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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, China and What's Really on the Table

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What a two-week period would-be geopoliticians have had. It began with the Bush administration's announcement of plans for testing of ballistic missile systems that will likely "bump up" against the ABM Treaty, followed by the successful test of the missile defense kill vehicle. Then Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in Moscow to sign a new Chinese-Russian Friendship Treaty. Finally in Genoa U.S. President George W. Bush had another opportunity to confer with European allies as well as his new soulmate President Vladimir Putin. The head of Sir Halford MacKinder, the godfather of geopolitics and originator of the term "Eurasian heartland," must be spinning in his grave.

Many observers have been quick to resurrect the notion of triangular politics that was popularized by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration's efforts to combine detente with the Soviet Union with the historic opening to China. But with the demise of the Cold War coupled with an increasingly interdependent world, the explanatory power of triangular politics does not get us very far in understanding what is really going on between Moscow and Beijing. Washington's worst-case scenario artists delight in pointing to anti-American rhetoric and transfers of Russian weapons and technologies to China to conjure up the anti-hegemonic alliance in-waiting that will bring down Pax Americana. The fact is that both China and Russia are too heavily invested or want to be too heavily invested in benefiting from Pax Americana to really want to bring the forces of globalization down.

Russia cannot have a prosperous future without deep integration in the world economy. And an impoverished and consequently unstable Russia will not be an attractive partner for anybody in the long run, be it the European Union, China, Japan, India, or even Iran. Mikhail Gorbachev understood this, and so set forth with perestroika and new thinking in foreign policy. Boris Yeltsin understood this, and so accelerated reform efforts. Putin understands this and will continue to hew to a primarily Western orientation, especially toward Europe, but he needs to be constantly reminded that contemporary European powers respect human rights.

While the Chinese and the Russians oppose some aspects of U.S. policy, most notably missile defense, they share a number of common interests that have little or nothing to do with opposing the United States. The first is to maintain a peaceful border and ensure that Central Asia not be overwhelmed by separatist forces, terrorism, and drug trafficking. These factors have motivated China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The development of energy resources in Siberia, the Far East and the Caspian Basin will help address China's growing energy needs. Balancing Russia's growing labor demand with China's burgeoning labor force will require the two countries to carefully manage bilateral migration policies.

MacKinder was right to point to the importance of the Eurasian heartland. But today, it is not traditional, competitive geopolitics resurrected in a rebalanced U.S.-China-Russia triangular format that should be our guiding paradigm. Rather it is the geoeconomics of this pivotal region that urgently demands cooperative action not only in Beijing and Moscow, but in Washington, Tokyo, European capitals and elsewhere. The Bush administration's relaxed and supportive response to the treaty signing in Moscow was on target, and now we need to develop a strategy that will help ensure that the collaborative spirit of geoeconomics will indeed triumph over geopolitical anachronisms in Eurasia.

Andrew C. Kuchins directs the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.