China to Russia: You’re On Your Own



Russia and China, along with a few buddies, set up an international organization called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It doesn’t really do anything, but it exists as a sort of gesture of non-NATO solidarity and an implicit threat to do something for real someday. And it seems Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev were expecting the SCO to back them over the Georgia issue in that spirit, but China basically told them to take a hike staying decided neutral on the issue.

There’s a crucial lesson here about not over-hyping the alleged new era of autocracies — there’s basically no there there. And it’s likely to stay that way. It’s actually quite difficult for autocracies to have any but the most limited forms of sustained cooperation unless the relationship becomes one of one-sided domination. States that are internally governed by stable rule-bound liberal institutions can forge enduring institutional ties, but states that aren’t like that find it difficult to move beyond one-off bargains. But still, on something like this, China certainly could give more support to the Russia position if Beijing were so inclined. But it seems Beijing isn’t. And we should work to make sure it stays that way and eschew policies that tend to drive every somewhat problematic state together into a potentially hostile coalition.