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Question of the day: why does Russia need a military alliance with China?
2 December 2020, 16:43
Question of the day: why does Russia need a military alliance with China?
Moscow is trying to use the theme of military rapprochement with Beijing in order to frighten the West with the prospect of creating a Sino-Russian bloc and force it to soften its policy towards Russia, but at the same time it may become dependent on China

Biden's victory will undoubtedly affect US relations with China and Russia. Alexander Gabuyev, head of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Region program of this Center, discusses on the website of the Carnegie Moscow Center how things will be with relations between Russia and China in this case.

The expert mentioned in this regard Putin's recent words about the possible development of relations between Moscow and Beijing: “You can imagine everything. We have always assumed that our relations have reached such a degree of interaction and trust that we do not need it, but theoretically it is quite possible to imagine such a thing. (…) We are not setting ourselves such a task now. But in principle, we are not going to rule it out".

Moreover, Putin spoke about the possible formalization of a military alliance with Beijing for the first time!

However, so far Beijing is in no hurry to agree with Moscow on this issue, and it does not speak about any even probable "alliance". So why was Putin the first to talk about this and right now?

For example, in a joint statement by the leaders of Russia and China, signed in June 2019, it is written that the basic principles in Russian-Chinese relations include "refusal to establish allied relations, confrontation and non-orientation against third countries". This situation has been established since the 1980s, and it is based on a pragmatic calculation, since the interests of the two countries do not coincide in everything. For instance,

China does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Crimea is a Russian territory. And Russia, in turn, does not recognize Chinese claims in the South China Sea, and sells modern weapons to China's opponents in these disputes - India and Vietnam. But conclude a military alliance between the countries, the question of the hierarchy between them will inevitably arise, just as it arises even in NATO, the main force of which is the United States, but all its other members are similar in values and connectedness of their economies, unlike Russia. and China. And it is hardly possible for partners who have such an obvious gap in economic potential as China and the Russian Federation to have equality. So China's leadership is obvious here, if you also take into account that Russia's GDP is less than that of any second-tier Chinese province.

Probably, an explanation for Putin's words should be sought in Russia's relations not only with China, but also with the West, the expert said. Since the memorable 2014, our country has been strengthening ties with China precisely because relations with America and Europe have failed. Although even before the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow and Beijing approached on three main points.

This is the settlement of the territorial conflict, which made it possible to transfer the resources employed in it to other areas. This is the export of Russian hydrocarbons to rapidly developing China. And finally, the similarity of ideologies that have little resemblance to Western democracies, which allows us to speak from common positions on the issues of Internet sovereignty and data localization.

But all the same, the events of 2014 accelerated the rapprochement of the two countries, strengthening their cooperation in the economy and in the field of security. The construction of the Sila Sibiri (Power of Siberia) gas pipeline, as well as the launch of the second string of the Skovorodino-Mohe oil pipeline and the Yamal LNG project increased China's share in Russian trade from 10% in 2013 to almost 18% in 2019. And military cooperation is also developing: here is the resumption of the sale of the latest weapons to China - the Su-35 and S-400, and large-scale joint exercises from the Baltic to the South China Sea.

True, this interdependence is becoming more and more asymmetric, since for Russia under the sanctions, China has become a very important and almost irreplaceable partner, but China needs almost nothing from Moscow except weapons, and with the rapid development of Chinese technologies, there will soon be no need for them. On the contrary, in the context of the sanctions, Russia is increasingly dependent on China for strategic civilian technologies - for example, 5th generation communication systems. The Russian market is increasingly filled with Chinese products - Huawei and ZTE, and if the West imposes new sanctions, this process will only accelerate, at least for reasons of national security.

And although this level of dependence is not yet critical, in 10-15 years this trend will radically change the situation, and therefore Beijing will acquire powerful tools to put pressure on Moscow, and Russia will find itself tied by pipes to a single consumer.

Moreover, Beijing is also actively learning to use economic instruments in other countries such as sanctions, embargoes and tariffs. And there are many examples of this - both Australia and Russia, when in 2011 the oil company CNPC successfully knocked out a discount on a recently concluded contract from Rosneft and Transneft, taking advantage of a huge loan and the difficult situation of Russian state-owned companies. So everything is just beginning.

Moscow hopes to use the rapprochement with Beijing in order to frighten the West and force it to soften its policy towards Russia. And it is clear that Europe as a whole, not to mention individual countries, will not be able to slow down the Russian-Chinese rapprochement without US assistance. And there they are ambiguous about this. So under Obama, it was believed that this rapprochement was feigned, because his parties did not trust each other, especially since Moscow was worried about Chinese demographic expansion in the Far East.

Under Trump, concerns became more serious, and even there was talk of resurrecting former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's idea of a triangle of great powers. But nothing came of it, as the US tried to take the lead of this figure.

Under Biden, this problem is unlikely to become the main one, but it will come up anyway, because the new president considers China to be the main competitor in the struggle for world leadership, and recognizes Russia as the most unfriendly of the large states - so it will still have to be dealt with.

The Kremlin, of course, understands that military rapprochement with Beijing worries Washington, and therefore Putin's words seem not accidental.

“The main challenge for the United States and its allies in Europe is to outline a realistic strategy that takes into account the importance of good relations with China for any Russian government, the irrevocability of existing sanctions and Moscow's red lines. And the most important thing for the Kremlin is not to overestimate its expectations about Western fears about Russian-Chinese rapprochement and to retain the opportunity to change its policy so as to stabilize ties with the United States and Europe without spoiling relations with Beijing, ”the expert concludes.