Still, the bilateral relationship is not only about energy. Some have noted in recent years that Russia could again be emerging as a food growing superpower—a trend assisted by post–Crimea sanctions and now perhaps again by the U.S.-China trade war. Indeed, “Russia’s food exports to China are continuously increasing [俄罗斯向中国出口粮食不断增加].” Moreover, growing more food in Russia may involve innovative arrangements, such as farmers from the Chinese border city of Dongning [东宁市] renting more than two hundred thousand hectares. They are aided in that endeavor by more flexible visa arrangements. Nearby, a Chinese firm has apparently invested $300 million in dairy farms in the vicinity of Ussuriysk (north of Vladivostok) with the aim of growing to a herd of ten thousand cows. The Chinese analysis shows that the corridors “Coast-1” and “Coast-2” discussed above connecting the interior northeast China provinces to RFE ports are projected to transport annually forty-five million tons—about half of which would be comprised of cereals like wheat and soy. Cross-border trade need not be glitzy to be significant. On a similar logic, Canada is one of the largest trading partner of the United States and likewise the China-Russia trading relationship has very ample room to grow in almost all sectors.
Does the United States need to be perturbed about all the above plans? No, it does not. While a much more dynamic Russia-China security relationship cannot be completely ruled out, there seem to be relatively few signs of a total militarization of this critical relationship. Rather, the priority for both Moscow and Beijing at present appears to be on economic development. By constantly talking about the China-Russia threat, however, American strategists are likely pushing their Russian and Chinese counterparts to explore ever more military cooperation options. A wiser approach, at this point, would be to cautiously accept the warming China-Russia ties and look for a “silver lining.” For example, a China that is reasonably confident of its energy supplies from Russia may be less inclined to prepare for military conflict in the Indian Ocean due to energy fears related to the “Malacca Dilemma.” Similarly, a more confident Russia could be more rational and reasonable in its dealings with Japan, especially if Moscow is leery of being too dependent on Beijing. Finally and most importantly, if these previously grayish areas of Northeast Asia begin to genuinely “bloom” due to the activation of international trade, then this cosmopolitan, entrepreneurial spirit may impact the thinking of other regional neighbors, including especially the most proximate North Korea. Indeed, this approach is wholly compatible with South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s geoeconomic approach to developing a new paradigm for international relations in Northeast Asia.
American strategists are, since Kissinger’s clever diplomacy of the early 1970s, attracted to playing one Asian giant off the other. Yet they may wish to keep the recent comment of one perceptive Chinese observer close in mind: “Whether President Trump has the intention to ‘pull Russia away to restrain China’ or adopts a strategy to ‘join with China to counter Russia,’ nevertheless China-Russia relations are not going to be impacted at all [无论是特郎普总统试图采取 ‘拉俄抑华’, 还是 ‘连华制俄’ 策略, 中俄关系都没有受到任何影响].” Instead of playing juvenile geopolitical games, Beijing and Moscow are rather busy building up trade, infrastructure, and living standards in long-neglected areas.
Lyle J. Goldstein is Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. In addition to Chinese, he also speaks Russian and he is also an affiliate of the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute (RMSI) at Naval War College. You can reach him at [email protected]. The opinions in his columns are entirely his own and do not reflect the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.