China and Russia: between partnership and competition


Many experts see relations between China and Russia either as a de facto alliance due to historical and geographical factors, or as a temporary alliance against Western influence, or as a forced partnership that Russia is desperately trying to get rid of. However, one thing is clear, over the past few years, bilateral relations have deepened in both the diplomatic and military spheres, which causes concern among American defense planners.

Earlier the director of US National Intelligence said that Beijing and Moscow are now more united than at any time in the past 60 years. Moreover, American officials acknowledge that the US’s drive to contain Russia and China is prompting them to pool resources and share intelligence. Thus, western defense officials and experts are increasingly convinced of a closer relationship based on recent economic alliances, military exercises and joint defense developments, and several public statements by government leaders.

Strengthening China-Russia Bilateral Partnership

The Wall Street Journal recalls that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping last summer observed large joint maneuvers of military units of the two countries. They took place against the backdrop of cooperation in weapons technology in the Air Force, submarine fleet, and supersonic missiles. Michael Kofman, a military expert on Russia at the US think tank CNA, says the threats are mutually linked as Russia and China are now more likely to act in tandem.

Although it would be an exaggeration to blame the actions of the United States in the current Sino-Russian relations, Defense News writes that US foreign policy is an undeniable factor in the rapprochement of the two great powers. Thus, the Russian and Chinese military are currently conducting joint exercises with some regularity, which gives them the opportunity to increase the interoperability of their air, land and sea forces. In addition to military, China and Russia markedly strengthened diplomatic relations this year and the two leaders plan to meet in February in Beijing at the Winter Olympics. In December 2021, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported, marking the 37th time leaders of the two countries have connected since 2013.

How strong is the partnership?

Kadri Liik, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, states that western leaders may also underestimate the extent to which their Russian counterparts view the West as an ideological and communist China as a pragmatic force, and the extent to which they value pragmatism over ideology. The expert notes that Russian leaders believe that China is not committing a sin by telling others how to live. However, Neil Thomas, analyst for China and northeast Asia at consulting firm Eurasia Group, says that “Beijing and Moscow are forging closer ties because both governments view deeper bilateral cooperation as beneficial to their respective national interests, and not primarily because of an ideological affinity between Xi and Putin”.

At the same time, it is worth emphasizing that Moscow’s confidence in Beijing is measured. Russia is trying to keep China at arm’s length on sensitive policy issues. The generally relaxed attitude of Russian politicians may now slowly change as China flexes its muscles and they learn more about their neighbour. It can already be seen that young Russian experts on China are much more vigilant about Beijing’s policies than some of their older colleagues.

According to the Carnegie Moscow Center, there are several problems that could push the bilateral relationship between China and Russia towards a more confrontational direction. Thus, China’s increased investment in overall military capabilities is likely to create significant advantages over the Russian navy, air force and military in this decade. In terms of trade and investment, Moscow has begun to rely more and more on Beijing, which can be clearly seen in the energy sector, while Beijing’s economic dependence on Moscow is practically not growing.


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