China and Russia: allies, or competitors?October 11, 2011
Once and future Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao begin high level meetings in Beijing today. While the two powers are nominal partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a loose alliance of Central Asian states, they often seem to be competitors more than partners. A massive deal that would make Russia the largest supplier of energy to China (and to entwine the two nations’ futures together) has been on the table for a decade but has yet to reach fruition. In the interim, both nations are scrambling for influence and access to (if not control over) the vast, untapped energy supplies of the various Central Asian states. Also, Putin’s vision of integrating the economies of the Central Asian states with that of Russia and other former Soviet states seems to indicate favoritism for Russia’s other Central Asian treaty group (the Collective Security Treaty Organization, CSTO) over the SCO.
While the US was heavily engaged in Central Asia, Russia and China had reason to seek common cause and balance that presence. This was problematic for the US and the West, as a Sino-Russian alliance has the potential to dominate all of Eurasia. As the American adventures in the region wind down, however, the need for those two nations to cooperate diminishes and their more natural competition rises to the surface. A century ago, geostrategists such as Halford Mackinder feared an alliance between Germany and Russia would create a mighty power that would dominate the world. The natural causes for enmity between the two nations ultimately prevented that union from occurring. Now, on the opposite side of the land mass, history may be repeating itself and preventing a similar – and similarly feared – union between Russia and China.