“President Xi Jinping of China made a case on Saturday for closer economic and foreign policy cooperation with Russia, …. as they pursue dreams of “national revival” and seek to offset the influence of the developed West,” The New York Times reports:
More than a half-century has passed since the Communist ideological alliance between China and the Soviet Union collapsed in acrimony. But Mr. Xi suggested that the two countries could now find common ground as they each seek to claim a place as a respected great power.
Xi also emphasized a need to “oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries,” embracing a favorite theme of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, one that both countries have used to resist calls for improvements on the issues of human rights and the rule of law.
“I wouldn’t say that Russia and China form any kind of axis or, heaven forbid, any kind of military alliance,” said Russian political analyst Dmitry Babich. “There are many reasons for this not happening but I think the main one is that if such an axis had been formed, Russia would be the junior partner and this kind of development doesn’t suit Moscow.”
China’s obsession with Soviet collapse
“The shadow of the U.S.S.R. still hangs over many parts of Chinese society,” writes The Washington Post’s William Wan:
But its presence is most vivid in China’s political system, where the collapse of the Soviet Union continues to be analyzed with a paranoia and urgency that some compare to the United States and its fight against terrorism. Every year, the party’s top think tanks churn out piles of new studies. Books are published by the dozen. And China’s top leadership invokes the Soviet fall constantly in speeches….
The obsession is fueled by the fear that, with a few wrong steps, China’s Communist Party would face a similar fate. Because of that, many in the party say, some of the biggest clues about how the new generation of Chinese leaders will pursue reform in the next few years lies in their interpretation of the Soviet collapse.
Reformers have supported the notion that without drastic change, China, like the Soviet Union, is doomed. But hard-line conservatives resistant to change point to the reforms of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, as Exhibit A of how too much reform too fast can destroy the system.
So far, the conservatives appear to be winning, according to the party’s professors, researchers and analysts.
A clear sign came from Xi’s private speech last December to party officials, which has circulated among officials and intellectuals.
“In the face of Xi’s public promises for reform, many have interpreted those private remarks as a truer representation of Xi’s conservative leanings,” writes Wan:
In it, Xi blames the Soviet collapse on officials who strayed from their ideological roots. He shot down one reform suggested by critics — transferring official control of the military from the party to the Chinese government — for this reason.
“Why must we stand firm on the party’s leadership over the military?” Xi asked. “Because that’s the lesson from the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, where the military was depoliticized, separated from the party and nationalized, the party was disarmed.”
As far as other reforms, he later said: “The key is what to reform and what not to reform. There are things we have not changed, things we cannot change, and things we will not change no matter how much time passes.”
“His remarks reveal this persistent paranoia about going too far,” said David Shambaugh, a George Washington University expert who spent years researching a book on the subject. “That once you loosen up the system, it will cascade out of your control.”
“It’s hard to overstate how obsessed they are with the Soviet Union,” said Shambaugh. “They wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night thinking about it. It hangs over every major decision.”
Xi clearly “accomplished what he set out to do when he made Moscow his first destination abroad as China’s president,” Walter Russell Mead writes on The American Interest.
“He got the press corps to runstories about how the two outsider powers are set to more explicitly cooperate in limiting Western influence in world affairs from here on out,” he notes. “PR success? Perhaps. But color us skeptical that any bigger change is afoot.”
But the autocratic states currently dominate the Eurasian land mass and a “stronger partnership between China and Russia could help both achieve a stronger voice in global affairs, counterbalancing Western influence,” and both leaders have adopted a chauvinistic discourse to undermine liberal forces:
Xi has championed the slogans of “the Chinese dream” and a “great revival of the Chinese nation” to appeal to ordinary citizens who are often angry over official corruption and wealth disparities. Mr. Putin, since his return to the Russian presidency in May, has similarly adopted a nationalist posture as he contends with rising political opposition from urban, middle-class liberals frustrated by the slow pace of political change.