The change in the Western policy towards China has been in the making for some time now. The EU refused to grant market economy status to China in 2016 while American experts discussed the need for a new approach to Beijing during the presidential campaign. The Western disenchantment with China observed today is beginning to resemble the post-Cold War disappointment with post-Soviet Russia. Not a single week goes by without a piece on ‘how the West got China wrong’ to quote The Economist's recent cover page. Two European think-tanks, the ECFR and MERICS, published highly critical reports about the Chinese policy towards Europe, accusing Beijing of creating intra-European division and portraying the challenge stemming from China as equally serious to Russia’s foreign policy. The 2018 Munich Security Conference report emphasised that China and Russia do not want to be ‘co-opted’ into the Western order, having developed ideas of their own on re-arranging international politics. Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, former US officials, writing for Foreign Affairs provided a catalogue of expectations which China failed to meet. On top of this, the 2017 US National Security Strategy depicted China as a ‘strategic competitor’, placing it on a par with Russia.
What does this shift mean for Russia and Russian-Chinese relations? For the last decade, the gap in material power between the two states has skyrocketed. Russia has needed China’s support more than the other way round. Moreover, in the wake of Russia’s post-2014 conflict with the West, the majority of experts agreed that Moscow’s dependence on Beijing has only increased. At the same time, there was a consensus that China would not side with Russia in the latter’s conflict with the US and would not support Russia’s pressure on America. The recent change of Western attitudes and policies towards China does, however, alter the equation. In a recent FIIA commentary, I discuss how Moscow could use this opportunity to strengthen its position in dealings with China.
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