Russia and China – A Formidable Counter-Hegemonic Force
IF “loss of China” was the main worry of the American strategic community in the 1950s, then their current nightmare is the drifting of Russia towards China. Yet, the transatlantic alliance partners, led by the US, have done everything possible to push Russia away. On the other hand, Beijing has played its cards well by investing in Eurasian connectivity to woo Russia.
The net result is that the Sino-Russian alliance has been gaining momentum in almost all spheres –political, economic and military. A strong bond exists between President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The duo has met more than 30 times since 2013. The Chinese leader has even called Putin his “best friend”. The two see themselves as the partners in forging a multilateral world capable of containing US penchant for launching ‘forever wars’ and imposing sanctions on sovereign nations.
China is Russia's biggest trade partner and the two countries have left behind the bittiness that had crept into their relationship in the 1960s. Russia is China’s biggest supplier of arms and the second-largest source of its oil supplies. China on the other hand is the key investor in Russian energy projects, “including the Yamal LNG plant in the Arctic Circle and the Power of Siberia pipeline, a $55bn gas project that is the largest in Russian history.”
Military cooperation is one of the defining features of the growing relationship between the Eurasian giants. They have recently inked a new pact to further deepen defence ties. The military cooperation between the two countries has progressed at an unprecedented pace throughout the year. They have decided to jointly develop military helicopters, missile warning systems and a research centre stationed on the moon.
According to media reports “It’s the strongest, closest and best relationship that the two countries have had since at least the mid-1950s.The Russia-China joint naval exercises, named “Joint Sea 2021” were conducted at Russia’s Peter the Great Gulf, in the Sea of Japan, in mid October this year. The combined force practiced shooting enemy targets and held air-defence drills with Russian SU-30SM multi-functional fighter jets and helicopters. The war games involved warships and support vessels from Russia's Pacific Fleet, including mine-sweepers and a submarine and Beijing participated with two destroyers, a submarine and two corvettes.
In August 2021, the two militaries conducted large-scale – Sibu/Cooperation-2021 exercises in China’s Ningxia, which involved more than 10,000 ground troops and air forces. The Russian military sent Su-30SM fighter aircraft, motorised rifle units and air defence systems to China as part of the exercise. According to Russia's Kommersant newspaper, the two countries have been conducting joint exercises since 2005 but this was the first time that Russian soldiers used Chinese weapons.
On the issues of Iran, Syria and Venezuela, Beijing and Moscow share similar approaches. The two big powers are promoting the idea of lifting United Nations sanctions on North Korea. Russia and China have also stood up in support of Iran that is being constantly bullied by the United States, Britain and Israel. The three are now accusing Iran of a drone attack on an Israeli run tanker near Oman in July this year.
In the wake of rising tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies, Iran, Russia and China have decided to step up their naval cooperation. A joint trilateral naval exercise is slated to be held in the Persian Gulf at the end of 2021 or early 2022. The trilateral joint naval drills started in 2019, in the Persian Gulf. The three countries are strategic allies that intend to challenge the US military and political hegemony in the Middle East. Moscow started moving away from NATO and West and closer to Beijing in 2014 to protect its geo-strategic interests in Crimea. The impact of Western sanctions on Russia made it gravitate towards China to ensure its economic stability.
In July this year, Russia updated its National Security Strategy (NSS), a key policy document that addresses Russia’s challenges from hard security to biosecurity. The 2021 NSS shows the level of distrust that plagues Russian engagement with the West.
The creation of the Sino-Soviet split was one of the main goals of the Western strategy in the Cold War. The rupture of communist bloc was what the West had sought after the arrival of communism in China in 1949. America is confronted with a similar geo-strategic challenge in the third decade of twenty first century. The American intelligence assessments have identified the China-Russia convergence as the biggest security challenges to America and its transatlantic allies. The deepening Sino-Russian strategic proximity has set the security experts in America to revive the slow-split strategy to separate the two Eurasian powers. The same strategy had been applied by playing the Soviet Union against China since the 1950s, much before Henry Kissinger came on the scene to finally chaperon Beijing into the Western fold.
The security establishment in Europe is beginning to see China and Russia as a joint security threat. According to NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, “China and Russia work closely together,” and “This whole idea of distinguishing so much between China, Russia, either the Asia-Pacific or Europe – it is one big security environment and we have to address it all together.”
Another view suggests that the coming together of Moscow and Beijing is not driven by any shared values and it is largely a transactional relationship based on furthering their respective national interests. The two are palpably inspired by their core national interest to not only preserve their hard earned position in global affairs and defeat American plans to make them subservient by eroding their sovereignty.
Ties between Russia and China are driven by geographic realities. The two are primarily continental powers. They are currently involved in strengthening the land routes that directly connect Asia with Europe and Africa. The two are focused on developing alternative trade routes that are relatively free from Western dominance and are likely to reduce the existing inequalities between the coastal and land-locked countries.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Russian NSS 2021, (prominently mention the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) ) aims to ensure “the integration of economic systems and the development of multilateral cooperation”. Both China and Russia intend to prevent Eurasia from being dominated by a single power. Both are aware that the geographic reality suggests the two must remain together to be a major power in the international system.