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China, Russia have to forge close bonds

By Dmitri Trenin | | Updated: 2021-03-23 10:38
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State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on March 22, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Beijing on Monday and Tuesday closely follows the just concluded high-level talks between senior Chinese and US officials in Anchorage, Alaska. For his part, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Japan and the Republic of Korea before the Anchorage talks, while US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held talks with Indian officials in New Delhi.

Prior to that, US President Joe Biden arranged a first-ever virtual summit of the so-called Quad. On the foreign policy front, the Biden administration began its term with a clear focus on China, seeking to mobilize its allies and partners to help push forward the United States' agenda of containing China. Against that background, China and Russia have much to discuss.

Both countries are under increasing pressure from the US. Both face intensified US campaigns in the name of human rights and democracy which challenge their sovereignty. Both are targets of US economic sanctions and various other restrictions. And both face US allies and military bases in their neighborhoods.

More important, Moscow and Beijing share a basic view of the world which should not be dominated by the US. Both support a world order centered on the United Nations, and regard their sovereignty and strategic independence as sacred. And both have managed their respective bilateral relations exceptionally well over the past three decades.

Russia and China are linked by a treaty, which will turn 20 later this year. But they are not formal allies. Theirs is a relationship of strategic partnership and close coordination. However, their partnership and cooperation have deepened. This happens largely on its own dynamic: common border, economic complementarity and favorable political climate, but the international environment contributes to the progressive thickening of ties.

The policies of the Biden administration which are based on the notion of China as the principal challenger to the US' global dominance, and of Russia as a major threat to the US-led world order, have made it imperative for Moscow and Beijing to work together even more closely on geopolitical, geo-economic and security issues.

In the 1970s, the US was able to use the triangular relationship among China, Russia and itself to its advantage. After the end of the Cold War, the US assumed global hegemony and saw no need for such kind of geopolitical geometry. It essentially hoped to integrate rising China into its own system, and thought it could afford to ignore Russia because it was a country in decline.

Today, in an effort to restore Washington's global leadership, Biden and his team are taking on China and Russia simultaneously, banking on the US' still immense power and its ability to marshal support from a host of its allies and partners across Asia and Europe to contain and weaken its adversaries.

The other side of the ledger, however, now features a particularly close relationship between Moscow and Beijing, each of which regards Washington's policies as essentially hostile. No Russian-Chinese bloc will emerge, of course, except perhaps in the event of the US launching direct attacks on both countries, which is all but unthinkable among major nuclear powers. Instead, there is likely to be more collaboration in the domain of national security, ranging from techniques to bolster domestic stability to defense technologies to counter perceived US military threats.

Enhancing the compatibility and interoperability of the Russian and Chinese armed forces through more frequent and more sophisticated joint exercises could be another possibility. With Chinese and Russian views on cyber and space security reasonably close, more collaboration in those domains is only to be expected. The recent Russia-China agreement on a joint lunar program points in that direction.

In the realm of international diplomacy, Russia and China face a common challenge. The US, for now, has been able to capitalize on the fears and concerns about China or Russia in several Asian and European countries to build regional coalitions against Beijing and Moscow. Whatever the sources and merits of those concerns, it is in the interest of Russia and China to work pro-actively to mitigate them, thus preventing Cold War-style front-lines from re-emerging.

Of course, there are some particularly hard cases not really worth trying to put to rest, but several key relationships, like Russia's with Germany or China's with India, should definitely get greater attention. This is also where Beijing's ties with Europe and Moscow's ties with India and Vietnam might actually help the other strategic partner. Blunting the adversary's coalition strategy would then qualify as a success without a fight.

The author is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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