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Rules of the Game


China isn’t comfortable with the rules Russia wants to play with.

A summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a seven- nation security alliance that includes China and four former Soviet republics, yesterday declined to back its recognition of two breakaway Georgian regions. China expressed “concern,” said Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

As Doug suggests, territorial integrity is a value that Russia really shouldn’t have expected China to have a sense of humor about. In every international forum worth the name, China has fought for the supremacy of territorial sovereignty over the right of self-determination, and Russia is invoking the latter in defending its actions in South Ossetia.

I also think it would be correct to say that China and Russia don’t share the same approach to international society as it exists in 2008. Part of Russia’s point in using excessive force against Georgia was to thumb its nose at the West; it wanted to indicate that the rules that purport to govern relations between sovereign states in the rest of the world don’t apply to the Russian near abroad. Rather, a different set of rules, closer to a nineteenth century realist understanding of spheres of influence, should (and will) dictate how Russia relates to its neighbors. While China has certainly engaged in belligerence toward some of its neighbors, there is no pattern of coercion similar to Russia’s neighborhood behavior. Trade relations are conducted pretty much above board, and territorial disputes a)typically have some good cause, and b)don’t seem to poison the rest of the relationship. China even manages to have dense and intricate trade ties with Taiwan. Moreover, I think that China has determined that it can better pursue its national interest (which amounts to the survival of the CCP) within the current international normative framework than outside it. Being within that framework also allows China to manipulate the normative structure to some degree, such that the norms of internal sovereignty and territorial integrity supercede certain other norms that the West might want to pursue.

Finally, Matt is correct to point out that there is no emerging “League of Autocracies”. Russia and China are quite distinct in governance structure, economy, and security interest. They both have some cause to resist certain initiative of the US, but we shouldn’t expect that they will present a unified front against United States. China is now far more deeply integrated in the international economy than Russia, and one consequence of that integration is that China has little interest in rocking the boat for its own sake.

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