Back then, China was the junior partner in the relationship.
These days, although the Russians would be reluctant to acknowledge it, China is the more important partner – simply because of the sheer size and dynamism of its economy.
Russia is no longer a superpower
That said, there is a time lag in the way the two countries behave on the international stage. Russia is no longer a superpower, but still has the instinct to demand a central role in the settlement of the big international issues – just look at the role that the Russians have assumed over Syria.
By contrast, China is an emerging superpower, but is still loath to take the lead on international issues outside of its immediate neighbourhood.
But China is an emerging one
It is quite likely, however, that Xi Jinping’s period in power will see China beginning to shed its inhibitions. China is already the world’s second largest economy, and is likely to surpass the US in the next decade. That will give China the weight and the confidence to be more assertive. It is also creating a network of global economic ties that China may feel the need to nurture and defend.
More active in the Middle East
One development to look out for is whether China begins to play a more active role in the Middle East. At the moment, of course, the US is the pre-eminent outside power – which is why all eyes are on President Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel.
But as the US dependence on Middle Eastern energy diminishes, the Iraqi withdrawal proceeds apace and Pentagon budget cuts begin to bite, the US role in the region may begin to diminish. China’s interests in the region, however, are only likely to grow.
The Chinese are already the largest customers for Saudi oil and have a keen interest in the energy resources of Iran and the other Gulf states. Given their strategic interests in the region, at some point the Chinese may want to take a more active role in shaping its politics.
Much further down the line, it might make more sense for the Chinese navy to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf – rather than the Americans.
That development probably won’t happen in President Xi’s time in office. But China is likely to become more outward facing – and not just because of its economic interests.
Xi is also unusually well-travelled for a Chinese leader
President Hu Jintao was a pretty anonymous public face for China. Xi may be different.Source: Financial Times – “China’s expanding horizons under Xi Jinping”
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