Cold War in Asia? China, Russia, and Asian Security

Although the Cold War ended by 1991, commentators, experts, and others repeatedly invoke this metaphor at any sign of great power tension. 1 Since the United States and China are the two strongest global and Asian powers, mounting bilateral tensions stimulate many to postulate a new Cold War between them. Others argue that US-Russian relations merely continue the Cold War, or a cold peace, or what Richard Sakwa calls a “mimetic Cold War.”2 Many also often invoke the Cold War for partisan political gains, e.g. labeling political opponents as “Cold War warriors.” However, such analysis misrepresents the complex nature of Asian and global international relations, and devalues the true experience of the Cold War.

Not every case of great power tension heralds a new Cold War. While great power rivalry is constant; the Cold War represented a specific manifestation of that phenomenon. Therefore the criteria for determining if a new Cold War exists must derive from that experience. While some aspects of today’s scene evoke the Cold War, especially in Asia, to characterize the whole by its parts misreads both history and the present.

Broadly speaking, we may discern four reasons for the prevalence of the Cold War metaphor. Gilbert Rozman lists them as China’s rapid emergence as a military great power and unprecedented assertiveness in pressing territorial claims and charges against US containment. A second factor is the widening gap between China’s more confident identity as an alternative global model compared to reduced confidence in the United States, Japan, and EU states. Third, North Korea’s overt nuclearization to a divided and inadequate international response showcases a Cold War relic and, indeed, its hot war flare-up. Finally, Russia’s renewed anti-Americanism and deepening “strategic partnership” with China reminds many of the period of 1949-1960.3

The Cold War

The Cold War denoted a specific period of international relations characterized by particular attributes only some of which (and not the main ones) have continued until now. These major elements of the Cold War should serve as criteria for determining whether Sino-American rivalry signifies its reoccurrence. The Cold War represented a period of fundamentally bipolar global competition that comprised a military-strategic-political-ideological Soviet-American rivalry for political influence and domination, including the threat of nuclear war. Whereas world politics today are clearly multipolar (some would say interpolar and others deny that any polarity exists)4 the scope of Sino-American tensions fail to meet this criterion.

Second, today geo-economic rivalry plays a preeminent role in world politics while in 1945-1991 economic competition between Washington and Moscow took a distinct second place although political, strategic, and ideological factors led both sides to form distinct, competitive, and antithetical economic blocs. Today instead we see several geo-economic blocs: US, Chinese, Russian, and possibly Brazilian, and the EU, competing both globally and regionally.

A third criterion is that during the Cold War bipolar rivalry superseded all other major trends, e.g. decolonization. Bipolarity’s gravitational pull exerted major pressure on all conflicts and issues to be seen and managed as if they represented critical parts of the bipolar struggle. The dangers attendant upon Arab-Israeli and Afro-Asian wars, national liberation movements, or civil wars within the Third World transcended their regional dimensions to be perceived as threats to world peace. Consequently Asian, African, and Latin American states that aspired to full freedom of independence instead faced constant pressure to “lean to one side” in Mao Zedong’s phrase.

Similarly intercontinental nuclear war between the superpowers was an omnipresent danger and almost happened in 1961, 1962, 1973, and 1981-1984. Statesmen knew that superpower crises inherently risked escalation to that level.5 While not crossing that threshold, the superpowers approached it and were responsible for several local wars where either they directly participated, e.g. Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, or they supported proxy wars in the Third World. Today, however, we have the so-called “second nuclear age” where multiple actors have nuclear weapons and regional conflicts between them not involving the “superpowers” could trigger nuclear conflict. India and Pakistan in particular but also North Korea and Iran should it get a bomb all raise this dilemma that the superpowers suppressed during the Cold War.

Moreover, this bipolarity was not only military or geopolitical, it was also fundamentally ideological, a competition between Leninism and Democracy. That factor rendered every conflict susceptible to ideological-strategic contestation between the blocs whatever its true or original nature might have been. Finally today’s key “middle powers” were fundamentally inhibited in their efforts to play an independent role in world politics. Soviet pressure for such inhibition triggered the Sino-Soviet break and America’s European allies, particularly the UK and Germany, were similarly inhibited. Today, regionally influential powers—Turkey, Brazil, Iran, India, South Africa—often drive events in their neighborhoods and are conspicuously growing in wealth and power to drive local agendas.6

This expansion of these countries’ capacity intrinsically serves to limit US, Chinese, or Russian power to intervene in the Middle East, Latin America, or Africa to impose their clients or systems upon countries there. The difficulty the great powers had in imposing their agendas upon enemies—Moscow and Pyongyang on South Korea and Russia’s rivalry with China, Russia’s failure in Afghanistan and Poland, and the US defeat in Vietnam—has now been compounded and the utility of externally imposed force majeure appears to have diminished greatly even in comparison with the Cold War difficulties that the Superpowers encountered.

The Contemporary Scene

The primacy of geo-economic rather than purely geostrategic competition, the transition from bipolarity to multipolarity, the diminution of ideological rivalry after 1990, and changes in the nature and utility of war are fundamental caesuras demarcating today’s scene from the Cold War and forestalling any foreseeable likelihood of its restoration. New issues and agendas underscore the outcome of this transition. For example, contemporary Central Asia exemplifies multipolar rivalry involving not only the local governments but also Russia, China, the United States, the EU, international financial institutions, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and India. As one assessment states, “It is impossible to draw a fixed system of regional and international hegemony in the region in security; as conflicting interests in the region prevent having any hierarchy in the region.”7 While the great powers constantly strive to augment their influence at each other’s expense, Central Asian governments have shown remarkable ability to play them off against each other.

This represents fundamental change from the Cold War, not just because Central Asia was then part of the Soviet Union but because this pattern of multipolar competition and smaller states’ ability to conduct “multi-vector” policies appears throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America where major actors and “regionally influential” states compete, often primarily economically, for influence. Therefore in key regions, including but not only Asia, competition, especially economic rivalry, is multipolar and becoming more so, e.g. the rise of Indian and South Korean international economic standing.

Another major difference from the Cold War is that in many regions Russia finds it increasingly difficult to compete with China and the United States. In Central Asia many analysts, including this author, have highlighted the growing Sino-Russian rivalry, and Beijing’s displacement of Moscow in economics as well as politics even as both states jointly resist US policy.8 In Africa too Russia strives to keep pace with China and the United States. A 2010 Russian assessment conceded that, despite Russia’s considerable economic improvement Russia, unlike China, could not equal other members of the G8 in creating viable economic programs for Africa.9

Most importantly, and very unlike the Cold War, Russia risks marginalization in East Asia because it is failing to devise meaningful Asian policies and, even more critically, develop the Russian Far East (RFE). Indeed, it must enlist other Asian powers to do that through “modernization partnerships,” raising the danger of a Chinese takeover and conversion of the RFE and Russia into China’s raw material appendage.10 Although Moscow simultaneously fights this trend—though, arguably, not very effectively through its ties to Japan and Southeast Asia—in a key strategic region, and despite complacent official and semi-official accounts of progress in Asia, Moscow has little or no leverage upon North Korea or anyone else there and has had to follow China’s lead in the Korean crisis.11

In 2010 a US Army Colonel who led officers on tours of Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, and Mongolian think tanks told a conference on Korea their conclusion that Russia would soon play no role in East Asian security.12 The unanimity of this viewpoint must shock Russian audiences for that is the nightmare outcome for Russia.13 IMEMO’s Director, Aleksandr Dinkin, wrote that absent radical reform Russia will fall from the rank of great powers by 2030 and be only a middle power like Turkey.14

These dynamic factors should demonstrate that we are witnessing not a new Cold War but rather the latest manifestation of the always dangerous great power rivalry in world and Asian politics, especially the latter. Regional Sino-American competition in East Asia may eventually resemble the Cold War. But that would also mean a severe decline in the immense bilateral economic relationship between China and the United States. That relationship never occurred during the Cold War and clearly limits Sino-American competition. Moreover, elsewhere there are other games and powers acting to shape events, unlike 1945-1991.

John Mearsheimer and Yan Xuetong also demonstrate that today does not ultimately resemble the Cold War despite considerable Sino-American rivalry. Although Mearsheimer expects a robust Sino-American political if not military confrontation, he dismisses the Cold War analogy. For him China, unlike the USSR, is not a European power and has no vital interest in European security agendas. Therefore China is unlikely to threaten vital European and American interests there. He also believes that the intense superpower Cold War rivalry in the Middle East that regularly precipitated major crises will probably not return because China will likely not invest that much priority in the Middle East. While political clashes can be expected, a crisis like that of 1973 is unlikely.15

Mearsheimer also argues that the differences between Asia’s and Europe’s strategic geography make armed conflict less likely, though possible around Taiwan or Korea. And even in these cases such conflicts would not be nearly as consequential as a European war would have been during the Cold War. (This last argument I find unpersuasive). He also agrees that the intense ideological polarity that characterized the Cold War no longer exists. And the enormous bilateral Sino-American economic connection differs greatly from East-West economic ties during the Cold War.16

Yan Xuetong and Qi Haxia reach similar conclusions. Although they call the bilateral Sino-American relationship “superficial friendship,” which clearly does not mean sweetness and light, they dismiss the Cold War analogy:17

That a strategy of complete confrontation can no longer effectively protect national interests is now obvious. It is for this reason that certain scholars argue that there has been a qualitative change in the nature of the security dilemma since [the] end of the Cold War. Under the conditions of globalization, interdependence between the China and the United States has continued to grow, and for the sake of economic interests, neither is willing to adopt a strategy of all-out confrontation. Economic interdependence, however, will not diffuse the political and security conflicts between the two states. Different interests in different spheres have thus created a foundation for superficial friendship between the United States and China. 18

While they argue that both sides must uphold this “superficial friendship” for it to persist, they also share the Western view that globalization has changed Chinese and US behavior.19

None of this denotes the absence of great bilateral tension in East Asia or presumes imminent Asian peace and tranquility. As Chinese power will probably grow and narrow the difference with the United States which is expected to continue rebalancing its forces and attention to the Asia-Pacific, political rivalry will probably increase and may have global repercussions beyond Asia.20 But then, as Chinese fully understand, China neither has nor will it have allies. Unlike the Soviet Union, it will have no bloc, though it may have, like Moscow occasionally did, fellow travelers and partners. This underscores David Shambaugh’s observation that China, despite its growing global presence and reach, lacks a global influence commensurate with that influence and has frequently shunned such standing in keeping its inherited strategy of keeping its head down and refraining from taking an unduly prominent role in world politics.21 A North Korean alliance is certainly more dangerous for China than any gains it might bring and, in any case, Beijing is clearly increasingly unhappy with Pyongyang.22

The Russian Question

Framed in this way the question of the nature of Sino-American security conflict, even if it does not resemble the Cold War superpower rivalry, makes Russia’s geopolitical destiny in Asia a compelling question, although US scholarship and policy ignore Russia as an Asian Power.23 Despite Xi Jinping’s statements in Moscow that the bilateral relationship is “the most important one in the world and also the best one between major powers,” and “that it serves as an important guarantee of international strategic balance” and similar Russian statements, major strategic divergences between them are easily discernible.24

For example, in 2010-11 both governments announced joint proposals for a multipolar Asian order. In 2011 they jointly declared that world politics steadily become multipolar, that they will advance their earlier 2010 proposal, and comprehensively deepen their partnership that is a factor for peace in the Asia-Pacific region, e.g. by promoting multilateral mechanisms throughout Asia.25 Moscow’s diplomats had already started pushing these ideas to Asian audiences.26 This 2010 proposal was based on “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, and cooperation.” All states would respect each other’s sovereignty and integrity—eschewing criticism of their domestic politics and supporting Russian and Chinese postures on the Kurile Islands, the Senkakus, Taiwan, and possibly even China’s claims on the Spratly Islands—non-alliance principles, equal and transparent security frameworks, equal and indivisible security, etc.27

Yet in 2012 when China called its sovereignty in the Senkakus a core interest, Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council, told Japanese officials that Russia will not take sides in this dispute. Japan and China must solve this problem through mutual dialogue. Furthermore, Japan and Russia agreed to “strengthen the bilateral dialogue in a bid to expand cooperation in the fields of security and defense amid the rapidly changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific region.”28 Clearly Moscow retreated from support for China’s territorial claims.29

Similarly Beijing has repeatedly demanded that Moscow terminate energy explorations in the South China Sea, clearly responding to Russia’s visibly enhanced interests in Southeast Asia. In 2012 Russia announced its interest in regaining a naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, a step probably connected to joint Russo-Vietnamese energy projects off Vietnam’s coast, and a means of checking China. Gazprom also signed a deal to explore two licensed blocks in Vietnam’s continental shelf in the South China Sea, taking a 49 percent stake in the offshore blocks, which hold an estimated 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and more than 25 million tons of gas condensate. Those actions precipitated Beijing’s demand that Moscow leave the area. However, despite its silence, presumably to avoid antagonizing China, Moscow stayed put. Since then it has increased support for Vietnam regarding energy exploration in the South China Sea and, perhaps more ominously from China’s standpoint, in arms sales and defense cooperation.30

Apparently the vaunted Sino-Russian identity of interests vis-a-vis the United States exists mainly regarding global issues: versus democracy promotion in Syria or elsewhere, against missile defenses, and in opposition to armed intervention as a means to stop proliferation. But while both governments resist US regional policies against North Korea and Iran and in Central Asia, Russia clearly hedges against China’s dominance in East and Central Asia. While Moscow certainly grasps Asia’s importance; it is insufficiently relevant on its own. Therefore it cooperates with China against the United States to create a combination that cannot be overlooked, and to manage China’s rising power through friendship. A recent Indian analysis captures Russia’s Janus-faced policy:

Nonetheless, recent Russian initiatives have been curious. Russia expressed strong reservations on China’s approach to handling the South China Sea dispute, such as Beijing making claims on the entire region—most recently at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Indonesia. Moscow joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and economic liberalization arrangement, indicating that it is in alignment with the United States and its allies on Asian security. Meanwhile, Moscow has become active in Asia, giving a fresh focus to the region and playing a viable role in all of the regional security and economic groupings such as the ASEAN. Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit. Thus, Russia seemingly wants to go along with the United States, although not as a junior partner. Such tendencies reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of Russia, However, if Washington were to embrace Moscow as a major power in the new Asian game, Moscow might quite happily abandon Beijing.31

While this last conclusion seems overdrawn and the assertion that Russia has joined the TPP inaccurate, as Moscow has shunned US initiatives because no Russian government can afford hostility with China; the rest of it is well grounded. Russia may deem itself “an integral part” of Asia but as Alexei Fenenko wrote:

Russia and the United States did not manage to create a mechanism of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. The Obama administration advanced a number of projects: from accelerating integration processes in APEC to creating the “Northern Alternatives of ASEAN.” Russia rejected these initiatives. In Moscow they are afraid that Washington under the guise of integration projects will try to weaken the Center’s control over the Far East regions.32

In 2003, Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Federation Council on International Relations, told Russian Television, that since mid-2001 US experts and analysts at various bilateral open and closed meetings had suggested the idea of creating a Russian-US military alliance in Asia based on Washington’s Cold War alliances in Asia that could also include India, Turkey, and other states. But this idea too went nowhere and it never enjoyed governmental support.33 Moscow’s behavior apparently conforms to many analysts’ assessment that Russia is either an “independent variable with an uncertain trajectory,” or that “Strategically speaking, Russia is still second only to the US in a nuclear–strike capacity, and has the widest diplomatic options of any of the powers.”34 And Moscow aspires to preserve that status.

Thus Russia exploits Sino-American, Sino-Japanese, and Sino-ASEAN rivalries to enhance its own position in Asia and thwart excessive Chinese regional power there. It utilizes its favorite tactic of playing both sides against the middle, or, what Lenin called exploiting inter-imperialist contradictions.35 Russian analysts assert that Russia fosters “a bidding war” between Beijing and Washington or the latter’s allies to enhance its “market value” to each party and its freedom of maneuver.36 Indeed, Russia’s earlier Asian policies suggest that this is a favorite Russian tactic. Moscow employed it consistently in 2003-2006 in its energy deliberations with Japan and China.37 This leads some to an all too typically exaggerated belief in Russia’s capabilities. Fedor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, said that “The balance of power between America and China will to a large extent depend on whether and on which side Russia will play.”38

Yet its Asian policy shows not independence but fear of change and leads instead to the other side of this freedom of action, i.e. perpetual risk of isolation, marginality, absence of true allies, and worse, growing dependence on China. We find this process in Russo-Chinese military relations.

Russo-Chinese Military Relations

While Russia’s government and military allegedly follow a balanced China policy and Putin has denied any China threat and said that Russia hopes to “catch the wind from China’s sails”39 defense relations have greatly improved since 2010.

Military-technical cooperation in 2011-2012 basically returned to the “golden age” of the 1990s, with annual supplies coming close to $2 billion. In addition, the two countries have been conducting ever larger military exercises, marked by an increasingly higher degree of interaction. Joint sincere efforts are being taken to strengthen humanitarian contacts, ties between public organizations and cooperation in the field of education. Government officials of the two countries share the view that the “Chinese threat” is a myth that benefits mainly the United States. Russian and Chinese leaders have repeatedly said that their political relations are based on trust and that their countries would never regard each other as foes. The topic of possible threats from China is a taboo for Russian officials participating in public discussions.40

Nevertheless Russia’s military and government demonstrate through exercises, procurement, and force structure trends that they consider China a potential threat to Russian interests from the Arctic to the Russo-Chinese border.41 Even after joint exercises with the PLA Russian authorities go out of their way to tell Japan that the exercises were not directed against them. Indeed, these exercises may represent efforts to preserve a strategic equilibrium with China and the United States even as Russia pursues independent diplomacy with all parties to avoid becoming a “junior partner” and remain a “great power.”42 Markku Salomaa notes that the reorganization of the Russian Army into brigades during 2008-12 did not occur in the Eastern Military District, suggesting an expectation of larger-scale conventional conflict there.43

Exercises like Vostok-2010 that culminated in a simulated nuclear strike on a PLA ground offensive into Russia remind China of Russia’s nuclear potential and capability. Moreover, evidently the Eastern Military District will be the first to get new weapons systems as they become ready.44 Recent press reports about the rearmament of the navy, air, air defense forces, etc. suggest that this renovation of the District’s capabilities is proceeding apace.45 Vasily Kashin recently observed:

At the same time, the analysis of data concerning the supply of new weapons to the Russian Armed Forces indicates that the Eastern Military District has one of the highest rates of rearmament in the country. Prompt redeployment of troops from the European part of Russia to its Far Eastern regions is one of the key scenarios used in large-scale war games in the country. Most press statements on espionage cases issued by the Federal Security Service (FSB) concern China. In addition, Russia obviously limits Chinese investments in certain strategic sectors of its national economy. Clearly, all precautions taken by Russia are associated not with a direct but potential threat to its interests, sovereignty, and territorial integrity that may come from China. And yet, even a potential Chinese threat is a significant factor in Russia’s foreign and defense policy.46

Nonetheless new trends in arms sales reflect China’s growing power vis-à-vis Russia. Sales of aircraft engines and most recently advanced fighter planes and submarines total US$2 billion annually since 2011. These sales could seriously destabilize Asian security. Like earlier Russian sales, they expand Chinese military capabilities that could then be used against Russia.

In March (2013), Russia agreed to sell 24 Sukhoi Su-35 multi-role combat jets and four Lada-class diesel submarines to China on the eve of newly installed President Xi Jinping’s first official visit to Moscow. Although details of the sale have yet to be worked out, observers say that it will represent the most significant transfer of Russian weaponry to China in a decade. The Su-35, a fourth-generation stealth fighter, is superior to any plane now in China’s arsenal, while the Lada is a more advanced, quieter version of the Kilo-class sub it already possesses. Together, the two systems will provide the Chinese with a substantial boost in combat quality.47

Current and past sales clearly target the new US rebalancing to Asia that comprises major redeployments of forces to the Asia-Pacific and stronger ties among US Asian allies. China replies by continuing its huge military development program materially aided by Russian capabilities that it either bought or stole (this piracy being a major cause for the plunge in Russian arms sales from 2006-2010). These weapons and technology transfers enabled China to expand its capabilities against the United States and other Asian nations in every military domain, air, sea, submarine, land, space, and cyber war, where we clearly see the influence of Russian thinking.

In turn, these arms sales and enhanced Chinese capabilities incite an arms race in Asia. China has coveted several divisions of the advanced S-400 air defense missile and SU-35 fighter since at least 2009.48 But if sold, the S-400 adds further dilemmas for India, Japan, and the United States.49 If China acquired S-400s, it would obtain hitherto unavailable ballistic missile defense capabilities, potentially generating an arms race with India, which relies on ballistic missiles to deter China. The S-400 would also cover the Senkaku Islands and increase the pressures on US air capacities, given hardened Chinese air defenses and soft US air bases.50

Acquiring the S-400 would strike a major blow to Taiwan’s defense and security (if not that of other Asian states) and give China uncontested air superiority over all of Taiwan’s territory. That would probably lead Taiwan to seek new, advanced air capabilities or offsetting indigenous systems like cruise or ballistic missiles, or seek new US systems.51 Combined with land and sea-based fighters this system could give China the confidence to go for sustained aerospace dominance over Taiwan, thus deterring the United States from intervening.52

These sales also aggravate the already substantial complications of an arms race dynamic in Asia. They will surely increase Taiwanese, Japanese, and other allied pressure on Washington to provide yet more weaponry, triggering a classic Cold-War-style arms race in the region. Russia’s arms sales also aggravate India’s situation:

India is the loser in the growing China-Russia energy ties. New Delhi could also lose out in the emerging Russian-Chinese arms transfer relationship. So far, India has held the technological edge in terms of the quality of its fighter aircraft. The SU-35 will begin to tilt the balance against us, unless we pay for the expensive upgrade of the SU-30MKI or begin receiving the Russian fifth generation fighters in significant numbers. The Chinese-Russian entente could also mean that there could be an agreement for the supply of Russian engines for Chinese-designed and built fighters which would make them much more capable than they are at present.53

These deals also reverse Russian policy not to sell China weapons superior to what Russia sells India.54 Just as Beijing has induced Moscow to reverse its energy policies and build the East Siberia Pacific Ocean oil pipeline to it alone and obtains energy and other concessions in the RFE, this signifies that Russia’s determination to keep its independence in the RFE is apparently being undermined without Moscow fully realizing it.55 As Manoj Joshi wrote:

In practical terms, China has worked out a series of energy agreements, which involve the doubling of oil supplies and the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Russia. Additionally, there were agreements on developing Russian coal resources for the benefit of the Chinese. These supplies will not only boost China’s economy, but also its energy security, since the supply chains will avoid the maritime choke-points dominated by the United States and its allies. Equally significant have been the two important arms sales agreements between the two countries—the first to purchase 24 Su-35 fighters and the second for 4 Lada class submarines—the first significant deals in a decade.56

The Amur Lada-class submarine is far more silent and powerful than India’s Kilo-class submarines. Neither can its SU-30MKI match China’s future SU-35 that has a higher thrust engine, more sophisticated radar, avionics, and weapons.57 Furthermore, the Indian Rafales to be acquired from France are apparently no match for the SU-35s so this sale may “shoot down the value of Rafale for India.”58 And China will probably acquire many more than just the initial 24 SU-35s, as has happened in previous fighter sales.59


Moscow may be gaining increased freedom of maneuver, status, revenue from arms sales, and the expectation of major deals with China in the Arctic and RFE to develop its energy and other mineral holdings. It may also believe that it can exploit Sino-American tensions to bolster its position in Asia. But the real problem in the RFE is not the PLA but Moscow’s inability to develop the region or offer Asia anything but guns and hydrocarbons. And the advent of shale gas, LNG, and methane hydrates makes even that more questionable.60

In other words Russia, arguably, has not advanced its real interests despite its professions to the contrary but strengthened China and helped further destabilize Asia. Moreover, China is now playing its game. Going into the June 2013 Sino-American summit, both governments openly advocated a new model of bilateral relations. China evidently wants to pursue the hitherto abortive idea of a Sino-American G-2. Coupled with continuing US disregard of Russia as a factor in Asian security, these initiatives betoken neither China’s “loyalty” nor adherence to genuine partnership with Russia nor do they augur well for Moscow.61A G-2 or anything resembling or approaching it threatens Russian interests, status, and capacity to develop the RFE. But if such a model of Sino-American relations emerges, that would certainly undermine arguments for a new Cold War even if regional tensions persist.

Meanwhile Moscow’s continuing failure to develop the RFE, leads it to outsmart itself and content itself with shadows while China wins the real prizes. Neither Russo-Chinese relations nor China’s appeal to the G-2 condominium emulates the Cold War pattern. Moscow may lean to one side globally but regionally pursue its own course of action. Russia’s continuing pursuit of independent great power status in Asia suggests an effort to prevent bipolarity and realize multipolarity as a real concept. That, of course, contradicts the Cold War pattern. So while we should expect substantial Sino-American tensions in Asia the resolution of those tensions will probably follow a course connected to the past but that does not duplicate it. To paraphrase Mark Twain, Asian international relations may rhyme with the past but they do not necessarily have to repeat it.

*The views expressed here do not represent those of the US Army, Defense Department, or the US Government.

1. Michael Klare, “The Cold War Redux?” Asia Times Online, June 3, 2013,

2. Richard Sakwa, “The Cold Peace: Russo-Western Relations as a Mimetic Cold War,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 26, no. 1 (2013): 203-224; Yan Xuetong and Qi Haxia, “Football Game Rather than Boxing Match: China-US Intensifying Rivalry Does not Amount to Cold War,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 5, no. 1 (2012): 105-106.

3. See the Introduction to the Special Forum.

4. Giovanni Grevi, “The Interpolar World: a New Scenario,” Occasional Paper 79 (Paris: European Institute for Security Studies, 2009); Richard N. Haass “The Age of Nonpolarity: What will Follow US Dominance?” Foreign Affairs (May-June 2008),

5. This was not only true of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was true for the many Berlin crises, Vietnam for a while, and the Soviet Afghan war as well as Korea. On Berlin, see: Frederick Kempe, Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth (New York: Putnam, 2011).

6. Even in East Asia North Korea could not have gotten away with the kinds of provocations it has launched in the last decade during the Cold War unless it enjoyed Soviet protection.

7. Yelena Nikolayevna Zabortseva, “From the ‘Forgotten Region’ to the ‘Great Game’ Region: On the Development of Geopolitics in Central Asia,” Journal of Eurasian Studies 30 (2012): 7.

8. Stephen Blank and Younkyoo Kim, “Same Bed, Different Dreams: China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ and Sino-Russian Rivalry in Central Asia,” Journal of Contemporary China 22, no. 82 (2013): 63-80.

9. Vladimir Shubin, “Russia in Africa: Coming Back?” Russian Analytical Digest, no. 83 (2010): 7.

10. See the testimonies of Rens Lee, John Tkacik, Dmitry Shlapentokh, and Stephen Blank, to the Hearing, China’s Rapid Political and Economic Advances in Central Asia and Russia, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, April 16, 2013,

11. Andrew Osborn, “North and South Korea On the Brink of War, Russian Diplomat Warns,”, September 24, 2010,; Stephen Blank, “Russia and the Six-Party Process in Korea,” Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 21 (2011): 207-226; Stephen Kotkin, “Mr. Xi Goes to Moscow,” New York Times, March 28, 2013, There is no sign that either Washington or Beijing invoked Russian interests at the California summit in June, 2013.

12. As stated at the Korea Economic Institute conference, October 22, 2010, American University, Washington, DC.

13. Bobo Lo, “How the Chinese See Russia,” Russie.Nei Reports 6 (2010): 8, 12.

14. Paul Goble, “Window on Eurasia: Russia Stands to Lose World Power Status by 2020, IMEMO Director Says,” Johnson’s Russia List, September 21, 2010.

15. John Mearsheimer, “The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia,” Chinese Journal of International Politic 3, no. 2 (2010): 391-392.

16. Ibid., 392-393.

17. Yan Xuetong and Qi Haxia, “Football Game Rather than Boxing Match: China-US Intensifying Rivalry Does not Amount to Cold War,” 105-119.

18. Ibid., 119.

19. Ibid., 120.

20. Ibid., 119-27; Mearsheimer, “The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia,” 381-393.

21. David Shambaugh, China Goes Global: The Partial Power (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

22. Jane Perlez, “China Bluntly Tells North Korea to Enter Talks,” New York Times, May 24, 2013,

23. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, “Speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue,” Singapore, June 1, 2013, This completely ignores Russia in discussing Asia-Pacific security. As one State Department official told the author in 1995, “We will have a policy for Russia in Asia when Russia has a policy for Russia in Asia.”

24. “Chinese President’s Russia Visit Yields Concrete Results,” Xinhua, March 25, 2013,

25. “Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on the Current International Situation and Major International Issues,” Beijing, Xinhua Domestic Service in Chinese, June 16, 2011, Open Source Center, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central Eurasia [Henceforth FBIS-SOV].

26. Robert Karniol, “Russia’s Place in Asia-Pac Security Set-Up,” Singapore, The Straits Times Online, in English, June 22, 2011, in FBIS SOV; Moscow, Interfax, in English, June 6, 2011, in FBIS SOV.

27. “China, Russia Call for Efforts in Asia-Pacific Security,” China Daily, September 28, 2010.

28. Stephen Blank, “Russia Plays Both Sides Against the Middle on Senkaku Islands,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, November 14, 2012.

29. Ibid.

30. Stephen Blank, “Russia’s Ever Friendlier Ties to Vietnam—Are They a Signal to China?” Eurasia Daily Monitor, November 30, 2012.

31. Dr. Rajeswari Pillal Rajagopalan, “US Role in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Regional View,” in The Asia-Pacific Century: Challenges and Opportunities, ed. Adam Lowther (Maxwell AFB: Air University Press, 2013), 160. For a similar conclusion see Stephen Blank, “The End of Russian Power in Asia?” Orbis (Spring 2012): 249-66.

32. Alexei Valeriyevich Fenenko, Nezavisimaia gazeta, November 14, 2011, cited in Johnson’s Russia List, November 14, 2011; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation Presented to Russian Federation President Putin, February 12, 2013,

33. Moscow Center TV, in Russian, January 10, 2003, in FBIS SOV.

34. Dmitri Trenin, “The Role of Russian Power Structures in Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy: What the Future Holds,” (paper presented to the conference on Russian Power Structures, Stockholm, October 17-18, 2007); Coral Bell, Living With Giants: Finding Australia’s Place in a More Complex World (Barton ACT: Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2005), 36.

35. Stephen Blank, Russo-Chinese Energy Relations: Politics in Command (London: Global Markets Briefing, 2006); Mark N. Katz, “Exploiting Rivalries for Prestige and Profit: An Assessment of Putin’s Foreign Policy,” Problems of Post-Communism 52, no. 3 (May-June 2005): 25-36; Yu Bin, “In Search for a Normal Relationship: China and Rusisa Into the 21st Century,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 5, no. 4 (2007): 47-81.

36. Alexei Fenenko, “Prospects for the Development of Russian-American Relations,” Russian International Affairs Council (2013),; Sergei M. Rogov, “The Obama Doctrine: The Lord of Two Rings,” Russian International Affairs Council (2013),

37. Blank, Politics in Command; Katz, “Exploiting Rivalries for Prestige and Profit: An Assessment of Putin’s Foreign Policy,” 25-36.

38. Vladimir Radyuhin, “The Dragon Gets a Bear Hug,” The Hindu, March 8, 2013,–ed.

39. Vladimir Putin, “Vladimir Putin on Foreign Policy: Russia and the Changing World,” Valdai, February 27, 2012,

40. Vasily Kashin, “The Sum total of All Fears,” Russia in Global Affairs (April-June 2013), submitted April 13, 2013,

41. Jacob Kipp, “Russia’s Nuclear Posture and the Threat That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” in Russia’s Nuclear Weapons, Past, Present, and Future, ed. Stephen Blank (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2011): 459-504; Stephen Blank, “The Chinese and Asian Impact on Russian Nuclear Policy,” Defense & Security Analysis 28, no. 1 (2012): 36-54; Stephen Blank and Younkyoo Kim, “The Arctic: A New Issue on Asia’s Security Agenda,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis , 23, no. 3 (September 2011): 303-320.

42. Hiroshi Yamazoe, “Friends or rivals? Sino-Russian ‘Naval Cooperation 2012’,” RUSI Newsbrief 32, no. 4 (July 2012): 3.

43. Communication from Dr. Markku Salomaa, Helsinki, June 4, 2013.

44. “Far East Military Units Will Get Newest Weapons First, Russian Minister Says,” Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, from BBC Monitoring, July 30, 2005, on June 7, 2013).

45. Moscow, Interfax-AVN Online, in Russian, May 28, 2013; Open Source Center, in FBIS-SOV; Moscow, Krasnaya Zvezda Online, in Russian, May 20, 2013, in FBIS SOV; Moscow, Interfax-AVN Online, May 31, 2013, in FBIS SOV.

46. Kashin, “The Sum total of All Fears.”

47. Klare, “The Cold War Redux?”

48. Yuri Baskov and Andrei Pinkov, “Prospects for Russia-China Military Cooperation in 2010,” Kanwa Intelligence Review Online, in English, December 10-18, 2009, in FBIS SOV; Moscow, Interfax-AVN Online, in English, May 10, 2012, in FBIS SOV.

49. Polina Spelova, “Primary Customer,” Vzgliad Online, in Russian, November 23, 2010, in FBIS SOV.

50. Wendell Minnick, “Time Running Out for Taiwan If Russia Releases S-400M,” May 25, 2013,

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid.

53. Manoj Joshi, “Now a Chinese Pivot to Russia,” India Today, April 1, 2013,

54. Vladimir Radyuhin, ‘The Dragon Gets a Bear Hug.”

55. Stephen Kotkin, “The Unbalanced Triangle: What Chinese-Russian Relations Mean for the United States,” cited in Johnson’s Russia List, November 25, 2009.

56. oshi, see also Kotkin, “The Unbalanced Triangle”; and Stephen Blank, “Toward a New Chinese Order in Asia: Russia’s Failure,” NBR Special Report, no. 26, National Bureau of Asian Research, March, 2011.

57. Radyuhin, “The Dragon Gets a Bear Hug.”

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid.

60. Stanley Reed, “3 Foreign Companies Invest in US Project to Export Liquid Gas,” New York Times, May 17, 2013; Stanley Reed, “Shell Makes a Heavy Bet on a Boom in Natural Gas,” New York Times, May 2, 2013; Chris Nelder, “Are Methane Hydrates Really Going to Change Geopolitics?”

61. Hagel; Jamil Anderlini, “Lesser Nations Left in the Cold as Xi Embraces a Group of Two,” Financial Times, June 5, 2013.

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  • Destiny Hanshew

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