Published on WSWS, by John Chan, 3 September 2008.
Even before the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) annual summit began in Tajikistan on August 28, it was clear that the Russia-Georgian conflict was going to be high on the agenda. On the eve of the meeting, Moscow announced its full recognition of the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Amid threats from the US and European powers, Russia was looking to its SCO allies, particularly China, for support.
The SCO was formed by China, Russia and four Central Asian republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – in 2001. Officially its aim was to fight “terrorism” and separatism, but its real purpose was to counter the US presence in Central Asia by cementing a closer Russian-Chinese partnership. In the past few years, many Western observers have expressed concerns that the SCO would evolve into a political-military bloc that may even rival NATO. With Russia’s military might and oil, China’s growing economic clout and the substantial energy resources in Central Asia, the SCO has attracted interest from Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia, which have attended as observers …
… On one key issue, China may benefit from increasing Russian tensions with Europe in particular. An Asia Times article on August 19 pointed out that Moscow’s strategic goal had been to make Europe dependent on its energy supply, while using China as an alternative market for price and strategic bargaining against its European rivals. Thus, the escalating US-Russian tensions “suit China perfectly well”, as they would transform Russia’s lip service of supplying energy to China into reality. “As an energy guzzler, China will be a huge beneficiary if another Berlin Wall were to appear in Russia’s relations with Europe at this juncture,” the Asia Times wrote.
Just a week before Georgia attacked South Ossetia, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin went to Beijing for a secret meeting on energy cooperation. While no details have been leaked, the official China Daily enthused: “It seems that a shift of Russia’s energy export policy is underway. Russia might turn its eyes from the Western countries to the Asia-Pacific region… the political and geographic closeness of the two countries would put their energy cooperation under a safe umbrella and make it a win-win deal.
China-Russia ties are at their best times… The two sides settled their lingering border disputes, held joint military exercises, and enjoyed rapidly increasing bilateral trade.”
China is walking a fine line. Russia’s economic resurgence in recent years is based on the energy boom. China, however, is a cheap labour platform heavily dependent on US and European markets and investment for its industrial expansion. The main focus of China’s leaders has been to maintain rapid economic growth while ensuring social stability at home. However, as the Chinese regime seeks to secure raw materials around the world, it is increasingly being drawn into great power rivalry. While wary about becoming involved in tensions between Russia and the US, China cannot afford to alienate Russia and be left isolated on the international stage. (full text).