Summary. China – Russia – USA. Trilateral relations: status and prospects
In November 2016, when the results of the US presidential elections were not yet announced, an agreement was reached between the Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences to hold a joint conference on trilateral relations between Russia, China and the US. It was originally planned to hold a conference 100 days after Trump took office. However, the conference entitled “China – Russia – USA. Trilateral relations: status and prospects” took place on September 13-14, 2017, when Donald Trump was in power for more than 200 days. The conference organizers noted that this benefited the forum as the international situation became more understandable, and the tendencies accompanying Trump’s presidency became more visible. The conference was assisted by the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Shanghai. The Chinese Institute of International Problems of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China also made a valuable contribution.
The conference consisted of three sessions, dedicated to issues of contradictions and cooperation between the three countries, general issues of the dynamics and structure of the relations in the triangle and regional cooperation between Russia, the United States and China.
The participants noted that the US foreign policy has significantly changed since Donald Trump took office, which entails significant uncertainty. As a politician Trump is dependent on domestic situation and different groups that influence him, including the military and military-industrial complex, as well as large business owners. In favor of these elites after his electoral victory Trump began to work on increasing military spending. The other support group of the new US president are the blue collars. One Russian expert argued that Trump is not a supporter of any economic school of thought, but a populist who used public discontent with the consequences of globalization. In foreign policy, Trump seeks to return to American diplomatic traditions. The first head of a foreign country with whom he met was Teresa May, the Prime Minister of Britain, a traditional ally of the United States. Trump made his first foreign visit to the Middle East, a region traditionally in the focus of US foreign policy. Trump is forced to simultaneously focus on solving domestic problems and to preserve US global leadership. Despite having significant authority, Trump was unable to secure ties with the establishment and found himself in isolation.
In the US-China security domain the South China and East China Sea disputes remain the most important. According to Chinese participants, this is primarily a conflict with the United States rather than with the countries challenging China’s territorial claims. China’s position is to create a common security space in the South China Sea. One Chinese expert noted that the PRC proposed Washington to organize joint exercises in that area and use the Chinese infrastructure there, but the American side refused.
China, Russia and the United States remain key players that influence the transformation of international relations, and therefore the dynamics of their interaction will continue to influence world politics and the world economy. Each side of the “triangle” should play an active and constructive role and cooperate with the other two countries on global issues such as the fight against terrorism, infectious diseases, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Chinese participants noted, that Russia and China should strengthen strategic cooperation when building relations with the United States and should cooperate in opposing hegemonic aspirations of the US, which is trying to hold back the development of Russia and China, albeit without formal contractual obligations. The strategic partnership between the two countries is reinforced
by the fact that Russia and China are neighbors interdependent in the field of security, having common interests and a long history of relations. Russia and China hold close positions on the following issues: a commitment to a multipolar world; democratization of international relations; diversity of cultures of the world; building a fair and rational political and economic world order; protection of international security mechanisms within the framework of the UN; international security based on non-intervention and respect for the sovereignty of other countries; inadmissibility of arbitrary imposition of sanctions and the use of military force against other states; opposition to the militarization of outer space; rejection of NATO expansion; the role of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula; commitment to the nuclear nonproliferation regime; combatting terrorism; protection of human rights; use of nuclear energy; key historical issues of the World War II. One Russian participant voiced his concerns with regard to Russia’s “turn to the east”. In his opinion, bilateral gas cooperation is stalling. China is not eager to invest in the Russian economy. The Central Asian countries’ support of Russia is declining, since the countries of the CSTO and the SCO to not have major disputes with the West, unlike Russia. At present, Russia does not have a clear eastern strategy. The expert noted the contradictions existing between the Trans- Pacific Partnership and APEC, the American and Russian vision of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as uncertain compatibility between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road initiative. The countries of Central Asia are to choose between economic integration with China or Russia, because combining the two constructs can lead to the involuntary creation of a common economic space between Russia and China. The OBOR initiative does not always coincide with the interests of Russia. Part of the proposed routes of the “New Silk Road” divert trade flows from Russia and leave it without any benefits.
On the US-Russian bilateral relations it was noted that Russia was the only country of which Trump spoke favourably during his campaign. He said that he agreed to improve relations with Putin, called him a strong leader, and noted that Russia and the United States should cooperate in solving the most complex world issues. This gave rise to a powerful wave of optimism and euphoria in Moscow, but something happened that the Russian elite did not seem to expect. At the final stage of the presidential campaign a factor of alleged Russian intervention in the American elections emerged in the domestic politics of the United States. This factor not only continues to exist up till now, but also has the potential to increase its influence. Trump is likely to have a very limited influence on Russian-American relations, because a policy of containment of Russia has been institutionalized. Not only Trump, but the following presidents will not be able to adjust this long-term factor. Along with that, the US policy towards Russia will be determined by the US foreign policy constants that have been formed since colonial times, but especially after the Second World War: globalism, messianism, the perception of the US country as a model for other countries. Today, the Russian- American agenda is blurred. It existed even during the Cold War and consisted of negotiations on strategic arms limitations and arms control, presidential commissions on science, culture and other fields. Now the agenda is being replaced by sanctions and countersanctions, the mutual expulsion of diplomats, the arrest of diplomatic property. The Russian-American dialogue is losing perspective. Under current conditions, it is necessary to try to preserve what is possible, to implement selective cooperation on specific problems. The most negative thing in bilateral relations is the role of propaganda in the escalation of tensions. The media in both countries tell only negative information about the other. There is an atmosphere of mistrust, especially at the level of the establishment. Therefore, further deterioration of relations is highly possible.
One participant noted that the world politics is evolving into a new bipolarity, and the United States deliberately strives to make international relations look exactly like it. Russian- American relations are conflicting by nature. At present, all the existing organizational forms of international relations are products of the Cold War, which does not meet the requirements of the time. Normalization of bilateral relations requires a generation change in the elites. The confrontation between Russia and the United States is a form of stabilization of the international order. Since the construction of a unipolar world turned out to be impossible, the bipolar system seems to be the most stable. The danger is that the new bipolarity may be even more conflicting than the previous one.
The nuclear deterrence factor is still working, so the adversaries will resort to indirect actions and mutual demonization. Economic interdependence might be a factor of constraint, but political interests will still have priority. Thus, the United States is sacrificing the economic well-being of the European Union because of a conflict with Russia. One Russian participant noted that the factor of Trump’s personality in Russian-American relations is a short-term one and far from being the most significant. It was low economic interdependence that allowed Moscow and Washington to let bilateral relations deteriorate. Trade relations between the two countries have developed over only a short period of time. Their foreign economic relations are focused on different markets. The influence of the US and Russia on world economy is incomparable. Russian exports to the US mainly consists of raw materials: oil, oil products, ferrous and non-ferrous metals. This reflects the commodity-oriented structure of Russia’s exports. The main export item of the United States is machinery and equipment. The volume of American investments to Russia has decreased due to sanctions and amounts to $ 3.3 billion. The United States mainly invests in the fuel and food industry of Russia. Moscow also invests mainly in the US fuel industry. Currently the US is not interested in developing bilateral economic relations with Russia. Moscow, in turn, is interested in high-tech investments from the United States, but this is hampered by the sanctions against Russia. According to the expert, the potential for development of cooperation exists, since Russia is a huge market for goods and technologies. But at present political relations seriously interfere in economic relations, the former being put above the latter. A way out of this situation can be the cooperation at the grassroots level, for example, between business and scientific communities, and overcoming of political stereotypes.
One of the presentations specifically touched upon the role of the United States, China and Russia in resolving the crisis around the Korean Peninsula. According to the expert, the solution lies in convening an international peace conference with the missions of signing of a treaty on peace and security guarantees, non-aggression and non-interference in the internal affairs of the parties concerned. Both Koreas should establish diplomatic relations and, possibly, begin mutual arms reductions and the withdrawal of American troops from the peninsula. In such circumstances, Pyongyang will not be able to insist on maintaining its nuclear potential.