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5.0 out of 5 stars Russia - China relationship: not all that it seems, 24 May 2009
By 
CM Weston (Warsaw) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics (Hardcover)
Mr Lo looks at both the past and current relationship between China and Russia. They have been neighbours since the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Russia, like Britain and other foreign states, took advantage of China`s weaknesses to acquire territories. China was very much treated by Stalin as a "junior partner" in the communist movement. In the late 1960s, relations would so deteriorate that they engaged in armed conflict along the Ussuri river. Both Gorbachev and Yeltsin engaged in fence mending with China in 1980s/90s and Putin has made significant efforts over the last ten years to further enhance the state of relations with a view to both countries serving as a counterbalance to the US. However, roles of senior and junior partners have now almost effectively been exchanged.
As Mr Lo points out - neither country wants a full blown alliance to counter the US position. China is keen to maintain its key relationship with the US as well as to protect its investment there. China is keen to continue to build its power without causing undue alarm to its neighbours. Meanwhile Russia has proceeded to cut deals with the US without recourse to the Chinese - the Chinese were taken aback when Russia invited the US into Central Asia post 9/11 to build bases re Afghanistan although the Russians have been seeking to reverse this recently.
The author raises the real inequalities in the relationship - China was a major customer of Russia`s arms industry - to the chagrin of some senior Russian military officers, although China is now keen on more modern technology which Russia cannot, or will not, supply. The economic imbalance is becoming more striking with Russian exports to China dominated by raw materials such as timber, metals and oil, while China sells consumer goods and machinery.
Of course, a major element in the drama is energy and China`s everincreasing thirst for oil and gas to fuel its industry. The sections on this are fascinating and involve the new "Great Game" in Central Asia and the constant battle for influence and access to pipelines. The creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has allowed China to increase its influence in this area.
The author`s view is that China has become the "senior partner" in this relationship by virtue of its increasing power and Russia`s economic weaknesses.
There is a section on the "Yellow Peril" - population in the Russian Far east is well below ten million while across the border over a hundred million Chinese work and live. Brzezinski (Carter`s national security adviser) has indicated that he sees this area as a potential future cause of friction between the two countries.
Mr Lo has got the nature of the relationship between the two in its true colours - one of convenience rather than a formal alliance. Both countries have significant other interests that they are keen to pursue or wish to avoid being committed to the other sides` views eg Russia vis a vis China on Taiwan.
The August 2008 conflict in Georgia revealed the limits of the relationship with China rejecting calls at a conference of Russia, China and Central Asian states for some form of diplomatic recognition of the two territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Mr Lo has written a measured, readable book on this relationship, which is likely to be viewed with growing interest over the coming years.
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Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics
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