Could reset of U.S.-Russian relations weaken ties between Moscow and Beijing?

Could reset of U.S.-Russian relations weaken ties between Moscow and Beijing? Photo: kremlin.ru

Donald Trump's new secretary of state Rex Tillerson is considered to have deep and close relations with Russia. Beijing indicated its readiness to work with the nominated secretary to move relations with Washington forward, but some experts suppose that the president-elect's courtship of the Kremlin could be part of a bold strategic bid to isolate China.

Rex Tillerson, the chief of Exxon Mobil Corporation, was nominated by Donald Trump as secretary of state on 13 December. This is ''100% good news'' for Vladimir Putin, considers The Guardian citing the unnamed opposition politician. The businessman is often called a friend of Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft. Tillerson has opposed US sanctions against Moscow. Furthermore, he was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013.

John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University, said that within Chinese foreign policy circles Trump's choice of Tillerson was seen as clear evidence of his ''tilt to Russia''. Shi Yinhong, a foreign policy specialist from Renmin University, called the president-elect ''a very adventurous strategist'' and added: ''If Mr Putin and Mr Trump become great friends then China can do nothing about it – but China will be prepared for some degree of alienation between Moscow and Beijing.''

Igor Sechin, Vladimir Putin, Rex Tillerson while signing an agreement between Rosneft and ExxonMobil. Photo: kremlin.ru

Some observers believe that Trump is seeking to play Richard Nixon's ''China card'' in reverse. In 1972, Nixon visited China to seal a historic rapprochement with Mao Zedong. Having changed the Cold War balance, China joined the U.S. in its confrontation with the Soviet Union. Now, Trump may be hoping to do the exact opposite – reset the U.S.-Russian relations and ''detach'' Moscow from Beijing. The U.S. leader can offer Putin an improvement of the relations with Washington (and, possibly, Brussels), an end to economic sanctions, and the ability to reduce Moscow's dependence on China.

Political and economic ties between Russia and China have flourished since Xi Jinping became president in 2013. In 2015, Vladimir Putin was guest of honour at a massive military parade in Tiananmen Square, appearing on the rostrum on Xi's right. But last week, a state-run Chinese tabloid The Global Times wrote about public ''concerns'' that warmer ties between Trump and Putin might harm the Sino-Russian relationship. Nevertheless, the newspaper stated that China and Russia ''will keep going forward side by side''.

Delury also considers that Trump would not manage to break the bond between Russia and China by pursuing an ''upside-down Nixon strategy'' as Putin doesn't want a breakdown in relations with China. ''The reason it all worked in the Seventies was the Sino-Soviet split. Nixon could do what he did because China and the Soviets were enemies. They were ready to go to war. That isn't the situation at all today.''

By Anna Litvina