Security Pact With Russia Bolsters China's Power
Bruce A. Elleman and Sarah C.M. Paine International Herald Tribune Monday, August 6, 2001 NEWPORT, Rhode Island
The recently signed Chinese-Russian treaty is not as benign as it might at first appear. Moscow and Beijing have disguised some of the most important elements of their new security alliance. These elements give China a new position of authority in Mongolia and throughout Eurasia. They also help an embattled Russia retain what is left of its far-flung empire by providing a much-needed respite in Moscow's declining influence throughout the Far East. China conducted simultaneous negotiations with Russia and Mongolia. These talks culminated in two separate treaties announced at nearly the same time. The first treaty signed in Moscow by China and Russia obligates both to refrain from assisting opposition movements of ethnic minorities. This is tacit acceptance by Beijing of Moscow's ongoing battle in Chechnya and by Russia of China's suppression of unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang. Enhancing stability in Inner Asia is the first element of the new Chinese-Russian security alliance.
The second element is Mongolia. The second treaty signed in Beijing by China and Mongolia is an economic agreement. It virtually guarantees that Beijing will become not only Mongolia's most important trading partner, but will remain its largest direct foreign investor, thus paving the way for Beijing's gradual reassimilation of Mongolia. The 20-year term of the Chinese-Russian agreement implies that China will not attempt to take Mongolia outright during this period, but will instead limit herself to economic penetration.
The third element relates to Chinese maritime ambitions and Russian ambitions in the Caucasus. The Chinese-Russian treaty is a nonaggression pact whereby both parties agree to keep the peace on their shared frontier so that they can focus their attentions elsewhere. The treaty obligates both parties to refrain from using force or economic pressure in their relations and eventually reduce the military forces stationed on the border. The 20-year term of the Chinese-Russian treaty may also apply to China's relations with Taiwan, since the Chinese-Russian treaty publicly backs the one-China policy.
By helping to stabilize China's inland frontier, these two treaties will permit Beijing to adopt a more eastward-looking maritime strategy and focus its military capabilities on Taiwan. Meanwhile, stability on the border will enable Russia to continue focusing on reasserting control over the oil-rich lands around the Caspian Sea and the pipeline routes to markets in the West. To bolster its power in Central Asia, China also recently helped create the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Its members include Russia and the newly independent republics along China's Inner Asian border. Organized by Beijing, this body is devoted to promoting trade, easing border tensions and keeping ethnic minorities in their place. It has also become a forum to express opposition to such U.S.-led initiatives as the proposed missile defense system.
Various commentators have suggested that countries as diverse as Mongolia and Iran will soon become members. The recent Chinese-Russian agreement may allow Beijing to develop the organization into a Eurasian security alliance under China's auspices.
Finally, Russia and China announced that they will continue at some unspecified time to delineate their mutual border, focusing on disputed islands in the Ussuri and Amur rivers, but that until that time they will respect the status quo. By agreeing to sideline the islands issue, Beijing is giving Moscow a free hand in its negotiations with Tokyo over the disputed islands in the Southern Kurils.
When asked about the Chinese-Russian treaty, Mr. Putin told a Moscow television interviewer that it was negotiated at China's initiative, leading the interviewer to conclude that "the leading role in Russian-Chinese relations is gradually passing to China." Beijing's gains would appear on the surface to be Russian assurances not to cancel the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Mr. Putin's reaffirmation of the one-China policy. The ultimate ramifications, however, could well include Chinese dominance over Mongolia and throughout Eurasia. If this is true, Moscow's decision to set Mongolia adrift would confirm the rapid decline of Russian influence in the Far East. On the flip side, if Chinese-Russian and Russian-Japanese border negotiations can be delayed indefinitely, then at the very least Mr. Putin can claim to Russian nationalists that he saved this part of the extended Russian empire. It is an open question, however, whether Russian gains will be worth the price of fostering greater Chinese influence throughout Eurasia.
The writers, associate professors at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.