Russia-China entente inching toward alliance
For reasons more than one, the two-day visit to Beijing this week by Sergei Ivanov, chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office at the Kremlin, cannot go unnoticed. Ivanov seldom travels abroad (given the nature of his onerous house-keeping job); his career in the Soviet-era KGB where he served as general and his long association with President Vladimir Putin; and, his pivotal role in policy-making and his close association with Russia’s ‘Look East’ policies – all this makes the event significant.
Ivanov’s visit was at the invitation of Li Zhanshu who heads the General Office of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party who works directly under the supervision of President Xi Jinping. Ivanov and Li signed a ‘Protocol of Cooperation’ between the Presidential Executive Office in the Kremlin and the General Office of the CPC Central Committee. No further details were given regarding the formal arrangement. (Kremlin website)
Significantly, Russia is the only country with which the CCP Central Committee has entered into such a channel of cooperation at the highest level of leadership. It is doubtful if such a tie-up between the ‘kitchen’ of the CCP Central Committee and the ‘green room’ at the Kremlin ever existed in the Soviet era when both countries were wedded to socialism.
To be sure, Ivanov received a red carpet welcome in Beijing. On the first day of his visit itself, President Xi received him. He also had meetings with two Politburo members – Liu Qibao who heads the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee and, interestingly, the hugely powerful Wang Qishan (whom many regard as the second most powerful figure in the Politburo, second only to Xi.) The latter has a fabulous reputation as trouble shooter during crisis situations and as a worthy professional in the arena of foreign investment and trade, etc. Most important, Wang spearheads Xi’s unprecedented anti-corruption campaign. Which aspect of Wang’s political personality was relevant to the meeting with Ivanov we will not get to know. Perhaps, all. (Kremlin website)
At any rate, Ivanov’s expertise on security issues to counter the West’s cold war techniques of subversion is considerable. In fact, the Kremlin has vast experience in the handling of the kind of Cold-War era situations instigated by western intelligence that recently arose, intriguingly, in China where a write-up popped up on the Internet suddenly which threatened Xi of personal risks if he were to persist with the anti-corruption campaign. (Guardian).
At his media interaction in Beijing, Ivanov focused on economic issues, especially energy cooperation between Russia and China, and expressed satisfaction over the rise in the volume of trade, progress of the negotiations relating to the proposed western Siberian gas pipeline to China. (Kremlin website)
The Kremlin gave high publicity to Ivanaov’s trip, underscoring that it was a major event of consequence that merits attention. At the meeting with Xi, Ivanov actually thanked the Chinese leader personally for “the help in organizing the visit”. (Kremlin website)
Indeed, from all appearance, something big appears to be building up around Putin’s forthcoming visit to China in June. Only two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Moscow. Beijing issued an extraordinary statement on the visit whose sole purpose was to highlight the level of trust and confidence in the Sino-Russian strategic partnership (here).
At the discussions in Moscow on March 11 during Wang’s recent visit, the two foreign ministers agreed to take the bilateral coordination on foreign policies to an unprecedented level. It appears that they decided on a comprehensive document spelling out approximately 50 rounds of consultations between the foreign ministries of the two countries in a near future at the level of deputy foreign ministers and heads of departments. Clearly, Moscow and Beijing are tightening their inter-governmental coordination on global issues.
To my mind, the Sino-Russian entente could be inexorably moving toward an alliance. Of course, conventional wisdom is that neither Russia nor China ever desired such an alliance. But then, the ‘co-relation of forces’ (to borrow the Soviet concept) in the contemporary world situation may be pushing Moscow and Beijing in that direction. In a recent book Russia’s Far East: New Dynamics in Asia-Pacific and Beyond co-authored by Prof. Artyom Lukin at the Far Eastern Federal University at Vladivostok (who is an influential voice on Russia’s ‘Look East’ policies) it has been mentioned that since 2014 Putin himself has been a seeking a Sino-Russian alliance.
Indeed, it was around that time in 2014 that Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu (and Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov) openly called for a military alliance between Russia and China to fight terrorism and colour revolution. The big question is whether the time has come, finally, for an idea that has been in the air for close to two years already.