How China and Russia have fought to stamp their authority over the years

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese Leader Xi Jinping during their meeting in Moscow on July 4, 2017. [AFP]

The Russians and the Chinese are neighbours and struggled in the 20th Century to establish themselves as powers. Initially, China looked up to Russia as an ideological marvel and source of economic wealth.

In the 21st Century, however, China leads in wealth creation as world factory and market. It reportedly dominates the world in purchasing power parity, and supports Russia in times of geopolitical needs.

Their leaders, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are geopolitical friends confronting hostility from the Conceptual West and in promoting multipolarity to establish new centres of global power.

China struggles to avoid the mistakes it made roughly 500 years ago when it imagined itself to be at the top of the world and considered everyone else a barbarian. Its mariners in the Ming Dynasty, especially Zeng He, had travelled across the seas only to return with exotic ‘gifts’ which reinforced the Chinese sense of superiority.

This drove them into complacency in the belief that they needed nothing from others at the very time that Western Europe was stirring from its prolonged slumber that could be traced to the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The awakening Europeans took advantage of China’s complacency. To generate a favourable balance of trade for Britain against China, the British turned the Chinese into drug addicts in the 19th Century and plunged China into the Century of Humiliation.

Since liberating itself in 1949, China has carefully moved upwards and occasionally ruffles geopolitical feathers. Americans were the most ruffled in part because of inherent global American racism. That inherent racism made the US to pay more attention to Russia’s potential challenge than to China because Russians are mostly European.

New China came into being at the height of the Cold War and took advantage of Euro-racism to identify with those that wanted to overthrow racially based colonial rule. Despite experiencing several internal and external hiccups, it remained focused on identifying with the global oppressed and victims of Euro-racism. In the process, Mao Zedong established China’s political presence in the world arena which produced two inter-related results.

First, oppressed countries identified with China and engineered its admission into the United Nations Security Council as the real China to replace the island of Taiwan. Second, it enabled troubled US President Richard Nixon to seek Mao’s assistance in extricating the United States from Vietnam and in checking the Soviet Union. The condition for China helping was the adoption of an American One China policy. China became a major player in the world arena that others would turn to politically.

While Mao established New China’s geopolitical presence, Deng Xiaoping turned it into a global economic giant through his ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ which sounds like Kenya’s 1965 Session Paper Number 10 on African Socialism. Both talk of ‘socialism’ while adopting capitalistic ways. Deng, subscribed to Vladimir Lenin’s ‘commanding heights’ doctrine of doing whatever needed doing as long as he controlled the ‘commanding heights.’

He thus advised the Chinese to hide power and they did it without compromising focus. For him, although adopting capitalistic ways for economic growth was necessary, it was no licence for discarding communistic ways of governance. When some Chinese confused the two, therefore, Deng had no qualms crushing challengers to Communist rule at Tiananmen Square in 1989 after which he resumed chasing economic mice using capitalistic cats.  

Xi Jinping goes beyond Deng and Mao in his attempt to reorganise the world to his preferred order. With Putin as colleague in eroding American singularity, he talks of world common survival agenda and avoids being obnoxious. He seeks to reverse the 15th and 16th Centuries by entrapping Europe into China’s economic orbit. His Belt and Road Initiative starts and ends in China and Europe, other places are simply fueling points. He reshapes world geopolitics by creating alternatives to the Conceptual West.