By He Qinglian in March 2013.
On March 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Russia for a brief visit. Russia Today, Russia's official [news] website listed the story in a less prominent position, giving it the title: Geopolitical giants: New China leader in Moscow boosting ties; in stark contrast, China's publicized the visit with full force.
New Developments in Sino-Russian Relations.
While the topics about the “first lady” nearly overshadowed the main theme in this round of Chinese propaganda, a tendency remained noticeable: they deliberately played down the real aspect of Sino-Russian relations—China's reliance on Russia's resources and military technologies—and made an effort to highlight the importance Russia attaches to China and the value of “strategic cooperation between the two countries”, thereby created an impression that between both countries there is strategic mutual trust. A report by Phoenix entitled: "Xi Jinping mentioned the militant friendship between China and Russia, and might decide to join hand with the country to establish a new international order". To boast this friendship, the report exaggerated such details as 11 motorbikes cleared the way for Xi Jinping and his visit to Russia's military headquarters.
The exaggeration in Chinese propaganda on Sino-Russian friendship showed precisely that the Panda is not quite certain about the Bear. The whole world knew that the deadly flaw in Sino-Russian relations is the lack of strategic mutual trust. Out of some historical reasons and needs, the two countries have been in a “strategic cooperative partnership” and are neither friends or foes since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, China and Russia differ greatly in their views of the historical relations between each other and China's viewpoint comes in two versions: the official one and the popular one, which consider Russia to be the country that imposed the biggest territorial loss on China by laying claim to 1.5 million square meters of Chinese land, and turning Mongolia into an independent country. Besides, it helped establish a communist regime in China. What the Russians remember, though, is possibly how ungrateful Mao Zedong had been to the former Soviet Union.
This “Panda hugging the Bear” is a friend-seeking action that came at a time when the Communist Party of China (CPC) faces various social conflicts at home and the pressure of being isolated by neighboring countries. On this Russian media have made numerous comments, such as:—
Xi Jinping visited Russia immediately after the power transition means that China wishes to have Russia's support to withstand the pressure of the call for freedom and democracy from Western countries.Russia has a clear picture of China's reliance on it and does not want to be dragged along. Moreover, apart from the wishes of China and Russia, the US factor is also at play in determining how the relationship between the two countries would be.
The US factor.
In 1996, China and Russia announced the establishment of “strategic cooperative partnership”, pushing one step forward from the “constructive partnership” in 1992.
In July 2001, the two countries signed the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation Between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation.
Both countries used grand diplomatic language, China in particular went to the extreme in its commendation for Russia and its disapproval for the US. Yet Russia showed no hesitation whenever it deemed suitable to act against China.
There has been great changes in the picture of world energy supplies since 2006. Russia, with an advantage in energy, assumed the dominant position in Sino-Russian relations and became tougher and tougher toward China. For instance, the country has been expelling Chinese migrants since 2007. In 2011 alone, more than 3,000 were driven out of Russia, where the emergence of “China towns” in large and medium-sized cities would not be tolerated.
On July 16, 2012, a Russian border patrol ship opened fire on a Chinese fishing boat suspected of illegal fishing, arrested its 36 Chinese crew, and seized the boat. The Chinese government made a wimpy response, which cannot differ more greatly from its reactions on fishing boats seized by Japan and South Korea.
Russia does not hide its reluctance in seeing China grow in strength. This sets the stone for Russia's policy toward China: whenever China appears to be slightly stronger, Russia would strengthen its ties with the US.
China consider itself the target of the US's return to Asia, a move to suppress its rise. Beijing thus wishes to join hands with Moscow to form a united front to counterbalance the US. Russia, though, has never shown much enthusiasm to Beijing's call.
Being the world's only superpower, the US has to maintain international order. China, however, has constantly been attempting to break the current international order and assume a dominant position in Asia. This sets the country in conflict of geopolitical interests with Russia. With insufficient “soft power” as their common weakness, neither China and Russia could set rules for Asia. In fact, the US's return to Asia provides the necessary international order not just for other countries in Asia but also for the peaceful development of China and Russia. Nonetheless, in their acceptance of the return of the US, China and Russia each has its own calculation. They both wish the US to limit the expansion of the other so as to gain more space.
Russia knows very well that in addition to the reliance on its resources and military technologies, China looks forward to greater cooperation between both countries in the area of international relations. However, the country does not want itself tied with China's interests and is constantly adjusting its bilateral ties with the US and China based on its own needs.
Because of this, the relationship between China and Russia is both of cooperation and rivalry. With this Sino-Russian relations in context, why does the panda so eagerly want to hug the bear this time?
As the exporter of the communist totalitarian system to China, Russians knew what “people” means in the communist totalitarian discourse. And right then some in the Russian media asked, “how could we tell if the people of this country feel the shoes fit?”. After hearing Xi Jinping's “shoe theory”, the Chinese people boiled with anger. They made every sarcastic comment they could think of, and called Xi the “shoe man”.
Why did Xi Jinping raise this “shoe theory” during his visit in Moscow?
On March 23, CCTV International made it quite clear in the report “Xi Jinping: Chinese dream can benefit all peoples on the world”. It said, “China has always adopted a national defense policy that is defensive in nature and does not engage in an arms race. The Chinese dream we seek to realize would benefit not just the people of China, but the peoples of the world.”
The question is, with the US being so far away from China, and its neighboring countries fear it, who or what at all are the target of China's “national defense policy”?
The answer to this question was sort of revealed by Jia Xiudong, an official of China's Foreign Ministry, in his article, “'Shoe Theory', simple yet profound”. He wrote:—
First of all, there is a particular country which considers its shoes suitable for all countries, and encourages all other countries to put on. Secondly, forcefully put on, or being forced to put on shoes that do not fit would very likely make ones feet hurt. Thirdly, China would put on shoes that fit itself, go the road that fits itself, and pursue the Chinese dream.This “particular country” refers doubtlessly to the US. In other words, what Xi Jinping meant in “national defense policy” was not about territory or boundary. Instead, his policy guards against changes to the political system in China. What he wants to prevent is the “color revolution” that CPC propaganda often accused the West of instigating from behind the scene.
With this, the “strategic cooperative partnership” between China and Russia could be summed up as follows. China's reliance on Russia's resources and military technology aside, the two countries have both the needs to jointly deal with the US and the secret wishes that US would curb the other. The two countries are on the same page in dealing with the “color revolution”. What set them apart, though, is that while Russia, having already discarded the “broken shoes” of communist totalitarianism, hovering between autocracy and democracy, seeks mainly to keep the “color revolution” in former member states of the USSR at bay, the CPC steadfastly refuses to take them off and is guarding against the Chinese people, who have long been yearning for a reform to the political system.