Munich Security Conference focused attention and solidified the notion of something which was already implicitly known in the policy circles. The return of Russia as a Great power and the echoes of a new Cold war resonated in the Teutonic halls as one after the other major players thundered around the shady truce on Syria, which was immediately broken by Russian bombing in Aleppo. Not since the turbo charged ballistic 2007 speech by Vladimir Putin has this conference been so emotionally charged where Cold war era rhetoric of power politics were so blatantly used. What was intended to be a conference on an appraisal of the security situation of the world in general, turned out to be a conference about Russia and NATO with both sides blatantly taking sides in a highly partisan debate. It was a conference which as usual, didn’t involve the majority of the world’s big players, nor did it highlight their opinions, as the fate of chunks of humanity was decided. Powers like China and India, majority of Africa, situations in Asia, and Latin America was hardly discussed. Even Ukraine took a backseat as the whole focus was on Middle east, and by proxy, a rhetorical war between Russia and NATO.
To summarise the main events, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev was clear about the fact that the World is infact, sliding in to a new Cold war, as he pondered whether it seems more similar to 1962 that 2016. The situation looks grim, and if Kremlin decided it is a Cold war, it will possibly be one regardless of what anyone wants or not. Russia and the West are now involved in two proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria, with many more operational conflicts building up in different spheres, like Arctic buildup, and cyber and neo space race. NATO chairman of the military committee was pretty cynical in his outlook when he stated that the aim of the alliance is not containment of Russia anymore, but outright deterrence; a claim echoed by majority of East European countries, including most forcibly and vocally by the Foreign Minister of Poland. US Senator John McCain lamented powerfully, that the World order that US created is under threat, from “every corners”, a strong hint at China and Russia, and the erosion of US hard power as well as the decline of Western policy makers in global governance and the bickering within the Trans-Atlantic community.
Now, the important questions are these, how does the Munich Security conference justify global governance when it is essentially an Euro-Atlantic elite driven policy platform, without the majority of humanity not even having a stake or platform to talk about it? The significant lack of discussion regarding Asia-Pacific threat situations, shows a lack of maturity and myopic naivete of Euro Atlantic policy makers, who think anything related to global governance can be decided in the Teutonic high tables. But more significantly, it raises the paramount policy questions for China. If, and I will discuss that in details in the course of this article, if there is a Cold war part two, does China need to take side, which side it should take, and how will that influence Chinese policy in the long run?
First of all, to dispense of the myth, assuming that we’re already in a new Cold war, this is not like the one that ended twenty five years back. Russia, for all its intention, is not the Soviet Union in its capability, and Russian power projection will be limited to its core area of interests. Eastern parts of Europe, and Middle East are going to be highly affected by it, but majority of Asia, Africa and Latin America will not be. Secondly, the Sino-Soviet dimension is not there anymore, but has been replaced by a pragmatic Great power relation, where interestingly, both Russia and United States are trying to essentially woo China in their group or lobby. Even when there is no active wooing, both powers are trying to accommodate or rather not antagonize China. China can successfully turn this into policy in an advantageous way.
Secondly, since the NATO and Russia will be locked in proxy conflicts in the coming years, which will be focused on Europe and Middle East, China can therefore carry on its economic interests in Africa and Latin America without much direct hindrance and opposition. In fact, Chinese business will continue to be wooed by Europe especially Germany and Britain as well, who seem reluctant to take side in NATO-Russia conflicts.
However, there will be an implication with regards to Middle east. China has business interests there, and as well as in Europe, and prolonged conflict might be hampering that. Also, a lot depends on US intentions. If US is forced to balance of Russia in Middle east for the near foreseeable future, then the much vaunted US Asia pivot will be less and less. If however, US is reluctant in getting bogged down in Middle east, and leaves the security burden of the area to regional powers and Russia battling it out, then it will turn its focus on Asia, which will have major near term foreign policy implications for China.