St. Petersburg consensus

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St. Petersburg consensus

Russia and China are strengthening ties amid tensions with the U.S.


Why in news?

  • The bonhomie between China’s and Russia’s leaders at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last week was demonstrable.


  • Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have ushered in a new era for bilateral ties, after Washington labelled them as ‘revisionist powers’ and its biggest threat.
  • US president’s increasingly hostile and confrontational approach has brought Beijing and Moscow closer, according to analysts.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping made it clear in St. Petersburg that the tensions with the West had only drawn them closer.
  • In a sign of the heightened tensions between the U.S. and the two countries, Russia’s annual investment gathering was boycotted by the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman.
  • His absence was ascribed to the prevailing environment in Russia for foreign entrepreneurs, typified by the detention of U.S. private equity investor Michael Calvey on allegations of fraud.
  • Conversely, the Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei signed an agreement with Russia’s principal mobile operator to start 5G networks, in a rebuff to Washington’s attempts to isolate the firm internationally.
  • In a lengthy statement after talks between the two leaders in Moscow on Wednesday, hailing a new era for bilateral ties, both praised their frequent exchanges and upgraded relations.
  • Apart from listing 16 potential areas for future cooperation – ranging from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to joint space and Arctic explorations – almost half of the 10,000-word document focuses on their shared approach to international crises and issues such as Iran, Syria and North Korea.
  • In a second joint statement on countering threats and challenges to international security, Xi and Putin were much less restrained, naming the US directly about 10 times.
  • They criticised Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), a key cold war-era arms control pact, saying it would “undermine strategic stability”.
  • Xi and Putin also raised concern about the growing threat of an arms race in space, calling for a legally binding international agreement banning weapons in orbit.

Rift with Russia

  • The rift with Russia began with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the stand-off in eastern Ukraine that continues.
  • Russia’s tensions with the U.S. and some EU countries stem also from their opposition to the 1,200-km-long Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
  • Russia has long complained about Western sanctions imposed on it over disputes including its behaviour in Ukraine. Moscow casts the restrictions as an attempt to contain its growth.
  • Washington has asked countries to reject Huawei technology in the development of new mobile phone networks, arguing that it could be vulnerable to Chinese eavesdropping. Huawei denies its equipment is a security risk.
  • S. objections draw in part from its eagerness to export liquefied natural gas to Europe, besides thwarting Moscow’s ambition to dominate the region’s energy market.
  • Far more sensitive has been U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
  • Washington’s blacklisting of Huawei, prohibiting it from selling technology to the U.S. and barring domestic firms from supplying semiconductors to Beijing, falls into a class of its own among international trade disputes.

Russia-China bonhomie

  • Amid these tensions, in St. Petersburg Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin emphasised that bilateral relations were at a historic high, marked by increased diplomatic and strategic cooperation.
  • China participated in Russian military exercises on its eastern border last September, marking a watershed.
  • Moscow and Beijing, hostile rivals of the Cold War era, have for a while been adopting common positions at the UN Security Council on critical international issues. Bilateral relations are also guided by pragmatism.
  • Russia appears realistic about the growing Chinese economic clout in Central Asia, once firmly in its sphere of influence, thanks to China’s massive infrastructure investments under the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Chinese cooperation would moreover prove critical for Russia’s elaborate plans to exploit the Northern Sea Route along the Arctic as an alternative transportation hub. International sanctions have not been very effective in isolating Russia.

Way ahead

  • European states, notably Germany, recognise the importance of engaging with Russia to contain Mr. Putin’s expansionist aims.
  • Equally, President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy is compelling potential rivals to make common cause.

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