Russia and China have been just barely frenemies over the last 20 years. Now it looks like the pretense has evaporated and the uncomfortable half smiles are gone.
Does this mean that we should prepare for another Cold War, or God forbid a hot one?
We are of the opinion that tacit engagement is the best route here. We all want to do business. We all want to have an environment where peace generally rules the day so that we can do business. War is a waste, especially in our world as it is.
But we must understand and always understand that we are the big kid on the block and that both Russia and China resent us for it. (Europe does too but they aren’t a military threat.) Russia, because we crushed the Soviet Union and some, including Putin feel humiliated by this. And China because it is trying to take its place as a world power, with projection power, after having been subjugated by the West (and Japan) for centuries.
Both countries really don’t like us, geopolitically speaking.
In the case of Russia we have systematically isolated them. This was a mistake. In the post-Cold War world we missed a giant opportunity to integrate the country into the broader global community. But, because of historical rivalries and special interests this opportunity was lost. That was very unfortunate and represents a failure of American leadership.
China is very different. As China emerged from Mao and embraced some forms of capitalism the Communist Party consolidated power and amassed wealth gangster style. When the people cried out for openness the powers that be quashed it. In the case of Tiananmen Square, with tanks. But in years since in other ways. China developed a system of state capitalism, that is crony capitalism, and emerged as The Ultimate Crony Capitalist State.
China is a much bigger threat than Russia. But even still we can do business with the gangsters – understanding of course that they are gangsters.
With Russia we have an old adversary that feels disrespected that wants to recover some degree of geopolitical respect. With China we have an upstart (despite being 5000 years old) with the deepest sense of history, with grudges, and a sense that it is predestined to be a world superpower. China is a country on the offense.
How we go forward with these 2 powers in the next few years will likely determine the geopolitical landscape of the next 30 years. We need to get it right, and bluster and antagonism is probably not the best tack. (Though both have their place it must be said.)
The goal should be peace and trade. And trade helps facilitate peace.
Don’t trust, and verify. But keep the peace.