Xin Zhang:Opinion: China-Russia challenge international practices but rarely international order
In Western mainstream media, China and Russia are increasingly being portrayed as the major “revisionist powers” and the biggest threat to the liberal international order. The recently released National Security Strategy by the US government lists “the revisionist powers of China and Russia” as the first of three major issues challenging American interests.
In a similar fashion, the National Defense Strategy released by the Pentagon follows up by claiming that “China and Russia are now undermining the international order from within the system by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously undercutting its principles and ‘rules of the road.’”
As leaders of both China and Russia have just won another term in office, the current bilateral relations and dynamics between the two countries are likely to continue and sustain.
In the coming years, it is very likely that we will witness more harsh criticism of China's and Russia’s roles in the international system. Against such a backdrop, we should realize that post-Cold War China and Russia constitute “neo-revisionist” powers, challenging the hegemonic foundation of the current international order, but not its liberal nature.
The “neo-revisionist” constantly questions the practices, not the principles of international society and criticizes some actors, in particular the US, for violating these principles.
Ironically, in the current international system, only the powerful ones can challenge the paradigm itself. Being the beneficiaries of the liberal order in the past few decades, “neo-revisionist” countries are not the in the position of jettisoning its underlying principles.
The liberal international order itself has provided both China and Russia with resources, tools, and legitimacy for their counter-hegemonic actions. The two countries, along with a few other emerging states, from time to time both exploit and bring to the fore the inner tension and contradictions contained within the liberal international order.
The fact that the domestic political systems of China and Russia are different from the ideal-type of Western liberal democracy does not mean they will jeopardize the liberal international order. Over time, the foundations of the liberal international order has gained а universal nature, much beyond its Western democratic initiators, and has been absorbed and adopted by all types of states, including China and Russia.
Thus, it is not ironic at all to notice that it is not the United States, but China in 2017 that hold positions corresponding more closely with the initial tenets of Wilsonianism, represented by Chinese President’s keynote address at the Davos forum in 2017, in defense of free trade, the core of the global financial and economic system, and against a new wave of protectionism. For the same reason, why can’t institutions set or led by China and Russia, sometimes along with other emerging countries, such as BRICs, Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, qualify as part of the liberal international order?
On the one hand, as long as the “anti-hegemonic” task still hold and still wins international legitimacy for the benefit of the whole international society, the Sino-Russo duo will continue. On the other hand, neither “axis of convenience” nor “friends of benefits” analogy captures the nature of the bilateral relations. Both countries uphold and promote various versions of “multi-polarity”, even though the exact meaning and policy implications of such multi-polarity are not always clear. They are not forming allies, or traditional blocs, and will not adopt “leaning to one side” policy and provide unconditional support for each other in time of crisis.
The ultimate test for the two “anti-hegemonic allies” is still whether they can provide economic and political models, both domestic and international, of general appeal to other countries. Those models, along with the Sino-Russian partnership itself, are being built from the counter-hegemonic neo-revisionism, but much more is needed for any prospects of a genuinely post-hegemonic future for the world.
(Xin Zhang is the Associate Professor at School of Advanced International and Area Studies, East China Normal University. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.)