05.06.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Yang Jiechi’s European Tour


The recent May 24-27 trip to Europe by Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Political Bureau member Yang Jiechi, responsible for formulating and implementing the Chinese government’s foreign policy, is not at all an everyday occurrence at this stage of the “Great World Game”. Above all, because the first and most important country of visit this time was Russia, from where the distinguished guest went on to Slovakia and Croatia.

Recall that it was Yang Jiechi who rebuffed the propaganda attack (on the topic of “human rights violations” in the PRC) made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the first day of the US-China talks in Anchorage two months earlier. Which, in turn, illustrated the extreme complexity of the current state of relations between the two leading world powers, and also demonstrated once again the need for each of them to seek support from other prominent world players.

Washington’s awareness of both of these circumstances explains the attempts to revitalize the transatlantic relations (which began to degrade for objective reasons long before the Trump administration came to power), as well as to repeat the well-known combination that was successfully carried out during the Cold War.

We are talking about the so-called “ping-pong diplomacy” of the turn of the 60-70s, the main result of which was the acquisition of an extremely important partner in the confrontation with the USSR. This success came at a high price in the form of the termination of diplomatic relations with one of Asia’s most loyal allies in the then Kuomintang regime in Taiwan. As well as the adoption of the “one-China principle,” as a prerequisite put forward by Beijing for the establishment of normal interstate relations with it.

Today the US is full of expert voices suggesting that if in the late 1970s there had been a clear prospect of America’s major geopolitical opponent collapsing in 10 years, Washington certainly would not have made such a “sacrifice” at that time. By and large, the current US foreign policy toward China is centered on trying to “win back” what was done in relations with the PRC 40 years ago.

All this (ongoing) history of the formation of relations between the two now leading world powers seems to have direct relevance to the discussed visit of Yang Jiechi to Russia. Since, judging by the latest developments in the US-PRC-Russia triangle, in the escalating confrontation with China, Washington now gives Moscow roughly the same role that Beijing was aimed at 50 years ago in the fight against the USSR. The role of “Russian Taiwan,” which is supposed to be brought to Moscow as a “victim,” will apparently be performed by Ukraine.

It is extremely important for the Russian Federation today not to swallow this dubious quality bait, guided, for example, by the concept (absolutely ridiculous in today’s conditions) of “restoring the USSR”. The USSR was one of the most illustrious (if not the most brilliant) pages in the millennia-long history of Russia. But state-building in today’s Russia must take into account the completely new external and (most importantly) internal realities. As the leadership of the USSR did in the 20s and 30s of the last century. It’s time to do something about it, rather than pride on the merits of our ancestors, which were irresponsibly (perhaps criminally) lost 30 years ago. It is high time history was left to professional historians, and we focus on current issues.

As for today’s Ukraine, suffering from another exacerbation of the specific syndrome called “Mazepovschina” (roughly meaning the creation of an anti-Russian state) – and not at all from the mythical “Nazism-Fascism”, in exchange for the prospect of confrontation with China, one should not offer Russia a (thoroughly) used product of dubious quality. It’s not particularly gentlemanly.

Hopefully, something similar was said in Moscow to the esteemed Chinese guest: “The same trick that our now common ‘overseas partner’ not unremarkably pulled on you half a century ago will not work with us. We are quite happy with the images of Russian-Chinese relations offered recently by your Global Times (some of them were lately cited in NEO): “Don’t doubt, we won’t let you down.”

The immediate reason for Yang Jiechi’s current visit to Moscow was his next (16th in a row) meeting with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in the scope of the Russian-Chinese Consultations on Strategic Security, which is one of several platforms for discussing the whole range of issues in bilateral relations.

In addition, Yang Jiechi spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Sochi at the time (apparently, this was the main purpose of the visit), who received a verbal message from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Note that a week earlier, the two leaders had a video meeting in connection with the start of construction in China of a nuclear power plant of four nuclear reactors designed with Russian technology.

We should also note that this visit coincided with the completion of the 20-year “Russian-Chinese Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation”, signed by President Vladimir Putin and then-PRC leader Jiang Zemin in Moscow on June 16, 2001. The text of the Treaty provides for automatic extension for the next 5 years, unless one or both parties wish to terminate it.

Since no such desire has been shown, the document in question will remain valid for the next five years. Which, apparently, is correct for today’s geopolitical moment, the main feature of which is the high speed of change of all parameters of the modern stage of the “Great World Game”. This, in turn, devalues any predictions of its further development. And without that, there is no point in drafting a new long-term document.

From Russia, Yang Jiechi went to Slovenia and Croatia, which may cause some confusion, as there are more respectable countries in Europe. But first, these latter, as well as their leadership in Brussels, are under constant scrutiny by Beijing, which sees Europe not only as a battleground against a key geopolitical opponent, but also as a potentially important resource.

In addition, one of the components of China’s European policy is building relations with a group of countries on the continent in the format of the China-Central and Eastern European Countries (CCEEC) project, which, until recently, was referred to in the media as “17+1”. Among these 17 “central-eastern” European countries, Slovenia and Croatia are no less important than the others.

However, just on the eve of the Chinese high official’s departure for Europe, the Lithuanian parliament, whose members were very upset by the situation with the Chinese Uighurs, stated that it was necessary to withdraw from the “17+1”.

So where were we? Of course, the visits to Slovenia and Croatia by the head of Chinese foreign policy that followed the visit to Russia.  The main topic of the talks with the top leaders of these countries was the expansion of cooperation, both bilaterally and within CCEEC. How much importance Beijing attaches to the development of cooperation within the aforementioned scope is evidenced by the content of Xi Jinping’s speech at the CCEEC video summit in February of this year.

It should be noted that China’s activity in this region of Europe is watched with particular attention from Brussels, suspecting Beijing of introducing elements of separatism in the “friendly pan-European home.” Such suspicions are superimposed on other “rough edges” in the EU’s relations with the PRC, which have been repeatedly discussed by NEO. This has long been an obstacle to a number of important bilateral agreements.

In this regard, it is not without reason that both sides considered the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) on December 30 of last year a breakthrough. The ratification of which, however, was blocked by the European Parliament just on the eve of Yang Jiechi’s tour under discussion. All for that same “Uighur genocide” reason.

And most European parliamentarians hardly know enough about who the Uighurs are, where they live, and how they live. Their knowledge of these matters seems to be limited to the information voiced at events attended by certain representatives of “Uighurs in exile”. Such events are not much different from similar gatherings with Russian “exiles”.

The author is convinced that the populists in the European Parliament and the unelected EU officials are, in fact, the main enemies of Europe today. It is unclear why Russia maintains any ties with these structures.

Finally, let us note that the close Russian-Chinese coordination of behavior in the foreign policy arena should not at all mean that Russia is “locked into confrontation” with the notorious “West”. One can only welcome the (possible) prospect of improved relations with it by both China and Russia.

It is important only to preserve the mutual feeling of a reliable “back” of the partner, who will not bite at the “right time” to the primitive (“Ukrainian-Taiwanese”) bait.

 Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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