Antoanetta Kiselincheva interviewed Professor, Nako Stefanov, a Doctor in History and a researcher on East Asia. Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Valentina Tzoneva exclusively for SouthFront
During his visit to China, Putin announced that the two countries have signed trade agreements to the value of $50 billion. This happened shortly after news of the extension by the European side of the anti-Russian sanctions for another six months. Obviously, Russia and China are searching for an extension in their cooperation. What does it indicate?
In principle, the formats of cooperation there are clear. The news is what Putin actually announced about the Eurasia, or the Eurasian Union, together with the big concept of Xi Jingpin for “One belt, one road”. This is the concept of the creation of a big Eurasian Union. Moreover, there are grounds for it already. You know that they have another format: which is an organization for security – SSO (Shanghai Security Organization). Some have even started calling SSO anti-NATO.
Is it reasonable to make such an analogy between NATO and SSO?
This is definitely a security organization, whose purpose is the security of Eurasia specifically. India and Pakistan will become members of SSO, as you know, which is very interesting from the point of view that there are certain points of friction between these two countries. The fact that exactly these two countries are entering SSO is clearly demonstrative, I would say, of the increased level of security in this whole Eurasia mainland. It is true that Iran, which was expected to apply for membership, preferred to distance itself from SSO for now as, in a way, it would be limiting it to a certain degree. There are certain limits when one becomes a member of an organization. We are not talking about giving up sovereignty, but taking the organisation into consideration.
There are many formats there, but the newest is the big Eurasian Union. The geopolitical balance between the West on one side, and the East, represented mostly by the Russian Federation and the Peoples’ Republic of China, has changed by this decisive step. Here, the analysts stress on another moment of the meeting – these are pure economic interactions resulting from the low oil price and the decrease of the share of the Russian Federation as an exporter and importer. Before the decrease of price of oil and the introduction of the sanctions, Russia’s share in global trade was 2.6% and at present it is 2.1%. That represents an absolute decrease. It is true what the analysts say that there is a decrease in global trade, but in physical volume, it is not so big. This however is not so, especially for Russia, where a physical decrease is noted. If someone is actually expanding trade in physical volume as well as in value in US dollars, we must say that it is China, which increased its share in the global trade through favors. This happened at the cost of the West. In any event, this decrease is an alarming signal for Russia, and I think that the idea for activating trade between these two countries has the purpose of boosting the revival of the economy of the Russian Federation. We must note that from one side, the sanctions and the high cost of maintaining security (we know that NATO is positioning its troops, the Russian side responds, they create new kinds of arms, and these are serious expenses; there were expenses for Syria)… On the other side, we must note that the government of Russia follows a neoliberal market model and there is, let’s say not a crisis, but a tendency which is not favorable in a pure economic plan. I think that this relationship created between China and the Russian Federation passed through the levels of strategic cooperation to strategic partnership, and now we can even talk about a strategic union. China is interested in the stable development of the economy of the Russian Federation. So this meeting is absolutely reasonable and logical regarding the relationship between the two countries. This relationship is facing challenges, mostly from the USA, which are still advocating a unipolar model. And Russia and China have firmly stated that they do not see themselves in the frame of a unipolar model, as it means a pyramid structure, where the USA makes decisions on all global questions. Russia and China consider themselves as strong enough in military strategy and in a pure economic plan. They do not accept the dictatorship of a unipolar world.
Do you consider this partnership between Russia and China sustainable over time, as we know that China has been perceived as a threat not only by the USA but Russia, too, for its natural power? Moreover, China has its own Eurasian project different to the one of Russia…
What Putin suggested now for the unification of the two projects shows that there are enough common points in the two projects. We must not forget a very important moment when we talk about the giant geo-strategic initiative of Xi Jinping “One belt, one road”. On its own, this project is a giant geo-economic and geo-strategic transformation, which the world has not seen in thousands of years. In what respect? We know that there is a huge contradiction between the talasocracy and telurocracy – between the forces of the sea and the forces of the land. So far, the forces of the sea have been leading the parade, meaning they have always controlled the key positions. In the ancient times without arguments, the Mediterranean was such a key position which was controlled by the Roman Empire, and later on, in the Middle Age by Venice. Later on, in practice Great Britain controls the next key position after the great geographic discoveries – the Atlantic Ocean. In principle, the project ‘Great Britain’ is the project Venice. The clan of the young Giovanni families, in fact, created the city of London. The key instrument for the British Empire in its early stage is the British East-Indian Company founded, on the basis of two former Venetian companies. Its first leader is John Smith, who graduated from Padua University – the center for Venetian influence. So, the Atlantic Ocean was also controlled by the sea forces, in the beginning it was Great Britain and later on by the USA. The idea was that the 21st Century will become the century of the Pacific Ocean, and accordingly, the United States will again control this central key position. It is central because the major financial and trade flows pass through it. In the past, it was the Mediterranean, later on it was the Atlantic Ocean, and now it is supposed that the Pacific will be the central key position. But the initiative ”One belt, one road”, in addition to what Putin said about the big Eurasian Union, in practice such key central position is not the Pacific but specifically Eurasia. Or the forces of the land for the first time took the initiative in their own hands and they will control this central key position. We are not talking about a road but highways, railways, gas pipelines, diesel pipelines… And as a whole, we are talking about a network for common development, for which plenty of resources are available. That’s why we are talking about a giant geo-political and geo-economic transformation. The elites of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China understand this, but not only they do – India and Pakistan, which are nuclear powers, are also going to join. In other words, the nuclear powers become four and the total population of the SSO countries is 40% of the global population. This is a giant project that can end the Western dominance as we know it from the times of the Great Geographic Discoveries. And I think that the “Bulgarian political elite” should bear in mind the geo-political and geo-strategic balance, if they want to look at the long-term perspective.
How will Russia and China agree on the leading role in this transformation and how will it reflect in their national interests?
There is one very important moment. So far, none of these countries have expressed any idea for a unipolar world and even a bipolar world from the type we had during the Cold War. Both countries are talking about a multipolar world. In this context, we are not talking about who will be the head of the tribe of your father. We are talking about a common development, a “win-win” development. Russia and China have got some problems in the frame of their relationship, which have lasted more than 300 years. In the past, an American analyst said that if you were in a boat with somebody and there was a shark circling around the boat, like it or not, you would row in the same direction. He meant that the two in the boat are China and Russia and the shark is the United States of America.
Don’t you think that the constant isolation of Russia pushed Russia to search for a bloc-region with China?
It is a fact that so far, the USA is leading such a policy that definitely affects the will of Russia and China towards a multipolar world and it makes them natural partners. The old political and diplomatic lion, Kissinger, said that in the past he had made everything possible to divide China and Russia, while the present-day politicians of the USA did everything possible to get them together. He even thinks that the key tendency starting with the division of China and the Soviet Union, resulted in fact, in the collapse of the USSR, to the implosion and internal collapse which took place there. Maybe there is a grain of truth in what Kissinger says. In my mind, what we could observe as a new politics in the States, what brings Trump up as a new concept, is to avoid these extremes of the “neocons”, which damaged the foundation of the unipolar world. You see Trump saying: ”our main opponent is China, while with Russia we can and must talk”; meaning the old strategy “divide and conquer”, which in the past proved to be efficient and maybe they will use it again, keeping in mind that in the Russian elite there are pro-Western powers. These powers continuously talk about threats from the side of China. The truth is that there are some bloggers and internet users in the PRC expressing similar opinions – the lands at Amour and the seaside are our lands. But on the level of highest leadership, there are no such claims. On the contrary, they are trying to protect the present relations of partnership by all means, although the Chinese leadership is not united. There are talks there about three major groups: “the princes”, the “young communists” and the “new leftists”. Xi Jingpin is himself considered to be of the group of the princes – the children of the high-ranking leaders from the time of Mao Tzedun. These “princes” have suffered at the time of the Cultural Revolution and Xi Jingpin has been sent to a village where he worked for 10 years, which on its own, is a working re-education. “The young communists” in practice are the people who grew up in the time of the Cultural Revolution. Regardless of all, the Chinese found the modus vivendi – not to be cross with each other for the sake of China. For “the young communists” they say that they are more likely to seek a distance position with Russia as well as with the United States, but not a serious closeness. “The princes” and “the new leftists” tend to agree to a close relationship with Russia. Keep in mind that “the princes” are connected to the army-heads and they are close to Russia. So this is a complicated complex of inter-relations and inter-actions. We must note that today the American politics definitely, especially the one presented by Hillary Clinton, works in the direction where Russia and China are looking for a “geo-strategic backing”, so they should know that the border between Russia and China is a secure border and this geo-strategic backing is very important for their development. Of course, it is natural to have certain differences and points of pressure, but at this stage, Russia and China are for a multipolar world. The key to that is the common form, which brings them close.
Yes, we understand that the attempts of the USA to isolate Russia are making Russia seek Chinese partnership, which is even a bigger threat for the USA.
Yes, that’s right. And the opposite: with their actions in the South China Sea, they push China to search for a strategic partner in the Russian Federation.
During Putin’s visit to China, both countries announced their will for cooperation in the security sphere. America considers the increased militarization of China as a big future threat.
This is a complicated question. I would not call it militarization. We must not forget that the South China Sea is a very important region for China. At least 40% of the energy supply to China passes through it and that is why China cannot allow this region to be controlled from the outside. In the past, Hillary Clinton as a State Secretary announced: ”Pivot to Asia” (“return to Asia”), meaning active military presence. You will agree that here we are not talking about a region like Latin America. The region is definitely a part of the Chinese sea space. Yes, China has disputes with some of the neighboring countries, but I think that they will find modus vivendi. The countries that have disputes with China are the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and to a certain degree, Malaysia. At present, a new president was elected in the Philippines who is pro-China. Regardless of the negatives from the past, I am sure they will find modus vivendi with Vietnam. We must not forget that today, the political and economic models of the two countries are very similar, regardless of the shadow from the past. You know that centuries ago, Vietnam has been a part of the Empire. I think that they will manage to find an agreement. As for example, the Russian Federation in its relations with Japan regarding the Kuril Islands, has allowed fishing by presenting a quota for fishing. There are talks that one of the ideas for signing a peace treaty will give the Japanese the opportunity to invest in the production of rhenium, gas, oil, etc. and to perform a joint use.
It is believed that the argument about the South China sea is for the Paracel and other islands regarding resources. Maybe China will also reach the idea for allowing foreign investments in the region on condition of demilitarization, in other words – blocking ships of countries which are not part of the sea-space of the South China Sea from entering the space; something like the Montreux Convention preventing foreign military ships from staying more than 21 days in the Black Sea region. I think that they will look for a similar option, because the PRC would not like to have a union of neighboring countries against them. They will make efforts to prevent it, while the USA is definitely going in that direction. In this context, we must note that Vietnam was invited and signed the trans-Pacific Agreement. It is true that, at present, Vietnam has a pragmatic leadership, which naturally prioritizes national interests –the most natural way of action. Now, Vietnam believes that this agreement will open the American market to a higher degree. Keep in mind that it is not only the cheap price of the labor, but similarly to China, they try to keep the focus on high technologies not only in the sphere of low added value, low norms of profitability and low norms of technology. They are trying to attract as much as high technology as possible, and so far, they are quite successfully becoming a technology state, something that China did at a stage in the past. Keep in mind that the reforms in China started by Dun Xiaoping are directly linked to its will to become a part of the global capitalist system for division of labor but note, on an equal foundation. Naturally, the West agrees to something like this only when it receives something considerable in response. And considerable then was the anti-Russian card that Dun Xiaoping played in practice. I am not the only one saying this; Kissinger in his book ‘On China’ wrote that when Dun Xiaoping visited the United States, he told the Americans that “where the Soviet Union puts its fingers is where we must cut them”. It was at this visit when he informed the Americans that he was going to invade Vietnam. You know that there was a conflict with Cambodia, with the Khmer Rouge. Playing this anti-Russian card, Dun Xiaopin demonstrated his loyalty to the West. From here came the expectation for the Americans to demonstrate their loyalty too by supporting the reforms in China and mainly by investments etc. And actually, in the beginning, the Americans allowed the powerful Chinese diaspora to invest and the result was that, after all, China became a key economic agent, together with the USA and to get ahead of them in economic development. This geo-economic success of the PRC, I would say, is the major factor for the geo-strategic balance of the world. The other factor is the surprising for the Americans revival of Russia. Russia stressed on the military industrial complex, which they believed was destroyed. But it turned out that it was not as destroyed as some wanted it to be. In the spiral of today’s competition, the Russians managed to overtake the Americans in this regard. In fact, the Russians demonstrated such weapons that the Americans do not have. I repeat, the change in the balance derives from the two factors: the geo-economic power of China and the revival of the military and geo-strategic power of Russia. The geo-strategic balance has changed and it definitely does not favor the West. I mean the collective West demonstrated today mostly by the USA as an attempt at a unipolar model. We shall probably witness the acceleration of dynamics in this regard. I think that no one considers the thermo-nuclear option as real because, as the Americans say, is total destruction; in other words, the world will disappear. But attempts to pull the tail of the bear or in other words – to make Russia bleed and not only that – are taking place and will continue to take place. Moreover, there are points where such bleeding can happen, for example in the Middle East where the matters are not yet settled.
Putin and Xi Jingpin seriously criticized the positioning of anti-missile systems all over the world stressing that the pretext for the use of such a shield in Europe is false. Are the USA and NATO really building the shield against Iran and North Korea, or they are getting ready for something else? As a matter of fact, who is the aggressor in this case?
Yes, it was an absolutely false pretext. North Korea does not have the physical power for a serious attack. Mostly, they have a defense arsenal. Yes, it is nuclear but it is used to protect North Korea from being crushed. If you remember, a while ago, there was an American drill where the invisible bombers B2-Spirit were involved, the last generation of American fighters, and they were practicing a hit on a nuclear installation. I must say that the North Koreans thought, and it was quite possible, as they are drilling they can really hit the nuclear installation of North Korea; as it happened in Iraq in the past which had some installations. Israel dealt a blow and after the blow, there was nothing to talk about – the beaten was beaten. In this respect, North Korea is trying to say – we are a hedgehog, simply don’t sit on us.
Iran, as you know, simply gave up its nuclear programme as it was part of the requirements for lifting the sanctions against it. So it is clear to all that this is only a pretext. The real goals are other countries. However, I say it again, it would hardly get to a direct confrontation. I think they are searching for someone who will release the bleeding although for this “someone” it might mean his/her annihilation; as it happened with Turkey. There are countries in Europe constantly saying that Russia is a threat for them. They are Romania, Poland, the Baltic countries etc. From experience, we know that such direct attack is impossible. But a situation for this, which is called a hybrid war – sanctions, a knock on the Ruble, worsening of the economy, support for internal pro-Western forces – this is absolutely real. It worked with the USSR once. Why shouldn’t it work now? The work is in this direction and we shall see the flames of different conflicts not only regarding Russia but China as well. We know that there are some points of tension in Siandzin area and Uygur region in the South China Sea and even the Republic of China – namely, Taiwan. There is a formula there: ”one country, two systems”, or in other words: be whatever you want to but we are of the same country”. This formula is supported even by the old enemy of China – Gomindan – the Nationalistic Party of Taiwan. Gomindan lost the last presidential election and now in power are forces which tend to declare that Taiwan is something separate from China. I think that they would not do it as it will lead to a serious economic loss. The present leader of Gomindan met Xi Jingpin after so many years, as after the Civil War the Cold War began. The Chinese Communist Party and Gomindan found a modus vivendi, specifically in the platform for a united China. This is a lesson for our country as the shadows of the past are affecting the present and the future. In our country, the shadows of the past are always called on to ignite the flames of a cold civil war. We must look for what unites us, not what divides us.
You see, China found a way to even deal with Taiwan, which judicially is something separate, although for China it is one of their provinces. In the name of the future of China, the Chinese people, the Chinese nation they find something in common. This can only be congratulated. On this basis, and to a high degree the success of the reforms because they managed to make the Chinese diaspora out of China to feel connected to what is happening there. We must not forget that we have geo-political forces dominating, while China is independent. Often times Mao Xiadung is mentioned in a negative light, but I must tell you that the Chinese population does not look at him negatively. When I was there, I asked many Chinese who told me that whatever they say about Mao, he was the man who straightened up China when it was on its knees. Mao raised up a country that has been crushed and humiliated by Opium wars for over 100 years up to the middle of the 20th Century and then it was sent to the bottom. When he took the power in 1949, the poorest countries in the world were Ethiopia, China and India. Look at where China is today! We cannot ignore the fact that Mao created the conditions for independent development. Bulgaria is a small country and it needs from the political elites to search for politics that protect our national interests to the maximum. Regretfully, for the last 20-25 years we have been missing this. I am not blaming only “the lefts” or only “the rights” because all those who were in power did nothing to protect, in the frame of what was possible, the national interests of Bulgaria.
Putin and Xi Jingpin signed a number of agreements including a number of sales to Chinese companies of Russian projects, as well as supply of diesel from Russia. How will this affect the energy market?
In this way, the Russians are practically looking for a fresh market. And there is nothing wrong with it. Moreover, we are not talking about some control packet of shares. Siberia is really huge and rich in resources. The leadership of the Russian Federation accounts that at present, they do not have full strength for development, they do not have the required capital. The attempts to isolate Russia come mostly from the USA, but Europe participates in these efforts actively. Russia understands the necessity to attract partners, which does not only mean China, but other countries too; Japan for example. This as I see it, is a wise politics which, by attracting others to participate in common development gives them the opportunity to benefit, but most of all Russia benefits. A common mutually beneficial partnership with Russia is always a good option. It is regretful that we gave it up – did we really give it up or were we not allowed to? Membership in the EU and in NATO put us in a different geo-political and geo-strategic satiation regarding the Russian Federation. Several times, Russia threw us a safety belt; for example the Nuclear Power Station “Belene”, the pipe-line “Burgas-Alexandrupolis”, South Stream. Neither our political elite was strong enough to defend the national interest, nor would the West allow it. North Stream is ok, but South Stream is not. In other words, what is permitted to Zeus is not permitted to the bull. These double, triple and quadruple standards of the European Union are one of the factors for the present situation. Although our Prime Minister announced that we are a nation that has succeeded, I think that this is an illusion. I do not know who he is trying to cheat as the West knows very well where we are. My personal opinion is that regretfully, we are in the heart of a national catastrophe. The first symptom for it is the deep demographic catastrophe in which Bulgaria is now.