Observations of an Expat – Russia: Chinese Vassal

Russia’s dependence on Chinese markets, sanctions busting finance and political support is turning it into a vassal of Beijing.

The bromance between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin was unbalanced to begin with. The Chinese economy and population are ten times that of Russia.

Russia is a primary commodity producing country which makes it more susceptible to the economic winds of change should its raw products – mainly grain, gold, oil and gas – drop. China, on the other hand has emerged as an advanced, complex economy which is far more dependent on good relations with its Western markets than on relations with Russia.

The only arena in which the Russians have been perceived to have the upper-hand in the Sino-Russian relationship is in the defense arena. But now that is on the wane. Putin’s litany of Ukrainian failures has severely damaged Russia’s reputation for military prowess.

Nuclear weaponry is the only arena in which Moscow retains an overwhelming advantage with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. But rest assured that the Chinese are just as worried as everyone else about Putin’s threats to use nukes, and is applying the maximum political pressure to deter him. They will gain nothing and lose everything by allying themselves with a country that uses nuclear weapons to illegally annex another country’s territory.

The one thing holding the Xi and Vladimir together is their mutual suspicion/hatred of the West coupled with a firm belief that the days of Western liberal democracy are numbered and the rise of firm autocratic governments is inevitable. For that reason, China is unlikely to ditch Russia, but it will extract a hefty price for its support.

The question is: What is the price? For a start, Russian oil and gas. Since the 1980s most of Moscow’s energy exports have headed west to Europe. Russia is already redirecting 76 percent of its oil which formerly went to Western Europe. China has upped its annual Russian oil imports by 135,000 barrels daily. But the Chinese – like the Indians – are being offered discount prices to keep them on board. China will demand that they pay even less, and if Russia continues to lock itself out of Western markets than the law of supply and demand will support their case.

The next Chinese target is Siberia and the Russian Far East. The Chinese have never been happy with the Russian presence on their northern border or on the North Pacific coast, especially since the Russian presence there is largely the result of the 1858 “unequal” Treaty of Aigun.

At the height of the European imperial carve-up of China, Russia took advantage of Chinese preoccupation with the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion to pressure the Qing Dynasty into handing over 231,660 square miles of Siberia. That is roughly the size of Ukraine. The terms of Moscow’s diplomatic coup still rankles in Beijing and the importance of the region has increased as climate change has opened access to Arctic natural resources and sea routes. It is perhaps significant that China has taken to describing itself as a “near Arctic” power.

Next is Central Asia – long considered by Russia as the vital stepping stone to a warm water port. Central Asia has been regarded as an integral part of the Russian Empire since the Tsar’s troops conquered the region in the 19th century. There are large ethnic Russian populations in all of the now independent Islamic republics, major oil deposits and Russian military bases. China, however, wants to be dominant power in order to gain access to the region’s resources and re-establish the traditional Silk Road route.

The longer the war in Ukraine drags on the more Putin becomes dependent on China for survival, and the greater price that China will extract.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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6 Comments

  • Russia’s dependence on Chinese markets, sanctions busting finance and political support is turning it into a vassal of Beijing.

    Maybe they should hold a referendum.

    …as climate change has opened access to Arctic natural resources and sea routes. It is perhaps significant that China has taken to describing itself as a “near Arctic” power.

    That ship has sailed; Arctic sea ice now appears to be increasing again…

    ‘Dozens of ships stuck in Arctic as ice freezes early in reverse of recent warming winters’ [November 2021]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2021/11/22/dozens-ships-stuck-arctic-ice-freezes-early-reverse-recent-warming/

    Arctic sea ice extent: Entire northern hemisphere time series plot:
    https://nsidc.org/data/masie#anchor-1

    This plot compares sea ice extent over the last four weeks for this year compared to the last four weeks of the previous four years.

    ‘Is there a quasi-60 years’ oscillation of the Arctic sea ice extent’ [2015]:

    The Arctic sea ice experienced a drastic reduction that was phased with warming temperatures 1923 to 1940. This reduction was followed by a sharp cooling and sea ice recovery.

  • ‘Is there a quasi-60 years’ oscillation of the Arctic sea ice extent’ [2015]:
    https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/38582/

    The Arctic sea ice experienced a drastic reduction that was phased with warming temperatures 1923 to 1940. This reduction was followed by a sharp cooling and sea ice recovery.

  • Chris Moore 2nd Oct '22 - 7:26am

    There are oscillations in many features of the climate.

    The possible 60 year Arctic sea ice oscillation you mention doesn’t contradict an anthropogenic effect on the extent of sea ice.

    If you think that, you’ve misunderstood the research.

    Your other reference to ships stuck in ice is ridiculous: short-term weather is not the same as climate.

    I don’t know whether you are merely being misleading, because you are a climate changer denier, or whether you simply don’t understand basic ideas.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Oct '22 - 4:53pm

    If Russia fails in Ukraine it can only become more dependent on China. China with its huge population must view Russia’s land mass with envy. Together they are a power to be reckoned with and one can only hope both soon learn to work constructively with the global community to combat its major challenges such as climate change.

  • Martin Styan 5th Oct '22 - 5:26pm

    China is the real threat to Russia. Unfortunately, Putin and his supporters are so fixated with the 20th century history of Russia’s struggles against Germany in the two world wars and the West in the Cold War, that they do not see it. The present situation is a perfect example of a country refighting the last war without regard for the current situation. Perhaps, Russia will eventually wake up to the threat from China and turn to the West.

  • It is perhaps significant that China has taken to describing itself as a “near Arctic” power.
    Looking at the history of the specific transactions and the land involved (which I note is north of the great wall…), I don’t see how the transfer back of these lands to China would give China access to the Arctic.
    However, given the geopolitics around Siberia, which these articles discuss:
    Why China Will Reclaim Siberia
    ‘This is our land,’ China now claims Russia’s Vladivostok as part of its territory
    Is China aiming for Siberia? Does it want to take Siberia away from Russia?
    and the actions China has taken in annexing territory with highly dubious historical rationale, I would agree the use of “near Arctic” is highly significant and perhaps does allude to an intent to achieve a much larger land grab that would give it East Siberian Sea and thus direct Arctic access.

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