For Russland Analysen, I examine the Russian discourse on China:
The change in Chinese leadership, concluded in March 2013, spurred increased interest among the Russian media and expert community. While the Kremlin stressed continuity in the relations between both powers and praised their unprecedented cordiality, participants in the Russian debate agree that China’s domestic and foreign policies are to undergo transformation which is bound to influence the Russia-China relations.
The idea of ‘the Chinese dream’ which is supposed to lead to the ‘rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’, presented by Xi Jinping shortly after his confirmation as the president, has been widely discussed in Russia. The ‘Chinese dream’ is regarded as potentially paving the way for more nationalistic and assertive policies. The expected period of Xi’s rule – which is to comprise the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party in 2021 – has been interpreted as conducive to more robust policies, aimed at securing the place of the current Politburo members in the Chinese history as well as to accommodate the growing ambitions of the Chinese society. Two most plausible policies, which attracted the bulk of Russian observers’ attention, included the ultimate re-unification of the Chinese lands and the transformation of the present socio-economic model of development so that it becomes less export-oriented and more domestic demand-driven. As a consequence, while it has been admitted that China should remain preoccupied with its internal challenges, there is a growing belief that Beijing will become more engaged in international affairs, going beyond the narrow understanding of national interest which has directed the Chinese foreign policy so far.
The recent increase in China’s assertiveness towards its neighbours and the US has not escaped the attention of Russian spectators. Beijing has been perceived as more immune to its neighbours’ security concerns and more openly challenging the US dominant position in East Asia. This evolution of Chinese foreign policy has been ascribed to the increase in China’s economic and military power as well as to the transformation of its domestic scene, i.e. the strengthening of the military (and hard-liners in general) and the growth of nationalism among the Chinese society. The military modernization has been subject to particular scrutiny by the Russian expert community but no consensus has been reached with regard to actual capabilities of the Chinese armed forces. It is the potential of Chinese nationalism, to which the leadership has been forced to yield, that seems to concern Russian observers even more than the ‘upgrading’ of military capabilities.
In the short-term, China’s rise under Xi Jinping is not perceived by the majority of Russian commentators as threatening. Taking the long-term perspective, however, uncertainty prevails. According to supporters and opponents of cooperation with China alike, mutual mistrust has not been overcome, despite progress in bilateral relations achieved over the last two decades.