China and Russia
China and Russia
RUSSIA, CHINA, AND THE CHANGING INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM
Although the Russian-Chinese rapprochement that began in the late twentieth century has a particular value and internal logic of its own, it is also an integral part of a larger trend in world politics. And while changes in the world order exert a significant, if not decisive influence on that rapprochement, the very fact of two major states developing closer ties affects the international situation as well. It is therefore impossible to understand Russian-Chinese rapprochement without first analyzing the main trends in the development of the international system in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as well as the evolution of the Russian and Chinese approaches to the outside world as a whole.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the world entered a new period of development. The customary bipolar system of the Soviet Union and the United States that prevailed after World War II had collapsed following the self-destruction of one of its poles. One can long argue why this happened, but it is clear that the Soviet communist project was unable to compete and failed. In fact, Soviet ideology had cornered itself. Born of the Western secular Enlightenment tradition, it inherited its idea of technological progress and the satisfaction of people's material needs. But Soviet ideology vowed that faster progress would be achieved not by enhancing self-rule and respect for individual rights and private property, but by concentrating resources in the hands of the state, nationalizing property, and ensuring its fair distribution. This project proved economically unviable. Also, the Soviet Union pursued a policy that was based on the ideological goal of spreading its system to as many countries as possible, and eventually to the whole world. This wasted considerable, albeit not limitless, resources and exacerbated economic problems.
The world's first ever bipolar system of global confrontation between the two centers of power had had its positive and negative sides. The control exercised by the two centers over large parts of the world and the rules of the game they set in international relations provoked occasional conflicts on neutral territories, and virtually any local outbreak in the Third World turned into a standoff between the two main centers, with each supporting one of the conflicting sides. In addition, people living in countries and territories controlled by the Soviet center enjoyed very little freedom and had to struggle with the social abnormality of totalitarian regimes.
But those conflicts could hardly compare with the horrors of world wars. There were international rules after all, written and unwritten, and both the Soviet Union and the West showed their ability to find consensus on them (the Helsinki Accords, nuclear nonproliferation agreements, and documents reducing and banning weapons of mass destruction are the most vivid examples of that).
The collapse of the Soviet center of power, which had overestimated its strength caused not by war but by outside pressure and internal problems, was followed by the triumph of the West. 1 Having sought global control, Soviet leaders lost much of what they could otherwise have achieved.
The situation in the early 1990s was marked by the strong, if not decisive, influence of the United States and its allies on international developments. Their victory in the confrontation with the Soviet camp had made the Western political and economic model more popular. Some of the former Soviet associates sought to join the West; others, including Russia itself, had elected leaders who sincerely showed their appreciation for the West. The United States and its allies were also unparalleled in terms of military capabilities.
However, the breakup of the Soviet camp did not affect other key tend