The pipeline between China and Russia transports mainly interests

Russia’s national emblem is once again the double-headed eagle, which was used until the Romanov’s tsarist dynasty.  Since 1993, the heraldic bird of prey has looked in two different directions.  Popular belief commemorates the empire’s European and Asian components.  This is why the eagle that extends his gaze in two different directions was used to represent the contract signed between Gazprom and the Chinese government.  Just when the west is facing Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, Moscow finds a new partner in Beijing.  Throughout history, Russia has frequently oscillated between the east and west, and even this time it’s being interpreted as a relative intangible, an emergency exit to its isolation.  Effectively, the agreement’s impact is impressive.  Russia will supply China with 38 billion metric cubes of gas annually for 30 years starting in 2018, when the procurements are expected to begin.  The agreement also foresees the construction of two 2,500 km pipelines to transport gas from deposits in Siberia to Chinese territories.  The agreed upon price was not revealed, but it’s estimated that the contract is worth at least $400 billion.  These values—applied to a strategic good like energy—obviously surpass restrictive commercial limits to focus the analysis on strictly political aspects.  For this reason, many analysts have highlighted the historic value of the agreement and its repercussions on international assets, to the point of foretelling a new “Beijing-Moscow axis.”

 In any case, some aspects demand that hyperbole and adjectives be diminished.  The agreement was signed after 10 years of talks; therefore the negotiation was not easy and actually imposed by essentially commercial motives.  China seems to have achieved its aim, which was to secure energy supplies for its production and social needs.  However, the energy market is not dominated by cartels in the producer countries that set prices.  Gas is a commodity that can be purchased in any marketplace.  Furthermore, its relative importance has been reduced since shale gas extraction has increased energy alternatives (especially in China and the US).  Even the “anti-west” function of the agreement should not be exaggerated.  Even if it’s true that Russia and China often have common interests, especially with respect to the US, the political systems, cultural values, and economic structures of the two countries are profoundly different.  Their foreign policy is often unscrupulous and would not hesitate to escalate to conflict in the case of irreconcilable differences.  When Moscow and Beijing were the two capitals of global socialism, they did not hesitate to wage a bloody war along the Ussuri River in 1969.  The agreement’s origin could probably be found in a parallel explanation: economic complementarity and political convenience.  The exchange of goods and materials has already been run, China is already Russia’s biggest supplier.  The message to the US is clear: the world is more diversified than what Washington seems to imagine.  Yet this very pragmatism could reduce worries concerning the agreement.  Among the tensions of globalization, crisis will certainly exist, as well as new conflicts, and discoveries of new oilfields.  What seems epochal today will likely be consigned to economic history, because a convergence of interests never lasts as long as a true friendship.