Russians cooling towards China?

The general public is not really aware of China’s support to Russia at the peak of hostilities with the West, namely in 2014-2015


Russia’s oscillation between East and West has been dogging my country for at least 300 years.

What nation or a group of nations are your role model, which culture do you belong to, who is your best friend — these arguments have often been splitting the society, in many cases resulting in a verdict “Russia is on its own”, belonging to neither civilisation.

There were no public opinion polls in the previous eras. Now, there are a lot of them.

The recent one, conducted by Levada Centre, reveals that 60% of respondents do not like the US, while 54% do not like Europe. It used to be 49% and 47% only a year and a half ago.

There are plenty of explanations to these figures, mostly made by hereditary West-oriented liberals.

They said the Russian public behaves like a girl, snubbed by the man of her dreams. Meaning that a Russian supposedly wants to be Western, but fails miserably in that endeavour, and fumes as a result.

My explanation is more simple: If the man of your dreams is heaping all kind of accusations against you, and tries to rob you of your livelihood in the process, doing it year after year, then no love may pass such test.

Loving someone who constantly harms you is a Shakespearean thing; but how about your feelings towards someone who has been on your side for the last 30 years? That’s China, meaning that every time the West was trying to undermine Russia, China was siding with us.

And it’s here where real fun begins. Yet another survey — by Public Opinion Foundation, said 62% of those surveyed list China as a friendly country.

The problem is, there were 77% of them in 2015. Which means that the Russian public is cooling towards China at the same time it is decisively breaking up with the West.

There are several explanations for that. One is that, the general public is not really aware of China’s support to Russia at the peak of hostilities with the West, namely in 2014-2015.

Diplomatic statements saying that China will never support any economic sanctions against Russia are known mostly in the learned circles. Just keeping business with China as usual produces no spectacular effect.

Other analysts remind us that — in spite of all the political bickering — Russia’s trade with the European Union is, roughly, around US$200 billion or RM804.4 billion (going down).

It’s still at US$84 billion with China (going up). Simply speaking, China has not replaced the West as a trader of consumer goods here, and it’s unlikely it ever will.

My explanations are rather cultural. Westerners may arouse complicated feelings in our public, like disgust, indignation, pity, you name it.

But the Chinese arouse almost no feelings at all, save for grudging respect. The public sees everywhere all these packs of Chinese tourists, coming here in huge numbers exactly after 2014-2015.

But these groups speak their own language and keep their own company. There is still not enough contact on the grassroots level.

China’s quiet and firm support of Russia in global diplomacy is not exactly what the public wants.

We love our friends being eloquent and vocal, as in spectacularly active, in supporting our point of view.

To put it plainly, Russians are a passionate race, while the Chinese normally behave like cool (and, maybe, wise) friends.

To remind the famous friendship of our two nations started in 1950s, when the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was saying things like “we’ll take the last shirt from our back to give it to the Chinese”.

China’s leaders, in a very characteristic way, were taken aback by such approach, thinking of what they could do to reciprocate.

And then ideological quarrels and quest for leadership inside the Communist world started as early as in the 1960s.

One of the problems of the polls is that they treat Russians as a homogenous mass, not taking into account our age and location.

I suspect that the youngest generation feels different (and very positive) about China, using a lot of gadgets made there and travelling from Manchuria to Hainan. While the senior folks may still remember the late 1960s, when it almost came to war between the two nations.

But what’s most reassuring are the local surveys in the Russian Far East, bordering China, where the two peoples really know each other.

It shows a 64% level of liking China, slightly bigger than in Russia in general. And that happens in the area, where American propaganda has been bombarding us in the 1990s with a stupid idea about “those Chinese, intending to populate the Far East and annex it subsequently”.

And, finally, there’s one more survey (by Internet), asking: If the US offers friendship on the condition of dumping China, should Moscow accept it? Never, said 73% of respondents.

  • Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia.