Journalist | Writer | Analyst
4 July 2005
China, Russia, and the Shanghai agenda
The Sino-Russian declaration on the `New World Order in the 21st Century’ is an attack on the `alliance for freedom’ concept being promoted by the U.S.
SUMMITS BETWEEN China and Russia have been an annual fixture of the diplomatic calendar since the end of the Cold War but deliberations between the two Presidents have rarely influenced the course of world politics. This year, however, is likely to be different. The joint declaration on political principles for the new world order issued on Saturday following the meeting between Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin is a political shot across the bow of the United States, whose alliance building with Japan and India and renewed espousal of `freedom’ in Asia is being seen with great suspicion by both Beijing and Moscow.
Nowhere do the two countries name the United States in their statement. And yet the effort to distance themselves from the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism, democracy, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international security suggests their post-9/11 honeymoon with the U.S. has come to an end.
Attacking “double standards” in the war against terror and the practice of linking terrorism to “particular countries, nationalities and religions,” the two countries say the international community should “completely renounce the mentality of confrontation and alliance.” There should be no pursuit of monopoly or domination of world affairs and every country must be assured of “the right to choose its own path of development that fits its national realities.” “Differences and disputes must be resolved through peaceful means rather than through unilateralism or coercion. There should be no use or threatened use of force.”
The Sino-Russian statement calls for the establishment of “a new security framework” on the basis of “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation” with “universally recognized norms of international relations” and “equal security rights of all nations” as its political foundation.
By way of contrast, the “new framework” for the U.S.-India defence relationship released last week, identifies “a common belief in freedom, democracy and the rule of law” as the basis for advancing “shared security interests.” The use of these words was not accidental. References to “freedom” and “democracy’ are legion in most U.S. discussions about security in Asia and are seen, in Beijing if not elsewhere, as a thinly-veiled reference to the need to contain or restrict the rise of China as a major power.
On weapons of mass destruction, the Sino-Russian statement makes some significant points. “China and Russia support efforts to maintain global strategic stability, and the multilateral process of establishing legal systems of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation… The issue of proliferation of WMDs should be resolved through political, diplomatic and international cooperation within the framework of international law.” They also called for the peaceful use of outer space, and voiced opposition to weapons deployment and arms races in outer space. “The two sides think that a U.N.-led global system should be set up to deal with the new threats and challenges on the basis of the U.N. Charter and international law.”
Again the contrast with the U.S. approach — which India appears tacitly to support — is obvious. Rather than extra-legal instruments to check proliferation like the Proliferation Security Initiative, Russia and China are emphasising the need for multilateral legal systems. And anticipating that the U.S. programme of missile defence will very soon lead to the militarisation of space, the two countries are demanding a ban on any arms race in outer space.
To get some idea of how much the international system has evolved in recent years, it is instructive to compare the latest Putin-Hu declaration with the statement issued at the end of the 1997 summit between Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin. “The two sides,” that statement had noted, “are extremely satisfied to point out that relations between China, Russia, the United States and Japan witnessed positive development during the recent summit meetings between the nations. China and Russia believe that the time when countries forged alliances and engaged in strategic competition targeted against a third country has passed.”
Given the sharpening U.S. policy in Asia today and the strategic and economic consequences of its own “peaceful rise,” China can no longer afford to take such a sanguine view as it did in 1997. The growing U.S. involvement in Central Asia is also putting pressure on Russia in various ways. The latest proposal by Beijing and Moscow for a new security framework flows directly from this fast-evolving scenario.
Coming as it does a few days before the meeting in Astana of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the joint declaration suggests China and Russia will seek to push the six-nation grouping towards playing a more pro-active role in developing a cooperative security framework for the region. The SCO, started in 1996 at the initiative of Beijing, has six members — China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, and Pakistan will attend as guests and formally join the grouping as observers at the end of the SCO summit on July 6. Mongolia is already an observer.
From its inception, the SCO has been something of an amorphous enterprise dealing with issues as diverse as confidence-building measures in border areas, non-traditional security, and regional economic development. It may be only one of several groupings within the wider Central Asia region, but it is the vehicle China favours for elaborating its own strategic vision for the Eurasian landmass. Given its own economic needs, energy could well be the next big issue that is taken up.
The Indian Government, which has begun to activate itself in Central Asia in recent years, has tended to see the SCO as primarily a forum through which its own concerns on terrorism can be effectively articulated. After all, member states from day one identified “terrorism, extremism and separatism” as the “three evils” that must be vigorously combated.
However, the grouping’s true potential lies not so much in providing solidarity in the fight against terrorism as in playing a pivotal role in fashioning a new strategic architecture for Asia.
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