Russia, China and a Multipolar World Order: The Danger in the Undefined*

Article excerpt

Since the late 1990s, the concept of multipolarity has gained prominence around the globe. Russia and China, in particular, have repeatedly agreed on this ill-defined term and subsequently have included it or alluded to it in nearly all of their joint declarations, statements, and treaties dating from the mid-1990s to the present. At a time when American hegemony is declining and speculation abounds as to which among the world's burgeoning nations will rise to power, it is important to examine the renewed Sino-Russian relationship and one of its foundational pillars-the promotion of multipolarity. This article deconstructs the definition of multipolarity as it applies uniquely to Russia and China in an effort to determine the depth of the two countries' agreement. Though the two may agree upon the same "solution" to the next world order, China and Russia employ very different strategies to achieve it.

Key words: China, Russia, international security, multipolarity


Nearly two decades ago, Charles Krauthammer prophesized that "multipolarity will come in time . . . in perhaps another generation or so there will be great powers coequal with the United States, and the world will, in structure, resemble the pre-World War I era."1 Since the beginning of the 21st century, and especially within the past couple years, the seeming actualization of Krauthammer's prediction has caused many to believe that the world now stands on the precipice of a multipolar order. China and Russia have long been in the forefront of nations advocating for this order and have included multipolarity as a joint cause in many of their statements, declarations, and treaties. Despite their frequent use of the term, however, China and Russia have failed to elaborate upon how they believe multipolarity is best achieved.2

Considering the power of these two countries and their tumultuous pasts (vis-à-vis one another and the rest of the world), it is crucial to examine the depth of their supposed agreements. As such, this article examines Russia and China's joint campaign for a multipolar world order in the 21st century and the dangerous potential for similar rhetoric to disguise dissimilar methods and objectives. The first part will examine the joint statements, declarations, and treaties of China and Russia advocating multipolarity, the second will analyze their separate discourse on the subject, and the third part will study their separate foreign policies and actions in order to illustrate the different means each country has chosen to achieve the same end-multipolarity.

A Shared Perspective

Due to China's and the Soviet Union's prominent roles in the bipolar world order, the end of the cold war and the exclusion of both countries in the subsequent unipolar world left leaders in both countries feeling disillusioned. China, in particular, experienced what Dong Yuan describes as an "identity crisis," because it no longer had leverage in the "superpower balancing game."3 Instead, China, like the rest of the world, was subject to one "policing" superpower-one with the self-proclaimed authority to encroach upon the domestic affairs of other states. China first experienced the ramifications of this in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when the U.S. Congress suspended arms sales to China and attempted to make China's most favored nation (MFN) status contingent upon the improvement of its human rights record.4 Although China's MFN status was renewed, Bush incorporated Congress's concerns in his "constructive engagement" policy toward China in 1991.5 China's foreign minister, Qian Qichen, declared the following year that "The USA's hegemonic stance and its attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of other states pose the greatest danger to socialist China," and suggested that in order to "weaken pressure from Washington, China must broaden relations with Japan, Russia, South Korea, and other neighboring countries. …