While Dr. Henry Kissinger served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary (2000-05), I was a member of the advisory board of the college’s Reves Center of International Studies. I had several opportunities to have informal discussions with him.
During one of his give-and-take sessions Dr. Kissinger had with students majoring in international relations, I asked him what he considered the main driving force that motivated President Nixon and him to cut a deal with China’s Mao Zedong.
Eschewing politically correct or high-brow explanations, he said it was the fear the Soviet Union and Communist China would repair the breach between them, that they would once again form a united front against the United State and its allies.
A similar danger faces the United States again.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia may not be an ideal partner for the United States to provide support to democratic regimes or promote human rights around the world, but neither was Mao. Nixon and Kissinger have many critics, but their China policy, based on “real politics,” has withstood the test of time.
Recent events have illustrated the changing dynamics in the relationship between Russia and China. When China’s president Xi Jinping visited Moscow, the red carpet was rolled out for him. Subsequently, a raft of landmark business deals were signed by Russia and China in the strategic sectors of hydrocarbons and military hardware.
On the hydrocarbon front, it was reported China is rapidly becoming one of Russia’s main customers. Gazprom, Russia’s giant natural gas producer, now supplies China with 38 billion cubic meters of piped-in gas. Rosneft, Russia’s giant oil producing company, will triple its exports to China — last year it reached 50 million tons. China pays upfront for those supplies. This in turn enables Russia to take over Western oil companies and create a great synergy with China.
According to various news reports, the deepening Russo-China partnership is not confined to trade. They also are drawn together politically on international issues. They see eye-to-eye on Syria. The two countries signed a deal under which Russia will supply China with 24 Su-35 fighters along with four Lada-class submarines.
Underscoring the deepening relations between the two countries, the Chinese leader, became the first foreign leader to set foot in the Russian Armed Forces’ Operational Command Center. Considering that both powers are opposed to U.S plans for the deployment of a missile shield beyond American borders, there is growing cooperation between them to try to scuttle American plans.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the de facto US-China alliance ended and a China-Russia rapprochement began. The two countries declared that they are pursuing “constructive partnership” which evolved into a “strategic partnership.”
But according to experts, tensions remain between China and Russia. Their strategic partnership is marred by mutual suspicion.
According to Robert Kaplan, of the Center for a New American Security and a noted expert on Russia, China pushes Russia into second-tier status in the Eurasian space. “The Chinese are the top dogs in the bilateral relationship while the Russians are number two.”
Western experts seem to be convinced that China-Russian ties are fragile because of the underlying tension over influence in the former Soviet Union territories. On the other hand, Putin’s concern about Russia’s isolation may transform the relationship between the two countries into a quasi-alliance.
Thus, Henry Kissinger, once again, would need to come up with a formula that would change the constellation of the China-Russo relations in favor of the United States.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.