Axis of Convenience

Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics

Bobo Lo
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 277
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt6wphdn
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    Axis of Convenience
    Book Description:

    Few relationships have been as misunderstood as the "strategic partnership" between Russia and China. Official rhetoric portrays it as the very model of international cooperation: Moscow and Beijing claim that ties are closer and warmer than at any time in history. In reality, however, the picture is highly ambiguous. While both sides are committed to multifaceted engagement, cooperation is complicated by historical suspicions, cultural prejudices, geopolitical rivalries, and competing priorities. For Russia, China is at once the focus of a genuine convergence of interests and the greatest long-term threat to its national security. For China, Russia is a key supplier of energy and weapons, but is frequently dismissed as a self-important power whose rhetoric far outstrips its real influence. Axis of Convenience cuts through the mythmaking and examines the Sino-Russian partnership on its own merits. It steers between the overblown interpretation of an anti-Western (particularly, anti-American) alliance and the complacent assumption that past animosities and competing agendas must always divide the two nations. Their relationship reflects a new geopolitics, one that eschews formal alliances in favor of more flexible and opportunistic arrangements. Ultimately, it is an axis of convenience driven by cold-eyed perceptions of the national interest. In evaluating the current state and future prospects of the relationship, Bobo Lo assesses its impact on the evolving strategic environments in Central and East Asia. He also analyzes the global implications of rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing, focusing in particular on the geopolitics of energy and Russia-China-U.S. triangularism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0146-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiii)
    Bobo Lo
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE COOPERATION, AMBIGUITY, AND TENSION
    (pp. 1-16)

    Few relationships have provoked such polarized views as the Sino-Russian “strategic partnership.” Moscow and Beijing portray it as the very model of international cooperation—pragmatic, enterprising, and innovative. In a world still marked by Cold War–era tensions, it embodies the promise of a new “global multipolar order,” not dominated by American “hegemonism” but centered in the “democratization of international relations.”¹ Such bullishness testifies to an extraordinary transformation. Less than forty years ago the two countries were seemingly implacable enemies on the verge of nuclear confrontation. Today they can rightly claim that ties are better than at any time in...

  6. CHAPTER TWO THE BURDEN OF HISTORY
    (pp. 17-37)

    At a time when their partnership is flourishing as never before, Moscow and Beijing are understandably eager to claim that they have consigned past antagonisms to the metaphorical dustbin of history. Relations, it is said, are developing on the basis of mutual trust, pragmatism, and the national interest.² If neither side would agree with Henry Ford’s dictum that “history is more or less bunk,” then they have nevertheless exerted strenuous efforts to minimize its impact. For both, the key to the rapprochement of recent years lies in their ability to transcend a dark and often tragic shared history.

    These efforts...

  7. CHAPTER THREE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP—IMAGE AND REALITY
    (pp. 38-55)

    Over the last few years, Sino-Russian relations have shown remarkable improvement. Moscow and Beijing have built on the progress of the late 1980s and 1990s to such an extent that ties today are closer and more substantial than at any time in the two countries’ history.³ Every area of the relationship has expanded, and it now has a fully multidimensional character. The agreement formally delimiting the 4,300-kilometer border was ratified in June 2005, and there are no obvious bilateral disputes. The two sides give each other strong moral and political support on priority issues: Moscow backs Beijing on Taiwan, Tibet,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR THE “YELLOW PERIL”—ENGAGEMENT IN THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST
    (pp. 56-72)

    The Russian Far East (RFE) encapsulates in the most direct sense the ambiguities of the Sino-Russian relationship. Here, more than anywhere else, strategic anxiety and cultural alienation coexist with political rapprochement and economic engagement. Although ties between Moscow and Beijing have become more diverse in recent times, the RFE has lost little of its original salience. It provides at once a barometer of the current state of “strategic partnership” and the key to its future. Forty years ago the region was the theatre of bitter confrontation. Today resolution of the territorial question reflects the positive dynamic between the two countries....

  9. CHAPTER FIVE “PEACEFUL RISE” AND THE SHIFTING SINO-RUSSIAN BALANCE
    (pp. 73-89)

    Like much of the world, Russia has viewed the extraordinary rise of China since the death of Mao with a mixture of awe and apprehension. This reaction is partly due to the spectacular nature of the phenomenon itself, but also reflects the striking contrast with its own, far more difficult experience of modernization. Whereas China has enjoyed consistent economic growth of around 9 percent a year for the past three decades, Russia has suffered a series of misfortunes: stagnation in the late Brezhnev period; catastrophic economic decline and state collapse under Gorbachev; and political turbulence, hyperinflation, and disintegrating living standards...

  10. CHAPTER SIX COOPERATION AND COMPETITION IN CENTRAL ASIA
    (pp. 91-114)

    For much of the past two centuries Russia has enjoyed a hegemonic position in Central Asia. Its primacy has been challenged from time to time, most notably by Britain in the “Great Game” of the nineteenth century,³ but as others have come and gone Moscow has maintained a dominating presence. Whether under the Tsars or Soviet rule or during the post-Soviet period, Moscow has invariably looked upon Central Asia with a patrimonial eye. Indeed, the idea that Russia has always been an empire, and never a modern nation-state in the Westphalian sense, owes much to the physical reality that the...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN EAST ASIA—ARENA OF THE GREAT POWERS
    (pp. 115-131)

    Since coming to power in January 2000, Vladimir Putin has presided over a marked “Asianization” of Russian foreign policy. Unlike Yeltsin, for whom Asia served mainly to counterbalance the United States, Putin has pursued closer relations with China, Japan, the Koreas, and the ASEAN member-states both for their own sake and as building blocks in a larger challenge to American “unipolarity.” The slogan of a “multi-vectored” foreign policy has acquired genuine substance, with Moscow’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific extending beyond the political to embrace growing economic and security cooperation. The Kremlin has stepped up efforts to integrate Russia into regional...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT THE GEOPOLITICS OF ENERGY
    (pp. 132-153)

    Energy, perhaps more than any other single factor, has come to symbolize the new geopolitics of the twenty-first century. At one level its prominence signals a profound change from the traditional reliance on military and political power. Yet at the same time it is no less an instrument of competition than nuclear weapons or large armies were during the Cold War. The means of international influence today are more diverse and sophisticated, but many of the goals remain as “old-fashioned” as ever: national security, the projection of power, control over space, and the pursuit of strategic superiority or parity. In...

  13. CHAPTER NINE THE GRAND CHESSBOARD REVISITED—RUSSIA, CHINA, AND THE UNITED STATES
    (pp. 154-172)

    Today, more than at any other time in the past twenty years, geopolitical competition dominates global politics. Two great waves of internationalism—the first in the wake of the Soviet demise, the second in the aftermath of 9/11—have exhausted themselves and given way to increasingly overt strategic rivalries. The language may still be of positive-sum interdependency, universal values, and common interests. But everyday realities routinely expose the shallowness of such slogans. Multilateral organizations and mechanisms multiply, yet we live in a neo-Westphalian epoch in which the nation-state remains the primary unit of world politics—selfish, assertive, and ever more...

  14. CHAPTER TEN CONCLUSION—FROM “STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP” TO STRATEGIC TENSION
    (pp. 173-196)

    The story of Sino-Russian relations over the past twenty years is a remarkable one. Two once bitter foes have developed a mutually beneficial partnership in the face of an unfortunate shared history, cultural and racial prejudice, political misunderstandings, ideological differences, and geopolitical rivalry. If ever there was a relationship that seemed destined to fail, this was it. It is easy to forget just how bad the atmosphere was even as late as the mid-1980s. In his memoirs, long-time Chinese foreign minister and vice-premier Qian Qichen described the thirty-year period before Gorbachev’s famous 1989 visit to Beijing as “ten years of...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 197-266)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 267-277)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 278-278)