Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Chinese Model for Russia?

My colleague Paul Saunders, in the Moscow Times, contrasts the Chinese and Russian approaches to using economic power to win friends and influence neighbors.

An excerpt:

No less interesting are the differences between China's and Russia's approaches to converting economic might into political weight. China's economy reached the size of the present-day Russian economy about 16 or 17 years ago, roughly at the time of the Tiananmen Square tragedy. China did not, however, suddenly begin to express its frustration at hundreds of years of perceived abuses by Western imperial powers or to push around its neighbors. On the contrary, over the last 15 years, Beijing has generally been quite moderate in its own behavior, with a view to promoting the regional and global stability necessary to encourage further economic growth. Today China sometimes appears to bend over backwards to reassure its neighbors and others of its benign intentions. And it seems to have worked.

In Moscow, by contrast, a few short years of energy wealth have led to a growing sense of foreign policy entitlement not unlike the sense of economic entitlement that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The interesting question is whether it is based on similarly flawed assumptions that will lead to a new and different kind of disappointment and disillusionment.

A priceless line later on, in addressing the sentiment expressed by some Russian officials that energy wealth gives Russia the ability to "go it alone"-- Russia was unfairly disparaged in the 1990s as "Upper Volta with missiles," but few would view "North Korea with oil" as progress.

Not knowing what the rest of the Moscow Times article looks like, I fear the following comment may be moot, but:

The Russians lost their empire, and saw many, if not most, of the pieces turn against them. Their broader sphere of influence took an even more dramatic turn, and the European satelllites are now mostly set to join the the EU and NATO, if they haven't done so already.

Contrast that with China, whose empire remains intact, except for the little matter of Taiwan. (Nobody seriously believes that Tibet, the Uighurs, Inner Mongolians et al will ever manage to break away from the Han.) And the Taiwanese (ethnic Han) are diplomatic pariahs and economically symbiotic with China.MOreover, China hasn't had a real grip on their broader sphere of influence in ages, which never had been quite under their thumbs in the first place. (Korea, Vietnam were always ill-behaved, and Japan lived for the most part in splendid isolation, half-heartedly kissing Chinese ass only when it suited its purposes.) As for the rest of the world, China was clearly the junior partener in the Cold Wae coalition.

Clearly, Russia has much more of an issue with the rest of the post-Cold-War world.

Besides, Russia's new-found power is based on subsoil rent, where China's is derived mostly from its link-in to the global economy. It's like one guy hit the jackpot in Powerball, the other cornered the widget business. Guess which one is crashing his new Porche?

But I'd like to know what kind of operative conclusions we're supposed to derive froom that.
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