Can Trump Leverage Russia against China

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China, June 25, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/via REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China, June 25, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev/via REUTERS

In my post “Russia-China Alliance May Not Break when There Is No US Threat” on October 2, 2016, I said though the Russia-China alliance is an alliance of necessity to resist US containment of both Russia and China, even if US threat has been removed the alliance will not break as friends in need may become friends in deed.

However, we have not studied another possibility: Can US new president Trump leverage Russia against China?

In fact, before Obama began his pivot to Asia to contain China, the US has been quite successful in containing Russia with China’s assistance. China supported the UN decisions initiated by the West to contain Russia in the Middle East. It even suffered serious losses in supporting the US in conducting regime change in Libya. However, when the US began to contain China, China has to unite with Russia in resisting US containment. It greatly pleased Russia by joining Russia’s veto of UN resolution initiated by the US aimed at bringing regime change in pro-Russia Syria.

Since then, China has made great efforts to build mutual trust with Russia. As a result, the two countries have developed very close ties, difficult for Trump to break.

Perhaps, Trump knows the importance of leveraging Russia against rising China. In his election campaign, Trump often praised Russian President Putin while attacking China. It gave people the impression that Trump will improve US relations with Russia when he has won the election and become US president. That idea is quite unpopular among lots of American people. For example Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis regards Russia as the biggest threat.

However, some people believe that Trump is not so stupid as to regard Russia as a friend instead of an enemy. Perhaps Trump regards China as the biggest threat and wants to use Russia in countering China.

That will be the reverse of Henry Kissinger’s move in improving US relations with China to counter the Soviet Union.

It is perhaps a wise move to contain China, but is it possible for Trump to do so, given US domestic disgust of Putin? Can Trump overcome fierce opposition from US politicians and media, especially the opposition from his own Republican Party?

Given the traditional enmity between the two giant neighbors, it would have been possible for the US to leverage Russia against China if Obama had not committed the mistake of containing them both simultaneously and thus turned them into allies instead of enemies.

The Russia-China alliance is indeed a “marriage of convenience”, but we shall not forget that a marriage of convenience, though not sound as a marriage based on mutual affection, may have some firm basis for the marriage, which usually are mutual interests.

When the two countries become closer, they find that they economies supplement each other very favorably. Russia is a major exporter of energy and other natural resources that China has a thirst for while China is Russia’s major source of cheap consumer goods. The United States cannot replace China as Russia’s resources importer and consumer goods provider. On the contrary, the US is Russia’s competitor in world energy market as it is becoming a major energy exporter too due to progress of technology in energy exploitation.

In addition, the US is Russia’s major competitor in world weapon market. China may become Russia’s major competitor too as it is vigorously developing advanced weapons. However, China and Russia may cooperate in developing advanced weapons due to the mutual trust they have built for a long time. For example, they now have joint ventures in developing wide-body airliners (the technology of which may be used in large military transport aircraft) and heavy helicopters to combine their technology expertise to compete with the West.

The US and Russia however have developed their deep hostility for decades since the beginning of the Cold War. They are simply unable to overcome the hostility within a short period of time. Therefore, it is impossible for the US and Russia to conduct such cooperation in weapon development. Russia and China may together become America’s fearful competitor in world market.

There is, moreover, the mutually beneficial cooperation due to their close geographical locations that the US cannot replace China. China is now using Russia’s railway for its trade with Europe and Middle East. As the Arctic is melting, China may have a shipping route through the Arctic that is much shorter than that through the Indian Ocean. Russia will provide port facilities for supplies and maintenance to facilitate the shipping and air protection to prevent China’s that trade lifeline from being cut by US navy while China may provide funds and labor for the construction of such facilities.

China is certainly willing to pay for the use of the railway and port facilities to benefit Russia. In addition, the route will also be very useful for Russia’s export of oil and LPG extracted in Siberia. Japan and South Korea will be major importer of Russian oil and LPG.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


10 Comments on “Can Trump Leverage Russia against China”

  1. Tyler Reber says:

    Russia’s interest is creating a multi-polar world, opposite from the uni-polar world pursued by the US. Will Russia give that up to be friends with the US, or will the US give that up to be friends with Russia? Probably not either.

    These opposing philosophies make it very difficult for the US to satisfy Russia on international issues as the outcome of US intervention serves under US control. Will Putin abandon this new idea and see his multi-polar world begin to fall apart by helping the US control China?

    Perhaps a far more subtle and realistic concern could win better cooperation between the two countries.


  2. Joseph says:

    A good lesson for Donald Trump if he wants to drive wedge between China and Russia, he should try to starve himself to the point that he would sell his own mother for scraps. Because that’s what’s the Russian going through, being ‘capitalized’ by the American. And who came to the aid of the Russian? China, of course. I read in the TIME Magazine back then how the Russian develop taste for Chinese dry noodle, something that the Russian would not even consider in USSR day. Well, a friend in need is a friend indeed. And the American has never been ‘a friend in need’, only ‘a friend who needs’. Right now the American is ‘a friend who needs’ everything from Russia. The American is, of course, optimistic to exploit Russia against China. But Putin is no fool. If he plays it right, he can squeeze
    America, a ‘friend’ who needs, dry. Who knows that he may recover Alaska back into Russia, and if he’s smart enough, he may get California as well as bonus.


  3. Fugu says:

    Trump wants a a “70% for me, 30% for you” type deal in every case. Irregardless. That’s his “America first”. It will add to his downfall again.

    Already he has revealed himself as an incompetent professional manager with the sacking of Michael Flynn. A good, intelligent boss would had stood by his own men instead of listening to slanders and lies from third parties. This man is apparently not one worthy of your services if you are an outstanding professional.

    With his bumbling ignorant management style and his huge ego, and his inability to fight the out-of-control CIA and NSA, the demented Democrats under the insane Hillary, Pentagon, the neocon infested Congress, the immoral MSM, and the shady oligarchs, without “a little bit of help” such as that he received during the election campaigns, one wonders how this man is going to survive?

    Let alone the world surviving without bumbling into World War III faster than expected?

    Will Pence or Tillorson take over from him as the next President sooner rather than later?


    • Mad Max says:

      Actually such chaos and division in America is good. Let them be preoccupied fighting it out. It will be good for the world when the U.S. no longer meddle with the world.


  4. alking1957 says:

    china, Russia and Iran should kniw well by now that if they let Trump or any pOTUS bully one of them, then another one of them will be next. Its like they say “first they come for the communists, i didi not objecr as i am not communist. Then they come for the Catholics … Now they come for me and there is no one else left to resist!” The only way to be safe is not to allow any one superpower be the only boss, ie must be multipolar.


    • WangWei says:

      Don’t forget that Russia and China fought several bloody battles in March 1969 in the vicinity of Zhenbao (Damansky) Island on the Ussuri (Wusuli) River. This border fight almost led to WW3.
      With a growing China now coveting the rich resources of Siberia and a shrinking European Russia uneasy about Chinese power and influence in the region, a clash could be brewing again between the two super powers. China still believes that much of what Russia claims as Siberia rightfully belongs to China.
      “..In July 1964, Mao Zedong, in a meeting with a Japanese socialist delegation, stated that Tsarist Russia had stripped China of vast territories in Siberia and the Far East as far as Kamchatka, which had never been controlled or claimed by a Chinese polity. Mao stated that China still had not presented a bill for this list. These comments were leaked to the public. Outraged, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev then refused to approve the border agreement.”


      • Joseph says:

        I am really amused that someone would feel the need to highlight this minor skirmish. With only a couple of dead border guards, it could hardly caused the WW3. In fact, the USSR wanted badly to play it down because they lost their prototype T-62 tank, state of the art at the time, which sank on the Ussury river during battle. China and America fought far larger and more significant wars which killed hundreds of thousands on both side, including the Korean War, and they didn’t go to WW3 over it. The Russian buried their dead border guards on the Chinese-claimed area in the hope that future generation would not give up those land because of the graves, yet hungry Russia gave up those land in 1996 in exchange for food when they demarcated the border. We should actually thank the American for this bloodless acquisition. It was, after all, the American who starved the Russian to the point of desperation. Although American’s interest was to exploit Russia, not to help China, it worked in China’s favor in the end.


        • WangWei says:

          Perhaps you need to look at what the Russians say about possible Chinese acquisition of Russian territory. Lets examine how Russia looks at the matter:

          “The news that Russia’s Zabaikalsky region would grant 115,000 hectares of land to the Chinese company Huae Xinban under a 49-year lease stirred up a maelstrom of anxiety in Russia. A survey conducted by Rosbalt shows that 50.5 percent of that news agency’s readers fear such a deal “provides fertile ground for China’s colonization and then annexation of Siberia, and for a major war.”

          Notice the use of the term ‘major war’.

          The loss of territory which the Chinese regard as theirs, happened during the hundred years of national humiliation. This refers to the period of intervention and imperialism by Western powers and Japan in China between 1839 and 1949. China believes that outside powers cheated China when it was weak and have vowed to recover what is rightfully theirs. This includes what is now known as Siberia.


          • Joseph says:

            What about it? Territories change through the course of time. Why is it so wrong that China acquiring territories? The Russian annexed Chinese territories before, American annexed American territory from the natives. The Russian doesn’t mind the Chinese use their land. Who cares what Rosbalt thinks. In Indonesia, American/Canadian McMorran leases an Indonesian mountain to mine gold against the will of the people. No one is happy about it, we had maelstrom about it. Then, what? The company would simply hire politicians to argue about it. Chinese companies all around the world should follow this example. What the Chinese company should do is to reach further out of Siberia, leasing land into European Russia, into Alaska and continental America. We don’t have to conquer America to be their master. We are not warmonger savages. In this case the God of Money is much much more powerful than the God of War.


  5. Steve says:

    Impossible!!… Unless we believe that Putin is Stupid, Trump the wise old man and China the paper tiger. The US under Trump is desperate to put America first. US withdrawal from the TPP, has inadvertently given up the Pacific economy to China. The purpose of the TPP is to box China into a corner as a containment trade agreement and confrontation, thus maintaining US global leadership, at least in the Pacific Rim, that comprises of 36% of the total global economy.

    The point is, can Trump bring jobs and manufacturing enterprises back to America. It’s doubtful. The US global allies like the EU proposes globalisation not isolationism or protectionism, which clearly antagonise with Trumpconomics.

    Russia and China’s marriage of convenience, has now being upgraded to a de facto alliance, considering both are united to veto any UN resolution. I believe the economic prosperity will remain in the Pacific Rim for decades and with China’s robust concept in FTAs, OBOR, high speed railways, Russia/China R & D in military technology, Russia a major energy exporter and China a major importer of energy and close military ties, it’s impossible for Russia to be hoodwinked by a hegemonic scoundrel, America.

    Truth is the USA need new friends and partners to invigorate Trump’s America first. With a protectionism policy vs global power, we can clearly see the US is a declining power and maybe irreversible.

    Tough days ahead for Trump, Prosperity years ahead for China and nations pivoting towards Uncle Han.