We Need a 'Multipolar' World, Russian, Chinese Leaders Say

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Indirectly criticizing America's domination of world affairs, the leaders of Russia and China have restated their countries' view of the need to work toward the establishment of a "multipolar" world.

"Russia and China stand for a multipolar, just and democratic world order based on the commonly recognized principles of international law," Presidents Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao said in a joint statement apparently targeting the United States and its decision to go to war against Iraq without fresh U.N. approval.

Expressing broad foreign policy aims, the statement issued in Moscow Tuesday and released by the Interfax news agency called for the peaceful settlement of disputes and a "central role in the modern world" for the U.N.

But although the Russian leader welcomed his guest with the assertion that bilateral relations had "reached their highest level ever," a China scholar Wednesday questioned the depth of the collaboration, and downplayed the degree to which it posed any threat to the U.S.

In their declaration, Putin and Hu also called for a leading role for the U.N. in the reconstruction of Iraq, following a war that both of the permanent Security Council members opposed.

They reiterated demands for North Korea not to develop nuclear weapons, while giving a nod to Pyongyang's stated concerns, saying its security "must be guaranteed and favorable conditions created for its social and economic development."

Russia and China have friendly relations with the secretive communist nation, and the U.S. has sought their help in resolving the crisis triggered by its attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Putin and Hu also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the energy sector, including the building of a 2,400-kilometer oil pipeline between Eastern Siberia and northern China.

The document also referred to expanding access to each other's markets. Bilateral trade has grown and reached $12 billion last year, but Hu recently expressed the hope that it would reach $20 billion.

Crucial first trip

Hu is making his debut on the world stage in this, his first official visit abroad since becoming head of state.

He will also meet with President Bush, both in St. Petersburg where they will attend the 300th anniversary celebration of Russia's former capital, and then again in Evian, France, where Hu has been invited to attend the G8 summit of industrialized nations next week.

Dr. Jian Yang, a China expert at the University of Auckland, said Wednesday that the trip was a crucial one for the new Chinese leader as he tries to undo the damage caused to Beijing's image by official ineptitude in the early months of the SARS virus outbreak.

More importantly, he added, Hu wants to stamp his authority on the presidency and emerge from the shadow of his influential predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who continues to hold China's top military post.

After the authorities' initial attempts to cover up the deadly flu-like disease which emerged in southern China last November, Hu - who became president in March -- within weeks had ordered them to come clean.

His government fired several top officials and promised to tackle the outbreak in an effective and transparent manner.

"Hu has gained much political capital, both domestically and internationally, in leading China to fight against SARS," Yang said.

"The SARS crisis has put Hu into the limelight and - fair or not - has shown Jiang in a very poor light. The visit, if successful, is yet another boost for Hu."

Sino-Russian relationship

After the collapse of the Soviet Union left the U.S. as the world's sole superpower, Russia and China drew closer after a history of suspicion, rivalry and during the 1960s, open hostility between the two communist giants.

Joint declarations in 1997 and 1998 referred to the need for a new world order based on "multi-polarization" - a reaction to a "unipolar" order dominated by U.S. "hegemony."

In 2001, Jiang and Putin signed a treaty of "good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation" that again highlighted the importance of "anti-hegemonism."

Yang said the concept of "anti-hegemonism" has been one of the key factors driving China and Russia closer together.

For China, he said, the rationale for \lang3081 cooperating with Russia to counterbalance the U.S. lay in Beijing's assessment of its security environment.

Since the 1980s, Chinese officials and analysts had pushed the line that "peace and development" was the dominant theme of the era, based on the understanding that the U.S. did not regard China as its main rival.

Now, that assumption was being increasingly challenged, as Chinese experts argue that it underestimates the "severe" security environment China is facing.

\ldblquote\lang3081 To continue to emphasise peace and development, they warn, may result in miscalculation in China's grand strategy," Yang said.

Enduring suspicions

Despite these changes, however, Yang said any attempts by Beijing and Moscow to counter the U.S. will continue to be limited.

Although China and Russia make public assertions of solidarity and cooperation, suspicions remain on both sides.

Russian officials and media warn repeatedly of China gaining an advantage in bilateral cooperation, he said.

China, meanwhile, tends to believe that Russia's bid to improve relations with other Asian powers, such as Japan and India, form part of its strategy of "balancing against China."

The Chinese have also watched Russia's tilt towards the U.S. and NATO, and would not be surprised if one day Moscow chose to sacrifice its relations with China for those with the West.

Yang said this has been particularly clearly seen in Russia's readiness to have the U.S. expand its military influence in Central Asia in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

China considers that region to be a part of its sphere of influence and was deeply troubled by the U.S. penetration.

That move, Yang said, "complicated regional security cooperation between China and Russia."

While Putin may speak in Moscow about bilateral ties being "at their highest level ever," Yang noted that in reality little had happened to strengthen them since the signing of the 1991 "friendship" treaty.

"Without substantial development of the bilateral relationship, this new height lacks solid foundation and can be easily foiled by the United States," he argued.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow