Staunton, February 24 – Many have argued that relations between Moscow and Beijing will always be limited by the fact that neither country wants to be “the younger brother” of the other. But Adam Waltser a scholar at Warsaw’s East European Research Center, says that the Kremlin is now “resigned” to that status.
Given the sensitivities involved, many Russians are likely to view this suggestion as the latest indication of anti-Russian attitudes among Poles; but it is worth noting because the objective circumstances now give Russia relatively few chances to play the dominant role vis-à-vis China it has in the past and would like to in the future.
In a commentary for Polish Radio, Walters says that China’s importance economic and political is growing not only in Russia but in areas of the former Soviet space and Eastern Europe where Moscow was once dominant, thus reducing Russia’s role further (polskieradio.pl/397/7836/Artykul/2462919,Эксперт-«Россия-смирилась-со-своим-статусом-младшего-брата-Китая»).
That will only increase as China expands its infrastructure projects to link itself with Europe and the West, the specialist on the region says. And it means that “economic ties between Russia and China will become ever more asymmetrical.” Russia’s GDP relative to China’s is falling rapidly; and China’s share of foreign trade with Russia is rising dramatically.
Twenty years ago, China’s GDP was a little more than two times higher than Russia’s. Today it is 7.5 times greater. And China’s trade with Russia, which amounted to only two percent then has now risen to 17 percent at the present time, a trend that the researcher says shows no sign of changing, especially as Russian trade with the West continues to decline.
Walters points out that the way statistics are gathered understates the decline in Russian trade with the EU as a large part of that trade is in oil and gas and the EU is only a transit area for petroleum that is then sent on. If statistics are corrected to take that into account, the EU’s share of Russian trade has fallen even further than anyone now thinks.
As a result, Walters continues, “Russia is ever more tightly connected to China economically,” and that has political consequences because it gives Beijing “ever greater opportunities to exert pressure on Moscow.” And that reality has already had an impact on Russian thinking.
“At the present moment,” the Polish researcher says, “I am convinced that Russia has become resigned to its status as the younger brother” of China, something that has become easier for Moscow because its increasing authoritarianism brings it more into line with Beijing’s methods of rule.