Xi Pivots to Russia to Counter Obama's Pivot to Asia

Xi Jinping has chosen Moscow and a summit with Vladimir Putin for his first foreign visit after he takes office as China’s president. The implications of snubbing the world’s superpower for a diminished military ally suggests the tack Xi is likely to take in his dealings with the US during his decade as China’s top leader.

The precise date of Xi’s Moscow trip hasn’t been revealed pending his March 5 ascension to the post of China’s official head of state. It will likely come at least six months and possibly several other foreign visits ahead of any likely visit to Washington despite early efforts by the US to arrange a summit.

With over twice the population and eight times the GDP, the US dwarfs Russia both as a market for China’s exports and as a potential partner in world peace. But the “pivot to Asia” doctrine announced by President Obama last spring has been interpreted by Beijing as an “encircle and contain China” doctrine, posing a threat to its ambitions of emerging as Asia’s preeminent power, one capable of having its way in historic territorial disputes with Japan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam — as well as its claim as the sole legitimate government of Taiwan.

Xi’s summit schedule reflects Beijing’s increasing willingness to risk alienating potential partners to deal from a position of strength. Despite its diminished geopolitical stature and second-tier economy Russia remains the only nuclear power capable of assuring the US’s total destruction. A secure alliance with Moscow gives China the nuclear muscle to treat with the US as an equal on perhaps the most fundamental level of geopolitics.

Even in peaceful competition Russia is China’s most important resource, literally. With a land mass over three times the size of the US, Russia can provide China virtually every natural resource it needs, including vast, fallow tracts of arable land and an abundant supply of oil and gas. Chinese farmers have already become an important presence in the sparsely-populated Siberian region, and even as far west as agricultural lands outside St Petersburg and Moscow. Their efforts provide not only food to export to China but more abundant food supplies for Russians who have generally failed to distinguish themselves in agricultural efficiency.

Only Moscow’s wariness about becoming colonized by a nation nearly ten times as populous has kept it from being more accommodating to Chinese ambitions of turning it into a vast plantation. The extent to which Moscow has accepted Chinese farmers is less a reflection of friendly feelings than recognition that it needs industrious farmers more than China needs Russian farmland. After all, China is getting relatively easy access to equally vast tracts of arable land in former satellites like the Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

An even bigger prize for China would be pipeline access to Russian oil. So far Moscow has resisted China’s offers for a pipeline deal worth hundreds of billions, partly because it can sell its oil to Europe and partly because such a deal would bring Russia a big step closer to becoming a Chinese colony. But China’s embrace is becoming increasingly attractive now as Europe’s economy falters and China’s continues roaring ahead. The recent tiff with the US has also made Moscow more susceptible to Chinese overtures.

Even toward Moscow Beijing is showing its tendency to secure a position of strength before embarking on negotiations. Earlier this week China secured control over Pakistan’s Gwadar Port which gives future overland access to Mideast oil. That makes a pipeline deal with Russia less critical from a security standpoint. No doubt the new situation will be factored into the negotiations between Xi and Putin when they meet.

An enhanced relationship with Russia will give Xi a few more cards in the hole when he comes to play poker with Obama. The same can be said of Xi’s dealings with Abe, the US’s top Asian ally. Russia’s territorial dispute with Japan over the Kurils makes it a natural ally of China in its claim over the Senkakus (Diaoyudao). Xi and the other top leaders in Beijing may even think of the diplomatic primacy granted Moscow as China’s “Pivot to Europe”. Just as the US is seeking to hem in China’s influence in the western Pacific, China now has the economic muscle and consumption power to expand its influence toward the west overland via Russia.

Once China has become the prime trading partner and investor in Russia — hardly a distant prospect — it will have a secure European base from which to begin its encirclement of a declining western Europe. In time that may let Beijing achieve parity with Washington in the new Great Game.



Cleo · Feb 24, 11:21 AM · #

Does Putin not know about Akihito’s toclafane? Because he has a gymnast for a mistress, right? If he finds out that Akihito’s been invading his privacy, the Russians will bomb Japan. They will make sure that no one in that family survives.

Zamochit’ as they say on Archer and apparently, as Putin says in real life.

uh ohhhhh!

Cleo · Mar 1, 04:43 AM · #

They only met for an hour?

I don’t know why Japan made the long trip in then. Were they just wanting to use POTUS as a paper tiger with which to scare China? POTUS is really busy right now so why would you MAKE the Americans see you if it was for nothing. It had to be about APPEARANCES – for China and possibly/more likely for the Japanese public?


to furthre the scheme of the elite to make it look like Japan has a government intereted in the longevity of the Nation of Japan instead of selling off anything and everything and overtaxing the remnants before jumping ship?

After a little more than a year of fanfare, President Barack Obama’s “pivot” of American political, economic and military attention to Asia and the Pacific seems to be fading. The clues are subtle.

The president hurried through a brief discussion with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Friday when they met for an hour in the Oval Office. Afterwards, the two leaders met the press to deliver platitudes, then had a working lunch.

A revealing difference in attitude could be seen in remarks to the press. Obama said his discussion with Abe had been a “bilateral meeting”, meaning one of many workaday meetings he has with other leaders. Abe termed it a “summit meeting”, giving it top place.

In the afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida produced more platitudes. Beyond that, there was no state dinner, no side trip to the presidential retreat at Camp David for informal meetings, no gathering with key congressional leaders.

Late in the day, in a talk at a Washington think tank, Abe responded with the most forthright speech on security heard from a Japanese leader in years. “Japan is back,” he asserted. “Keep counting on my country.” He set three tasks for Japan under his leadership. As the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions become more prosperous, “Japan must remain a leading promoter of rules” for trade, investment, intellectual property, labour and the environment; continue to be “a guardian of the global commons, like the maritime commons”, helping to keep it open for everyone; and work more closely with the US, Korea, Australia and other like-minded democracies throughout the region.

And with an oblique reference to Japan’s dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, the prime minister said: “No one should ever doubt the robustness of the Japan-US alliance.” It was, perhaps inadvertently, a mild rebuke for Obama’s diminished interest in US relations with Asia.

In the meantime, the White House dispatched a second-level delegation to the inauguration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Only the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and an aide went from Washington. In 2008, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice represented the US, as did secretary of state Colin Powell in 2003, at Korean inaugurations, in a nation sensitive to appearances and “face”.

Over the weekend, Kerry departed on a swing through Europe and the Middle East, on his initial trip abroad in his new post. In contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Japan, Korea, Indonesia and China on her first official journey abroad.

The reason for the slackening: Obama appears to be consumed with domestic politics. That was clear in his inaugural and state of the union addresses.

It was Clinton who first made public the pivot, later called the “rebalance”, in an article in November 2011, calling for the US to “lock in a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise – in the Asia-Pacific region”. But, of course, this initial advocate of the pivot has now left office.

Richard Halloran is a former New York Times foreign correspondent in Asia and military correspondent in Washington

This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on Mar 01, 2013 as Pivoting away

Cleo · Mar 1, 04:54 AM · #

It sounds like Abe wants to make it easier for Japanese financiers to sell Japanese financial instruments. Everything is fine, buy shares in auto companies, blah, blah, blah.

Those stocks are worthless – even heavily investing in Australian dairy and booze with an eye to supplying China is futile.
Goldsea even has a recent article about a Chinese jumpstarting the Mainland dairy industry. Maybe Wen Jiabao will get to see a China where everyone can afford a daily glass of milk when DXP did not live to see the Hongkong handover.

China is a private universe and if your cachet is based on misappropriating Chinese heritage with a terrible reputation hanging all over you – unlike the Koreans – and a total inability to be down to earth and make ordinary customers feel good about themselves JUST THE WAY THEY ARE (a Chinese talent not alien to the Koreans) – then you, Japan, are out of luck.

Plus the Chinese netizens are showing what will happen when they are liberated – our awareness and justified ire will be taken out of the brain fog we are all in. Then it gets personal so you should THANK this Chinese government and stop trying to make it worse for yourself with the general public by your rude lies and insincere natterings.

Jiut · Nov 6, 05:37 AM · #

Hong Kong and Taiwan are two countries that need to play a bigger role in UN membership.

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