The world’s emerging democracies share Russia and China’s antipathy to interventionism, writes Charles Grant. For states like Brazil, India and South Africa, “hostility to perceived Western neo-imperialism, combined with a cynical view of Western motivation, matters more than promoting democracy or establishing global norms of behavior,” he argues in Russia, China and Global Governance, a new report from the Center for European Reform.
As the emerging power with the largest economy, China will play a particularly important role in shaping the international system. Russia, though its economy is much smaller, remains influential: it has a privileged position on the UNSC, a key role in global energy markets and a powerful military arsenal. It is also, alongside China, the only one of the emerging powers with an undemocratic political system (though Russia’s authoritarianism is milder than that of China). That is one reason why, on a number of international political questions – such as the emerging civil war in Syria in February 2012 – China and Russia work together against the West.
Russia and China share this antipathy to interventionism with several emerging powers that are democratic, like Brazil, India and South Africa. For such countries, hostility to the US or perceived Western neo-imperialism, combined with a cynical view of Western motivation, often matters more than promoting democracy or establishing global norms of behaviour. The messy consequences of the invasion of Iraq have reinforced this antipathy. Thus in recent years those countries have, like Russia and China, given diplomatic support to undemocratic regimes in places such as Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe.
Beijing and Moscow are particularly hostile to liberal interventionism because they worry about foreign interference in trouble-spots which are either in their own territory or in which they take a close interest. In 1999, Russia strongly opposed NATO’s bombing of Serbia, a country with which it has strong religious and historic links. And Russia has had concerns about the possibility of Western interference in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus. China worries that the West could try to stop it handling the sensitive issues of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang in the way it wants. When Western governments or organisations express support for human rights in Tibet or Xinjiang, some Chinese analysts appear to believe that their real intention is to promote the break-up of China.
Both Moscow and Beijing complain that Western attempts to intervene or impose sanctions are liable to be arbitrary and unpredictable, based on reasoning and processes from which they are excluded. Some of Beijing’s and Moscow’s dislike of liberal interventionism reflects their fear of US power. Indeed, both countries are inclined to paranoia about the US. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq made them fret about what the US might do in their own back yards, if not in their own territory.
Many Russians who work in and write on foreign policy – whether of a liberal, realist or nationalist disposition – have long been sceptical about the potential of global governance. For the past 20 years, liberal, realist and nationalist tendencies have all influenced foreign policy. Until 2002 liberals and realists were most influential. Then from 2003 to 2008 realists and nationalists were predominant. Since 2008 the picture has been confused, though the nationalists may have become a little weaker. The financial crisis has made Russia aware of its economic vulnerability, the presidency of Barack Obama has led to a smoother relationship with Washington, and the rise of Chinese power has created anxieties in Moscow. However, in the winter of 2011-12, as street protestors criticised Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and as Russia blocked Western and Arab efforts to impose sanctions against Syria in the UNSC, the government stepped up its anti-Western rhetoric.
Through all these periods, the centre of gravity of Russian foreign policy has remained realist, focused on nation-states and hard power. Large countries like Russia are inclined to see supranational institutions as protectors of weak and small countries. They prefer concerts of powers, which give them status. The Russian world-view is more focused on power than rules.
China’s view of foreign policy and global governance is shaped to a large extent by its view of the US. America is the benchmark against which the CPC measures China’s performance. Despite their frequent talk of ‘win-win solutions’, Chinese leaders often think in zero-sum terms. What is good for China may be bad for the US, and vice versa. Though many Western leaders say they welcome China’s rise, the Chinese are not often convinced of their sincerity. And they worry that so long as their political system is different to that in the US, Americans will try to destabilize it. They are right that the difference between the two systems leads to tension. In the words of Aaron Friedberg, a senior official in George W Bush’s administration: “The US aims to promote ‘regime change’ in China, nudging it away from authoritarianism and towards liberal democracy, albeit by peaceful, gradual means.”
But the Chinese can also be paranoid. When the Nobel Foundation awarded its peace prize to the imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo in December 2010, many Chinese officials and academics appeared to believe that the foundation was following orders from Western governments. They believed that the award was part of a US-led plot to undermine the Chinese political system and so weaken the country.
Wang Jisi is optimistic about the evolution of Chinese values. He points out that traditionally, China’s leaders have talked about co-operation with other countries based on shared interests rather than values. But now that they care about the country’s image and soft power, he thinks, “it appears necessary to also seek common values in the global arena, such as good governance and transparency”. He thinks that domestic problems such as corruption and unrest could “reinforce a shift in values among China’s political elite by demonstrating that their hold on power and the country’s continued resurgence depend on greater transparency and accountability, as well as a firmer commitment to the rule of law, democracy and human rights, all values that are widely shared throughout the world today.”
The key question for the future of global governance is this: “How successfully and quickly will rising powers respond to the challenge of changing from being free-riders to stewards of the global order?”
The implication of [World Bank president Robert] Zoellick’s famous call for China to be a responsible stakeholder…is that it should move beyond mere institutional integration to “truly absorb norms and thus take on new identities where behaviour is based on value-based orientations, not rational cost-benefit calculations.” The same could be said of Russia. The BRICS tend to find such Western views patronising. And the phrase ‘responsible stakeholder’ grates with many Chinese academics and officials. Being ‘responsible’, they think, means doing what the West says.
Although China, Russia and other non-Western powers are more and more involved in international institutions, they remain ambivalent about them and mistrustful of Western calls to engage in global governance. They still see the global system as unfair and unequal, and think it should be reformed so that non-Western countries are given a bigger voice.
Russia and China will focus on both their bilateral relations with the US, and global institutions, but they will need to decide whether their interest in the former leaves much room for the latter. If India, Brazil and other emerging powers become significant geopolitical players, Beijing and Moscow are more likely to take multilateralism seriously. The actions and words of the US and the EU will also be hugely important in shaping Russia’s and China’s choices.