Search This Blog

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

China, Russia and Trump

The President of the USA is due to arrive in China today. It has been much heralded as the first great occasion when the newly enhanced President Xi will be able to demonstrate his mastery of the regime and the magnificence of the show that can be put on for Mr Trump.

In the run up to this visit, Trump has been forced to recognise that there is a very longstanding and close alliance between Russia and China. He has admitted that any plan more tightly to contain North Korea depends almost equally on the two powers that have land borders with that 'rogue state'. While China has been the main supplier of essential imports to the Pyongyang regime, Russia has also been a friendly facilitator over many years.

There is little room for doubt that both China and Russia are sorry that North Korea has developed its nuclear capabilities so far that Kim can be bombastic to the USA: and, by implication, a major nuisance to Russia and to China. On the other hand, they have noted both Trump's reciprocal bombast towards Pyongyang and his deeply ambiguous situation in regard to Russia.

As Secretary of State and as a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton took a high moral stand on Russia's adventurism in the Ukraine, both the Donbass region and Crimea: she was a major influence on the introduction of sanctions that have affected Russia's trade and the general standard of living of the population negatively and [in a few areas] dramatically. Hence, Russia used all the covert means at its disposal [which are vast] to ensure that Trump had the best chance possible in the general election one year ago. It is very doubtful whether the mass of Russian intervention in any way swayed the election result which, like the Brexit vote in the UK, reflected the despair of swathes of US voters at the failure of the economic and social systems to maintain the American Dream in the rustbucket. The sheer originality - which the literati dismiss as the absurdity - of Trump's approach was combined with a deeply instinctive populism to grab people's attention and stimulate the enthusiasm of the 'forgotten people' in pockets right across the USA. It is noteworthy that Bernie Saunders almost hit the same note from a different pitch, in enthusing the metropolitan young: against him Hillary Clinton displayed increasingly platitudinous arrogance, shouting instead of speaking and thus diminishing any impact that her actual sentences might have achieved.

Russia and China have doubtless agreed a common approach to Trump; based on flattery interspersed with spoonfulls of bitter realism. Mr Xi will spend the next couple of days honouring and further educating the US president. President Putin will be in the same room with them in the following days at the pan-Pacific  conference, and it is there, rather than Beijing, that any new understanding on how to deal with North Korea will be agreed.

At the end of the Gorbachev years I twice made the [supposedly] direct flight from Moscow to Beijing, which each time made a heavy - unannounced - landing in Novosibirsk. This was necessary because the old Illyushin aircraft could not carry enough fuel for a non-stop journey. Both times the most conspicuous cohort of passengers were people with massive bags full of empty bags; whose business was to buy up whatever consumer goods were available from the new workshop-factories in China and take them back to Moscow in their many bags. They had a hard time with Russian customs on the way home [doubtless lessened by cash handouts when the KGB turned a blind eye] but their trade was highly lucrative. Russia has never facilitated the sort of entrepreneurial activity that enabled China to build up its balance of payments surplus with the industrial west, and is still largely dependent on China to supply the everyday manufactured goods that middle England takes for granted [and which mostly come into Britain from the emergent economies, not least China]. In exchange for this mass of imports - which are no longer imported by individual chancers as they were in the 'nineties - Russia can pay in oil and other materials; and by allowing Chinese firms to become farming contractors, mostly in the far east where the supply of Russian labour and enterprise are most thinly stretched.

Russia and China are hugely and closely inter-dependent all along the longest international border in the world. This interdependence was slightly set back by the extremities of the Cultural Revolution in China, and then by the economic chaos that followed from the collapse of the USSR. But the long northern border of Russia with China - right to the very eastern point of the Asian mainland - remains, even though other former-soviet republics now border China to the west. The two economies are even more closely symbiotic than that of Canada with the USA, and there will be no room for doubt that the briefings given to President Trump will have emphasised the point. To general surprise, 'The Donald' appears to have been paying more attention to his briefings of late than he did in his early days in office. He is to be watched, closely, over both his days in Beijing and in the ensuing wider conference. Great-power politics could well be reshaped; with North Korea as the carcass to be picked over; rather than the existential threat that it appeared to be in White House demonology just a month ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment on any of the articles and subject matter that I write about. All comments will be reviewed and responded to in due course. Thanks for taking part.