07.12.2021 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

US Build Up in Asia Drives China and Russia Closer Together


While the US-Russia relations have, for historical reasons, always remained uneasy, the US’ recent ‘war on China’ and Washington’s subsequent efforts to bolster its military build up in Asia are directly driving its two strategic competitors into a strategic partnership. In this regard, ways have been suggested – and attempts have been made – to drive a wedge between the two allies as a means to allow the US to tackle China, which, unlike any other states, presents both a military and an economic challenge to the US. When the US recently unsanctioned Nord Stream 2, it hoped to lure Russia towards the US to isolate China. The actual effect of these efforts has, however, been the exact opposite. Russia and China, as some recent developments indicate more clearly than ever before, are coming closer to develop a coordinated and mutually reinforcing approach to tackle the challenges that the US efforts to preserve its unilateral hegemony of the world poses to their specific regional and global interests. A primary reason for this failure is that, while the US could think of exploiting the so-called ‘divisions’ between Moscow and Beijing, there is no way it can fill the crucial divisions that exist between Moscow and Washington – gaps that continue to widen due to the US’ increasing anti-Russia intervention in Eastern Europe and Black sea regions. The US, in other words, cannot help countering Russia. By extension, there is nothing Washington can do to prevent a deeper anti-US China-Russia alliance as well.

Some recent developments clearly point to the ways Russia and China aim to build a partnership to counter the US. In the last days of November, Russia and China conducted joint bomber flights over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea with a view to enhancing their ability to undertake joint military action in regions where conflict exists. The choice of the Sea of Japan is not coincidental. In fact, it is response to Japan’s growing willingness to accommodate the US’ Pacific Deterrence Initiative – a policy that seeks to boost the “combat effectiveness and resilience of air, land, and sea forces throughout the Indo-Pacific” for the US forces and its allies. Targeting China, the Deterrence Initiative prioritises “China as the number one pacing challenge.”

Japan’s acquisition of F-35s and the fact that Pacific Deterrence Initiative involves positioning precision-strike missiles against China has direct repercussions for Russia too. China, accordingly, is actively cultivating its military ties with Russia in order to counter-balance, more effectively, a ring of alliances the US is seeking to build in the Indo-Pacific by, for instance, reviving the QUAD and making new alliances, including the most recent AUKUS treaty that is going to nuclearize the Pacific ocean.

As Global Times, a mouth-piece of the Communist Party of China, recently argued in a commentary, Russia-China “cooperation in the defense sector is also viewed as a reaction to the West’s pressure on Russia and to the alarming signals that China received from the US and its allies”, adding that “the two countries should jointly cope with external challenges on the basis of mutual respect, mutual trust, equality and mutual benefit, and that Russia supports China in hosting the Beijing Olympic Winter Games.”

The saga of Winter Olympics has become yet another flashpoint that not only points to the actual state of China-SU relations, but also reflects strongly on how precisely this state of affairs is driving Beijing closer to Moscow. As such, whereas China has already unveiled its plans to not invite the US leader to Beijing Olympics, Xi’s direct invitation to Vladimir Putin to attend the games presents a potent contrast to the two different ways that US-China and China-Russia ties are unfolding.

The mutual cordiality that exists today between Russia and China tends to directly negate the so-called ‘divisions’ that many policy makers in the West have been seeking to exploit to drive a wedge between both states for quite some time. As Russia’s Vladimir Putin recently remarked, Russia has no concerns vis-à-vis China’s military build-up. Drawing a parallel with the NATO alliance, Putin further stressed that just as the UK’s and France’s nuclear arsenals pose no threat to the US, China’s military power poses no threat to Moscow. On the contrary, their emphasis on jointly tackling the US converges to make their military might complement each other.

This convergence has already produced a “roadmap” for closer military cooperation. In highlighting the key importance of this futuristic roadmap, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu pointed out how, “during the recent US Global Thunder strategic force exercise, 10 US strategic bombers practiced the scenario of using nuclear weapons against Russia practically simultaneously from the western and eastern directions”, adding that “in such an environment, the Russian-Chinese coordination becomes a stabilizing factor in global affairs.”

As many analysts have pointed out, the agreement signifies the strongest, closest and best relationship that the two countries have had since at least the mid-1950s.

But, Beijing-Moscow ties are not confined to the military field. Ever since Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war, both countries have been able to develop a deeper synergy on a growing number of international issues, including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Apart from a common and mutually reinforcing foreign policy outlook, this synergy also extends into the economic domain. While Russia, for China, is its biggest supplier of its weapons and the second-largest source of its oil imports, China is already Moscow’s top trading partner and a key source of investment in its energy projects, including the Yamal LNG plant in the Arctic Circle and the Power of Siberia pipeline, a US$55bn gas project that is the largest in Russian history.

In other words, even if the so-called divisions existed between Beijing and Moscow until a few years, or a decade ago, their fast growing ties are making those ‘divisions’ irrelevant and meaningless insofar as they no longer present an opening for the US to unsettle the alliance.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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