Can Trump Leverage Russia against ChinaPosted: February 18, 2017
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