Staunton, November 11 – However much Moscow suggests otherwise and however much inertia still leads others to share its conclusions, the United States and China now have more in common with each other than either has with Russia, regardless of the personal feelings of the leaders of the three countries, Sergey Shelin says.
The Russian and to a lesser extent the Western media have been obsessing about the contacts between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Danang, discussing personalities and personal relationships rather than the geopolitical situation of the countries they head (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/11/10/1659897.html).
At the Danang summit, Shelin continues, are “the three most influential powerholders of the planet – President Si and President Trump as leaders of superpowers, and Putin as head of a military machine with the second largest if not the largest nuclear potential.” And some might expect them to unite in an alliance given their shared interests.
But such an alliance isn’t going to happen, the Rosbalt commentator continues, because such things don’t depend on the personalities of leaders as much as they do on underlying social and economic relationships. Those point toward a duumvirate of Si and Trump, not toward a triumvirate that would include Putin as well.
China’s Si has established himself as an autocrat by Chinese standards, plans to rule for many years yet, and is perhaps “the most powerful man on earth,” Shelin says. Trump is also an autocrat at least by American standards and, like his Chinese counterpart, relies on the simple people to support him against elites.
“But Trump’s departure from his post after seven years at the latest is inevitable, and after three is quite probable.” And even the support he has from the population is insufficient to allow him to fulfill his autocratic propensities even to the degree of John Kennedy, let alone FDR.
Putin’s position would seem to be “simplest of all.” He will continue to rule without any clear end in sight. But “his problem is that besides the servility of his subordinates and his nuclear rockets, he doesn’t have any other cards to play.” And that is something both the other leaders and their governments understand.
Some aspects of their biographies are nonetheless suggestive of where things might go, Shelin continues. Both Putin and Trump seemed to come out of nowhere to achieve the top position, something that draws them together, whereas Si worked his way up through the system that he now dominates.
“Trump is sympathetic to Putin” and doesn’t conceal this, the Moscow commentator says. But that alone doesn’t drive relations. Trump himself has said that relations with Russia needn’t deteriorate but he has clearly avoided meetings with Putin. As for Si, he received Putin simply “but does not give anything” when he does.
But when Si meets Trump, it is an occasion for pageantry, something that clearly appeals to the US leader. More than that, however, it reflects the deep interconnectedness of their two countries in terms of economics and geopolitics.
The economic power of the US and China are at a completely different level than any other country, including Russia. “China is the most important exporter of goods to the US and the third (after Canada and Mexico) importer of American goods.” The total trade between them exceeds half a trillion US dollars.
The US and China also have geopolitical interests in dealing with North Korea, Shelin says. If Si thinks it necessary to maintain or get trade concessions from Trump, he has the leverage to do something about the leadership in Pyongyang, something Russia for all its braggadocio does not.
As far as Putin is concerned, the situation is completely different. It is possible that Si and Trump relate to the Russian leader “no worse and perhaps even better than they do to one another. But in order to become a member of a triumvirate, [Putin] must bring something to the table.”
The question is, Shelin says, what might that be? The Russian economy is 50 percent to 90 percent smaller than the Chinese or American, depending on how it is measured. The US isn’t going to make concessions to Russia on Syria and Ukraine, despite Putin’s expectations that the American president would. Some improvement in ties is possible but nothing more.
As far as China is concerned, it is “the largest purchaser of Russian exports (mostly oil) and the first supplier of goods to Russia. But our dependence is one-sided.” The total trade between the two countries is about 70 billion US dollars a year, which is only two percent of China’s trade with foreign countries.
Technologically, Russia is far behind the other two and continues to fall further, Shelin continues. In the past, China has borrowed what it could but there is less and less of that now. And China is promoting transportation corridors which bypass Russia rather than pass through it as Putin hoped.
In addition, Shelin says, “Moscow’s influence on the resolution or non-resolution of the North Korean issue is also secondary. Unlike his colleague Si, Putin doesn’t have ht levers to force Kim to behave differently.”
These realities show, he argues, that “Russian policy in recent years has been built on two incorrect notions – that the break with the US can be overcome … and that this break if it turns out to be irreversible can be compensated with the conclusion of a fraternal alliance with China.” Both are wrong.
“It turns out that the world is constructed differently. The mutual attraction of the Moscow and Washington leaders is not leading to a rapprochement of Russia and the US but further dividing them. And Si is not willing even to take in [Russia] as a vassal.” That isn’t on now or ever.
Perhaps, Shelin concludes, the duumvirate of Trump and Si will prove ephemeral, “but there isn’t going to be the triumvirate” Putin and his regime expect. Russia isn’t up to it; and both China and the US increasingly recognize that.