China’s handling of the Putin-engineered annexation of Crimea from Ukraine into the Russian Federation reflects deeply competing Chinese interests. On the one hand, Beijing values its strategic partnership with Russia — a partnership tracing back to 1996 — especially now, when Sino-U.S. relations are tense over the intertwined issues of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and Chinese cyber-espionage against U.S. advanced weapons research and development. In Washington there is a growing sense that the military gap between China and the U.S. is narrowing rapidly because of Chinese cyber-penetration of U.S. military-industrial firms and approaching a transition point between rising and incumbent paramount powers, which may be especially dangerous. Japan under Shinzo Abe’s second government (in office since December 2012) also has begun courting India with unprecedented vigor. Even more startling, New Delhi is responding with an unembarrassed embrace of Tokyo. Beijing’s trump card of “the history issue” does not play very well in New Delhi. Given these elemental shifts in the balance of power that are in play, Beijing has no interest in loosening its strategic partnership with Russia. In terms of energy supply, a falloff in European purchases of Soviet natural gas also would not be bad for China, perhaps prompting Moscow to offer China lower prices, easing one of the hurdles to expanded Russo-Chinese energy cooperation over the past decade or so.
China Currents Commentary