Russia-China Incident at Sea

The difference between foreign policy and foreign affairs is thedifference between what you hope will happen and what actually does.Last week I’d been all set to flag the $25 billion energy deal Russia and China just signed that injects much-needed Chinese cash (in the form of loans) intoRussia’s energy sector while guaranteeing much-needed Russian oilsupplies for the Chinese economy. This week the two countries arefacing the kind of diplomatic incident that often has serious consequences forbilateral relations.

In case you missed it, here’s the video of Russian naval vessels sinking the New Star, a Sierra Leone-flagged, Chinese-owned cargo ship (via Fool’s Mountain). Notice the guffaws when what seems like a warning flare hits.

This was initially reported last week as simply a ship sinking off of Vladivostok. But now China has formally protested the incident, summoning the Russian ambassador and calling the Russia’s attitude to the incident “unacceptable.”

The backstory is that the ship had been sequestered at the Russian port of Nakhodka for smuggling. It then slipped out to sea without authorization and ignored repeated warnings to stop, including shots over the bow, by the three Russian cruisers that had surrounded it to bring it back to port. The Russians then fired on the ship and forced it to return, disabled, in force 6 winds. The sink predictably began to sink on the way, but the Russians allegedly ignored the crew’s plea for help for almost 24 hours. When the crew subsequently boarded lifeboats, the Russians only managed to save one of them. The other eight crew members, three Chinese and five Indonesians, perished.

It will be very interesting to watch how much effort both sides make to contain the fallout, to keep the gap between foreign policy and foreign affairs as narrow as possible.