Political realism: China-Russia-US relations

The natural condition of mankind, according to Hobbes, is a state of war in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all” (L 186).”

[Where L refers to Hobbes’ Leviathan (L), from Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson, Harmondsworth: Penguin Publishers, 1968.] Stephen Finn. (No date). United States Military Academy. Thomas Hobbes: Methodology. http://www.iep.utm.edu/hobmeth/. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Consequently, Hobbes argues that individuals have a “natural right” to actions which achieve their own self-preservation. Transposed to international relations, one would argue this is political realism (see entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) where nation-states compete for benefits or protect themselves.

I recall reading somewhere that Russia, the biggest player of the former Soviet Union had lost its soul and direction after the dissolution of the latter. The USSR was one of the two great socialist experiments – and it failed. Francis Fukuyama had proclaimed the end of history with the winner being the United States. Upon re-reading the chapter on economics from <The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership>. (2014). New York. Encounter Books. by Douglas E. Schoen and Melik Kaylan, I tend to agree.

It seems to the authors, survival is the only main goal for both China and Russia. Simplistically, both sets of leadership want to stay in power. Russia and China face threats to legitimacy due to lower/slowing growth. (Earlier, around half a billion Chinese went above the poverty line after the open door policy by Deng Xiaoping.) Further, China, as reported by the South China Morning Post on 30 June 2016, has smog that reduces citizen lifespan by more than 2 years (25 months). In that article, International Energy Agency causes the premature deaths of 1.2 million people per annum. Russia has been unable to diversify from natural resource exports (with 20% of global oil reserves). China too has a headache with its state-owned enterprises which are bloated but create crucial employment. On another note, Chinese labour costs ramped up 20% between 2009 and 2013.

They achieve this by cornering the US, who among other things, attack both countries for their lack of human rights. The US also has challenged the Chinese claims to the South China Sea such as by allowing sales of weaponry to Vietnam from May 2016.

In terms of trade and economics, both Russia and China are streaming into all reaches of the globe even the US itself. China has bought into the US auto industry such as with Faraday electric cars. China, apparently also owns France’s Club Med. In 2012, China overtook the US and European Union as Africa’s biggest trading partner. (In the same year China accounted for 13% of the global economy). China also cut deals with Canada in the oil industry. Russia cancelled $20 billion of debt in 2012 (after closing 9 embassies in the continent in 1992); China cancelled $40 billion of Zimbabwean debt in 2015. The latter also lent $40 billion to Venezuela.

In the vein of the Schoen and Kaylan, China set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in June 2015. Singapore said that it would ‘…provide new opportunities for our businesses and also promote sustainable growth in Asia.’ The 3 largest voters are China (26%); India (8.4%); and Russia (6.4%). Though the organisation would work in US dollars not renminbi. Those missing from the 50 nation group were the US and Japan. So there is a structural setup to draw US allies away.

The benefits? Silence. Canada for example reduced its critique of China’s human rights record after the oil deal.

Militarily, these economic agreements like those in the Caribbean could eventually lead to Chinese bases there. China recently gained approval to set up its premier naval ‘logistic/support facility’ in Djibouti, that is East Africa along the Suez Canal (Mar 2016 – The Diplomat article). Russia by selling $5.4 billion of weapons to Venzeula from 2010 to 2016, was accused in the book of creating a potential arms race in South America. These things create problems in America’s traditional backyard. One can think back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 as an (apocalyptic) parallel.

Diplomatically, China and Russia bands ever closer. Channelnews Asia quotes the two as having more than ‘…30 cooperation deals in areas such as trade, infrastructure, foreign affairs, technology and innovation, agriculture, finance, energy, sports and the media.’ As of June 2016, there were a further 58 arrangements still being analysed. As Europe buys more energy from Qatar (Qatar had more to sell since US imports fell due to fracking from North Dakota etc), Russia has increased sales of natural gas to China for instance.

Yet after all this, is political liberalism and cooperation completely out the window?

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