Are the Russians afraid of the rise of China?

Who's Afraid of the Big Bear?

Is Russia a Partner? In the media, Beijing celebrates every threat from Moscow to the west with the greatest joy: whether it be the re-provision of strategic long-range bomber fleets by Russia for everyday service, Moscow's polemics against the US missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland or Putin's Munich speech. The meaning is unclear: Does Beijing want to present itself to the West as the better, because more peaceful, partner? Is it important to China to drive the Russian bear to the forefront against the United States-led West in order to make up for its own military weakness, which is evident at the moment? There is also a third reading: the harder Russia challenges the US and NATO in Western Europe, the more tightly it binds its own forces and those of the West - and meanwhile China can develop the options it has gained in the Asia-Pacific region.

One thing is clear: the outlined calculation also shows narrow limits for Beijing. China is already the number one potential long-term threat, especially for the USA. The EU is also aware of the threatening potential of even the peaceful rise of the Chinese economy - China's insatiable growing hunger for energy is just one example.

In addition, a confrontation between Russia and the West brings opportunities as well as uncontrollable risks for China: Does Moscow - as recently with the conclusion of the Caspian Agreement or the Russian initiative to forge a gas cartel based on the model of OPEC - have to deal with the rest of the Central Asian cartel? Claiming oil and gas resources to afford a new Cold War?

The Russian rapprochement with India in the field of military co-production is typical of Moscow's new geopolitics in Asia. It makes Beijing shudder even more than the American attempt to bait New Delhi with nuclear technology; Because with the most modern Mig-35 fighter jets, which Moscow and New Delhi are now jointly developing, and equipped with Russian tanks, India will soon be able to control not only the entire Indian Ocean - and thus all vital sea routes for China - much more effectively than before . A modernized Indian army will also corner Pakistan, China's only partner in South Asia. As early as the 1970s, under Mao, China had to accept the split in Pakistan and the loss of confidence in Beijing's protection. If the geo-military balance soon tilts to the disadvantage of Pakistan again, China's nightmare will come true: Beijing will definitely lose its function as Islamabad's governor, regardless of whether power goes to the Islamists or a military government à la Musharraf, which is already on USA drip hangs.

A much more immediate specter plagues Beijing's strategists in Central Asia: Russia under Yeltsin wrested major territorial gains from Beijing by declaring borders against oil pipelines from the Russian Far East to northeast China. Now the pipeline from Siberia leads to Japan - with only one branch to China. Russia under Putin is now playing poker with China and the EU when it comes to oil and gas, to whom the deliveries should go in the long term. China's maps look pretty bad, precisely because oil and gas are an integral part of the arsenal of torture tools in Russia's struggle for influence in Europe. Should the richer EU secure the resources against the granting of certain Russian claims, Beijing will fall victim again to the calculation in the Kremlin.

The Chinese elite fear this and much more: regardless of whether Beijing’s plan to rise to a world power itself works, Russia is already a rival. China's rise must also go against Russia's interests. The question remains: How is Moscow to be assessed as a rival for Beijing, how and at what level is the Russian rivalry dangerous for China, beyond Moscow's claim to be recognized geopolitically as a world power of the caliber of Peter the Great?

With the formula of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), first western stock exchange traders and later economists came up with the idea that Russia should be classified as a serious emerging market like China and India. But is Moscow “just” an emerging country? Wasn't Vladimir Putin last sitting at the table of the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm in 2007, while the heads of state of the three other countries sat down at the "cat's table"? Could China rely on seeing Russia as a global power geopolitically, but as an emerging country in terms of global economy? Right at the beginning of 2008, renowned rating agencies claimed that the development potential of the Russian economy would soon overtake that of the Chinese. Does Beijing have to adjust to an economically dominant neighboring country that underpins its position as a world power also economically?

In contrast to India and China, Russia has heavy industrial potential that needs to be modernized rather than built up, basic technological know-how, an elite with an engineering background and a broad layer of well-trained specialists. At least China's technocrats assume that if there are also favorable international conditions such as WTO accession or the attention of world capital, then it is only a matter of time before the economic potential of Russia steals the show from the Chinese as a promise - with the corresponding foreign policy Consequences.

Until recently, China's foreign policy was characterized by the strategy of swapping Western technologies for the Chinese market or for the inexpensive, almost unlimited production capacity for any product range. Should India's market plus Russia's industrial capabilities even partially defuse Beijing's trump cards, China's bargaining power with the EU, for example, is already shrinking in order to counter its trade war in the area of ​​steel production. In the medium to long term, it is feared that the Russian industrial economy is far more resistant to possible technological boycotts from the West and therefore also more capable of development than the Chinese, which "enjoys" the reputation as a world workbench but, conversely, is also very dependent on key factors System technologies from the west.

Today's Russia is also incomprehensible to China's nomenclatures in a third dimension. As recently as 2005, the Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing hoped that Putin's “guided democracy” would enable “Russia to find a more common language with China than with the West”. As recently as 2003, China's strategists hoped that Russia, now on the same front line as Germany and France against the US war in Iraq, would finally break up the community of values ​​in the West in order to establish a “value-free” multipolar world order. Neither has happened. In Russia, both the media and the opposition are being pulled on a leash more and more, Beijing sees this.

At the same time, however, it sees that it is precisely this that contributes to the success of a “value-oriented” opening policy of the EU and NATO to the east. World political consequence: "Russia's geopolitical living space within the CIS will continue to shrink" (CASS). Another insight of the Chinese is not new: Even today - unlike the Chinese - the Russian elite dream of being accepted into the Club of the West (Xinhua). The question, taken to extremes, remains: will a Russian autocracy mean a catastrophe for China? Already in Gorbachev's and later in Yeltsin's time, one option in particular taught fear in Beijing: a democratic Russia would make the Western community of values ​​more invincible than ever.

SHI MING, born in 1957, studied German and law in Beijing, was a journalist at Radio Bejing International, came to Germany in 1986 and now works as a publicist (e.g. for ARD, ZDF, FAZ, Spiegel online, taz).