Thursday, 19 February 2015

Bear with us

Nguồn tin:

IN WHAT must have seemed a good idea at the time, Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, this week gave an interview to BuzzFeed, a digital news-service, answering questions solely in emoji icons. Asked to pick one to embody Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, she plumped for an angry face, the shape and colour of a blood orange. It is an image of Mr Putin that will seem almost commonplace to Australia’s traditional allies in America and Europe. In Asia, however, the Russian leader is more often to be seen in softer shades, wearing an ingratiating smile and trying hard to make friends. Pilloried and sometimes shunned by the West, Mr Putin has been conducting his own foreign-policy “pivot” to Asia. It seems, at first blush, to be going swimmingly.

Relations with China, Russia’s biggest neighbour and Asia’s greatest power, are thriving, buoyed by a 30-year deal agreed last May to supply Siberian gas to China by pipeline. In December Mr Putin was warmly received in Delhi by Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, even though the Russian defence minister had been in Pakistan, India’s old enemy, signing a military co-operation agreement the previous month. And, this month, not long after Mr Modi had lavished hospitality and friendship on President Barack Obama, the Indian foreign minister was in Beijing for trilateral meetings at which China, India and Russia agreed to “strengthen co-ordination on global issues”.

Mr Putin has been courting Asian friends old and new. In November, Vietnam granted the Russian navy special port-call rights at the old American (and Soviet) base at Cam Ranh Bay. And Mr Putin is holding a big party in Moscow in May to mark the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat. He has invited Xi Jinping of China; North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (for what might be his first overseas trip as dictator); and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea—though as a staunch American ally, Ms Park will find it hard to go.

So will Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, who is also on the guest list. That said, Mr Putin has even been making progress in Japan, whose relations with Russia are burdened by a 70-year-old grudge over the Soviet Union’s occupation in the dying days of the second world war of four islands Japan regards as its own—an issue that has blocked the signing of a peace treaty ending the war. Japan is a paid-up member of the rich-world’s G7 club, and has joined in placing sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. But Mr Abe prides himself on a good rapport with Mr Putin, and the prime minister recently told the Diet that he hoped Russia’s leader would come to Japan this year to discuss economic co-operation and a settlement to the territorial dispute. As he spoke, a deputy foreign minister was in Moscow to discuss the visit.

Mr Abe’s enthusiasm for better relations with Russia is understandable. With its geographic proximity and huge demand for imported energy, Japan is an obvious market for gas from the Russian Far East. And many Japanese leaders have hoped to jolt bilateral relations out of what Mikhail Gorbachev nearly 30 years ago called a “broken record running over and over in the same groove”. Improving relations has seemed more urgent in recent years, as China’s rise has at times appeared to threaten Japan.

Even if Mr Putin’s visit comes off, however, a breakthrough is unlikely. Unless Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere on its western periphery changes, Japan’s treaty partner, America, is unlikely to take kindly to its granting Mr Putin an economic lifeline in the east. And neither Mr Putin nor Mr Abe, both of whom are nationalists, will find it easy to make a concession over the disputed islands.

Nor do Mr Putin’s successes in South Asia, on closer scrutiny, look so impressive. Indian officials and soldiers grumble that the long-standing defence relationship with Russia has been soured by its sales of overpriced and unreliable kit. They are further incensed at the new Russian military ties with Pakistan, which this month was reported to have been allowed for the first time to buy jet engines for its fighters directly from Russia. India is not being asked to join an American-led alliance (no one is yet contemplating an Asian NATO to contain China and Russia). But the long-run trend is a dwindling of India’s links with Russia and ever closer security ties with America. That of course worries Pakistan, which in any event fears what it sees as a history of fickleness from its American ally, turning away when it does not need Pakistan’s help in a war in Afghanistan. Hence Pakistan’s readiness to accept Russian overtures.

The China price

So Mr Putin’s pivot seems less towards Asia as a whole than towards China, by far Russia’s biggest trading partner in Asia (though far smaller than Europe). China has a huge demand for Russian energy; and as another permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is an important diplomatic shield. Yet Russia fears the rise of China, a populous neighbour hungry for not just its resources but perhaps one day its space. And in the near term, the Russian partnership with China is lopsided. Russia needs China far more than China needs it.

The gas deal may have been an attempt to change that equation. China is widely seen as having squeezed an extremely good deal out of a sorely pressed Russia. The upside for Russia would have been that China was becoming dependent on it for a vital raw material. But according to research conducted for the National Bureau for Asian Research, an American think-tank, Russia’s share of the north-east Asian gas market is unlikely to exceed 3% in the next decade and by 2030 will be no more than 9%. Most of China’s gas will come from Australia, the Middle East and elsewhere. So the dependence seems to be in the other direction: of Russia on a hard-bargaining Chinese customer. Rather than offering Mr Putin a way out of his troubles in Europe, Asia presents new ones all its own.

Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh



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