would create a much different approach to commerce, I just 
don't see why anyone would want to stay in that part of the world, from an 
economic viewpoint. I was in Vladivostok a few months ago for a big 
conference at Eastern State Univ. and I had a chance to give a seminar to the 
senior students at the Vlad. Institute of Intern. Relations. And these were 
extraordinarily talented people, they had a very good program, they spoke 
other languages, they were a sophisticated group, competitive with the people 
of their age anywhere in the world. But then you looked at what opportunities 
were there for these people In the region, I think in reality within 5 years 
most of those talented people will be either in Russia or outside the country 

Q: Evgeny Primakov once spoke of creating an alliance of Russia, China and 
India to counteract the West. Is this a feasible idea, or even a good one?

When Primakov was still prime minister he went to Beijing and then New Delhi 
and put this idea of the trilateral strategic relationship, it fell very much 
on deaf ears both in China and India, and there are several reasons for that. 
First and foremost, the Chinese and the Indians both understood that this was 
a Russian statement representing a weak and increasingly ineffectual actor in 
Asian affairs trying to court favor with two much stronger and much more 
dynamic powers, particularly China. Neither Chinese nor Indians leaders had 
any desire to use their own newly found status as Asian great powers to 
assist Russian policy. Essentially, Primakov was going with a begging bowl, 
in a strategic sense, to both Beijing and New Delhi, and neither of them had 
any interest in that kind of relationship. They're quite willing to buy arms 
from Russian organizations and do other kinds of business, but they certainly 
have no desire to make themselves a dependency to a Russia which has a 
weakened position. The other factor is that India and China, while they have 
a degree of accommodation, are regional rivals, They still have a major 
territorial disputes that date from the period of their very violent war in 
the early 1960s. They take very different positions concerning Pakistan. They 
have a long series of rivalries in other places like Burma, and they're both 
nuclear states, and their nuclear weapons were designed and built to some 
extent with each other in mind. So while China and India have the advantage 
of having the world's biggest mountain range between them, which is what 
keeps the peace between them, they're nonetheless, in an Asian sense, 
strategic rivals. Each of them would like to use Russia to serve their own 
interest. India of course ha s long, very friendly relationship with Moscow 
going back decades. India is quite happy to continue this kind of 
relationship. But it's no longer the kind of relationship that it was in the 
Soviet period between a third-world country and the world's second 
superpower. It's now a relationship between two countries on a basis of more 
or less economic equality. China is now in a position in which it doesn't 
have to pay lip service to anyone, it is the Asian great power, and it's 
going to be the Asian great power certainly through the first half of the 
21st century, and the Chinese know it. They look on both India and Russia as 
regional great powers, but not in the same category that they see themselves. 
China is going to be in many ways a hegemon in East Asia, and that's going to 
create problems for all countries in South Asia, including India, and all the 
problems in Central Asia, including Russia. 

Q: Are there any imperialist tendencies in China's foreign policies?

The word imperial has all kinds of connotations, and some people might argue 
that China is already an empire, because it incorporates so many different 
nationalities and ethnic groups. I think what the Chinese are thinking about 
is really more to be the hegemon, that they are really the country in Asia to 
which all other countries, whether in Indo-China and or East Asia or Central 
Asia or South Asia to which all other countries will have to accommodate to a 
degree. And given the size of China, geographic and demographic, and given 
the dynamism of its economy, it is not an unreasonable thing for policymakers 
in Beijing to anticipate. It is quite unrealistic to think that China would 
seek to play a great power role beyond it sown geographic area, I don't think 
it has any aspirations to have a global world power like the US, it has no 
tradition of that anytime in its 5,000-year history, it does not have a 
deep-sea navy, and it has many disadvantages reflecting the fact that much of 
China is still a third-world economy. I do think the Chinese feel that the 
hour of China has been restored after 200 years of abuse by the European 
powers, and the Chinese are now resuming what the Chinese see as their 
rightful role in Asia. This obviously causes concern for all of China's 
neighbors, but it also creates opportunities. Look at the extent to which the 
South Koreans and the Japanese are investing in China and even moving many of 
their industries to China, because it's simply more competitive economically 
to do so. You certainly don't see the Japanese and the South Koreans moving 
industries to Russia, and that tells you where the future is going to be. 
Top    Next