Staunton, March 9 – “As a result of the coronavirus, we could be returned to a geopolitical arrangement of the times of the USSR,” Nikolay Vavilov says, one in which “Russia would play not fifth, sixth or even seventh fiddle in relations with China but second or even first” (business-gazeta.ru/article/460504).
That is because, the prominent Russian specialist on China and author of the often-cited Clans and Political Groups of the Chinese Peoples Republic says, the extraordinary measures some regional officials have taken after the appearance of the virus in part to hide their own economic failings have frightened people and exacerbated political tensions in the capital.
Both this panic and the economic difficulties China now faces as a result of tensions with the US mean, Vavilov says, it is entirely possible that “strikes and protest actions could begin in China … Protest attitudes in China are growing in the first instance among workers and students. And there are ever more labor conflicts in which migrants are involved.”
This isn’t being reported in the Chinese media, of course; but it cannot fail to have an impact on the basic conflict in China’s economy and that of other major countries, between the isolationists and the globalists. The first rely on the internal market and the profits of their companies. The second … focus on trade.”
Chinese President Xi is the leader of the isolationists and both their and his position has been strengthened by the declining income from foreign trade. If trade between China and most of the rest of the world is likely going to continue to decline, Vavilov says, the situation with regard to Chinese trade with Russia is unlikely to fall from its current level.
That will inevitably make Russia a more important player in China; and according to this specialist, in that event, “Russia will play not fifth, sixth or seventh fiddle in relations with China but rather second or even first.” Thus, one can say that the coronavirus may lead to restoration of the ties between the two countries like those in Soviet times.
And at the very least those who have projected that Russia would have to play a very much reduced role in Beijing because of its much smaller economy are going to be wrong and that the relationship could move from economics, given the isolationist impulses in both, to politics where cooperation could become more important.