Russia Travels to China

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Russia Travels to China

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in Beijing this week signing deals, meeting with leaders, and attending a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. A big ticket item on the agenda is a deal for Russisa to supply natural gas to China.

But beyond immediate deals is the overarching matter of big power politics. Russia is desirous of aligning China with its own efforts to marginalize America in the global arena. Moscow is asserting itself agains the United States as is China. However, China is still economically tied to America. Stratfor has this comment:

Putin’s visit to Beijing is not just about signing a gas deal, or even about the raft of economic agreements inked in Beijing. Rather, Moscow is looking to gauge Beijing’s stance on the intensifying standoff between Russia and the United States. As Moscow takes a more confrontational posture on issues like Poland, Ukraine, Iran and Georgia, the Russians want to be sure that China is on their side, or at least is not going to turn against them. The last thing Moscow wants to see as it asserts itself against Washington is for Mao to have Nixon over for tea again. China’s response, however, remains guarded at best.

Beijing sees the United States as weakened. Washington is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, facing off against Iran (and not making a strong showing) and still mired in the global economic downturn. In the meantime, China has stepped out into the international arena — offering to help alleviate the global financial situation, taking a rhetorical lead on addressing global warming and offering its good services to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Beijing does not see the United States as down and out — just down. The leadership sees a limited window of opportunity to ensconce China, if not as an equal to the United States, then at least in a stronger position in the global political order and economic architecture that emerges over the coming years.

America is down, but definitely not out. The financial crisis has weakened global confidence in the dollar and the ability of the US government to manage its economic future. Talk of a decline in the dollar is strong but no economy is yet strong enough to replace the role of global reserve currency. Russia and China will continue to press their strategic interests, but America is not ready to the leave the stage.