Is West courting China after divorcing Russia?

RUSSIA’S SUSPENSION from the G8 by USA and its Western allies seem to have ignored a famous line in the classical military treatise; the Art of War authored by Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu that ‘keep your friends close and your enemies even closer’. 

RUSSIA’S SUSPENSION from the G8 by USA and its Western allies seem to have ignored a famous line in the classical military treatise; the Art of War authored by Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu that ‘keep your friends close and your enemies even closer’. 

Russia officially became the eighth member in 1997 after successfully courting the original G7 members that included USA, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan. Unfortunately, the ensuing marriage was always going to be one based on convenience rather than mutually felt respect for each other. 

The crisis in Ukraine over Crimea has indeed exposed that weak foundation upon which the relationship was built; in earnest, both USA and Western allies share the blame for mishandling Ukraine’s case yet they chose to try and judge the case and have now climaxed by sentencing Moscow to an indefinite suspension.

Jonathan Marcus, a diplomatic correspondent for the BBC, rightly observes that President Vladimir Putin’s suspension will only reinforce the narrative in Moscow that the West are not prepared to treat Russia as an equal. 

Indeed, Marcus’ observation was validated by President Obama’s remarks early this week when he dismissed Russia as being ‘a regional power,’ a statement analysts carped as defeating Obama’s cause for a nuclear free-world given Moscow’s well stocked arsenal. 

At some point, one has to ask how truly strong the G7 members are, and for an answer, you only have to look at the current state of the economies of Italy, France and UK to understand why the Russians are not feeling that sorry not to be in the G8 anymore; at least for now. 

“The G8 is an informal club, there are no membership cards; nobody can expel anyone from it by definition but if our Western partners believe the format of the G8 has exhausted itself, so be it,” said Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov shortly after his country was indefinitely suspended.

Even the financial and travel sanctions slapped against Putin’s top officials rather than cause them pains have instead provoked Russian humour. 

On realising that he had been included on Obama’s sanctions list, Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wondered via twitter whether it was “some prankster” that came up with the list.

But it’s Vladislav Surkov’s joke, another of Putin’s top aides, that took the day when he remarked; “It’s a big honour for me. I don’t have accounts abroad. The only thing that interests me in the US is Tupac Shakur’s music and I don’t need a visa to access his work. I lose nothing.”

But Europe has something to lose. Any further alienation of Russia will be, as President Putin put it, counterproductive; in fact, according to the European Commission (EC), the EU gets 88 per cent of its oil supplies from Russia and, according to the Globalist, six European nations rely on Russia for 100 per cent of their gas. Ukraine itself gets 70 per cent of its gas from Russia and risks being disconnected if diplomatic ties collapse. 

While Russia gets 45 per cent of its imports from Europe it can always not only buy elsewhere but also sell its oil elsewhere, a luxury Europe lacks; this could partly explain why some EU members are dragging their legs in blessing Obama’s push for deeper sanctions against Moscow. 

In the meantime though, Europe seems to be courting China and who knows, could easily be offered the vacant position on the G8 if relations with Russia fail to recover. 

This week saw French President Francois Hollande give Chinese President Xi Jinping a red-carpet welcome to his trade-hungry France; the visit came at a time when Hollande’s ratings are tumbling over a bad economy, President Xi’s visit, which ended with the signing of bilateral deals worth €18 billion, was therefore a relief for Hollande. 

After France, President Xi headed to Germany with Chinese press reporting that his two day visit will see him deliver a speech on China’s role in the world and also define Sino-EU ties; later this year Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to reciprocate with a visit to Beijing. 

Recently, Britain has been accused of softening its stance on human rights in China to attract Chinese investment following Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s highly publicized visit to Beijing in November last year. 

Also this week, as President Obama held an opportunistic meeting with President Xi on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, First Lady Michelle Obama was finalising a sensationalised weeklong tour of China that was described by the media here as ‘first-lady diplomacy’ meant to brighten Sino-American ties.

While China has no oil to give, it has the investment power to boost Europe’s wobbly economies but how much can China trust the West?

The writer is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China.

 

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