For two large neighbours that constitute two of the three global superpowers, China and Russia’s relations in the 21st century are not only healthy but they continue to grow. One could argue that the Sino-Russian partnership is the most important of the modern era, while in terms of geographic expanse it is certainly the largest.
In spite of having centuries of general warm neighbourly relations except for a brief war in 1929 and another short conflict in 1934, the Sino-Soviet split of 1960 represented a cataclysmic aberration in what was otherwise a long chain of generally warm relations between two large neighbouring powers. Today, the Sino-Soviet split is thankfully long over, yet there are still many things that Russia can learn from China.
Tackling corruption without mercy
There were few places on earth more corrupt than Russia in the 1990s. Overnight, a once solidly regulated Soviet society turned into the world’s largest pirate economy where the state sold off major national industries for virtually nothing. An emergent class of gangster oligarchs who in the Soviet years cut their teeth in the black market were now in charge of the country as President Boris Yeltsin was little more than a puppet of the oligarchs who oversaw extreme price inflation that caused a wave of unspeakable poverty, physical illness, homelessness and a major epidemic of narcotics, prostitution and suicide.
Today’s Russia is luckily a far cry from the 1990s, but corruption continues to blight medium and large sized businesses while it remains rampant in local and regional governments. The anti-corruption Russian opposition party LDPR (the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) has recently released a statement praising the fact that in China no one is above the law no matter if they are an international politician or a major celebrity. LDPR Deputy Chairman Igor Ledbedev illustrated China’s investigation into the tax fraud of actress Fan Bingbing to demonstrate how unlike in Russia, fame is not a proverbial get out of jail free card in China. The opposition party argued for a more Chinese and Singaporean approach to tackling corruption for the benefit of the Russian people.
For many in Russia, there exists a mentality that corruption can be minimised but not destroyed. This defeatist attitude has allowed far too many Russians to accept corruption in the housing market, debt collection, local banks, regional and local governments and among big businesses. There is however another way.
In China, even receiving a small bribe is enough to land a public official a position in front of the firing squad. By applying capital punishment as a sentence for corruption, China has created a clear deterrent for such nefarious activities. Russia could and should do the same with the utmost urgency.
Due to Russia’s approach to tackling corruption which is far more lacklustre than China’s, modernising national infrastructure tends to take longer and cost more. China has been able to modernise its major cities and indeed build new cities from the ground up in the time it would take many other nations to rubber stamp a proposal to build a new public garden in a small park. As a result, China’s cities are some of the most modern, clean, safe and vibrant in the world.
But while China continues to modernise and literally build for the future, in far too many parts of Russia, Soviet infrastructure continues to blight potentially beautiful and well maintained cities. Russian officials should work with their Chinese partners to develop a set of plans to modernise the main districts of every major Russian city in a manner that is rapid and efficient.
Create a minimum of half a dozen special economic zones in the next 12 months
China’s great reform of 1978 was made possible through the creation of special economic zones throughout the nation. By the mid 1980s China had created 20 such zones. Within each special economic zone, regulations such as taxation were drastically cut while these zones also welcomed foreign direct investment on highly attractive terms. The zones also served as China’s first foray into the free trade that increasingly defines Chinese mentality to a modern multilateral approach to globalisation with Chinese characteristics. Finally, because China’s special economic zones were and remain bedrocks of export driven commerce, these zones helped to transform China into the world’s industrial powerhouse that it is today.
A country as vast and as geographically diverse as Russia could benefit immensely from creating such zones. The Pacific coast city of Vladivostok, the Black Sea city of Yalta and European city of Kaliningrad are prime candidates for such zones as all are located along important global shipping routes and each city is near to important trading partners of Russia.
Get the balance between market forces and central planning correct
The market socialist system of China has combined the best elements of market economics with the best elements of a command economy. While Russia is no longer a communist country, it has managed to adopt the worst elements of corrupt crony capitalism while retaining some of the worst regulations of the Soviet system.
China’s system by contrast encourages entrepreneurialism from the ground up, while Xi Jinping’s Created in China initiative looks to transform China from the world’s factory into the world’s pioneer in respect of science, technology, medicine, green energy production, public transport and car and truck design.
At the same time, China continues to regulate capital flight while Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics For a New Era insures that the proceeds of Chinese wealth will continue to be cyclically invested into the economy, thus insuring that improved health, education, public welfare, cultural centres and national infrastructure will continue to benefit future generations.
While Russian oligarchs continue to traitorously offshore their money in Europe and North America and while corrupt business practices soil the reputation of Russia’s biggest businesses, in China things are vastly more airtight and transparent in this respect. This is another reason why China is a more attractive destination for foreign direct investment than Russia.
If Deng Xiaoping could turn an impoverished agricultural country into the modern China one sees today, surely a new reformist mentality among Russia’s political leadership could turn a country with a half-baked economic model into a kind of market socialist economy with Russian characteristics for a new era of peace and prosperity for the Russian people.
Promote Belt and Road
As a nation which itself stretches from the Chinese border to western Eurasia and eastern Europe, Russia’s role in the Belt and Road initiative is vital. Russian policy makers never fail to mention this when speaking with their Chinese counterparts, but they must also invoke the spirit of Belt and Road when speaking to the wider world.
During the recent opening of this year’s session of the United Nations General Assembly, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke at length about the win-win benefits derived from participation in Belt and Road. In this sense, Qureshi helped to dispel the black propaganda that somehow Belt and Road merely benefits China rather than all participants in Belt and Road by demonstrating that Belt and Road is a positive development for multiple nations around the world.
Russia must follow Pakistan in promoting Belt and Road as the initiative stands to benefit China’s neighbours and global partners as much as it stands to benefit China. Russia has a diplomatic service and Foreign Ministry that the world listens to. They owe it to their own people to actively discuss the benefits of Belt and Road as much as possible.
The Russian media must focus on positive domestic stories
Today’s Russian media is filled with disgusting tales of perverts, criminals, gangsters and broken families. Russian opposition leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the LDPR recently voiced his concerns about the overwhelmingly negative nature of Russia’s media. Even on Russia’s multi-lingual international media outlets, far too many stories are reactions to foreign criticism rather than stories which promote positive stories about Russians excelling in science, the arts and sport.
By contrast, China’s media outlets tend to be more preoccupied with stories of domestic Chinese achievement ranging from Xi Jinping’s drive to fully eliminate poverty by 2020, innovations by Chinese entrepreneurs and scientists or profound artistic and athletic achievements by the Chinese people.
The nation that gave the world Tchaikovsky and Scriabin – Dostoevsky and Pushkin – Popov and Gargarin – owes it to itself to promote Russian culture and positive contemporary Russian achievements throughout the world.
Don’t indulge racist stereotypes from the west
Due to the hostile geopolitical claimant fostered by western unilateralism, racist stereotypes regarding both Russians and Chinese continue to abound in European, North American and Australian media. Far too often, Russians embrace negative western stereotypes and attempt to turn them into something positive. This phenomenon is in line with the often black and fatalistic Russian sense of humour. That being said, the optics on a global level reflect poorly on Russia.
By contrast, China remains adamantly opposed to indulging racist stereotypes from the west as well as racist treatment towards Chinese abroad. When a Chinese family of tourists recently suffered a racist attack in Sweden, the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm voiced an official complaint. This is just one example of China actively standing up to racists who seek to harm and ridicule the dignity of the Chinese people.
It is crucial for Russia to adopt a similar approach and to firmly tell the west that stereotypes of Russians in the media are not “fun and games” but instead are geopolitical provocations that must be treated as such.
It remains a shame that some Russians who came of age during the most unfortunate Sino-Soviet split continue to misunderstand China. It therefore behoves the young generation of Russians to help enlighten their leaders and help Russia to learn from its friendly Chinese neighbour in order to build a better world for future generations in both countries.