Last week, a top Chinese diplomat voiced support for Russia against the Western powers in the Ukraine conflict. China’s ambassador to Belgium, Qu Xing, asked the West to “abandon the zero-sum mentality” with Russia. A survey conducted in Russia shows that Russians are more afraid of the U.S. than the Islamic State. Another survey by Pew Research Center reveals that China regards the U.S. as its biggest threat.
Russia and China have many differences
So, a big question is how likely are China and Russia to form an alliance against the United States? Huiyun Feng of The Diplomat says that the Russia-China partnership will largely depend on the relations these nations have with the United States. Last year, Beijing inked a landmark 30-year-long $400 billion gas deal with Moscow. The two countries have been partnering at an unprecedented scale: politically, economically, and militarily.
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Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping both are strong leaders. Xi has taken strong positions over the South China Sea and East China Sea disputes. Vladimir Putin has been extremely aggressive over eastern Ukraine and Crimea. But there are still some big differences. Though neither of them likes the Western world order dominated by the United States, they do not share the vision of a new world order, says Feng.
Russia is going through huge economic difficulties due to economic sanctions imposed by the West. But Kremlin has made it pretty clear that what they need is Beijing’s diplomatic support rather than economic assistance. Further, Russia’s energy deals with many Asian countries, including Vietnam, have made China uncomfortable.
Russia and China may form a formal alliance if…
Kremlin fears that China’s ambitious “New Silk Road economic corridor” across Central Asia will be a threat to Russia’s geopolitical influence in the region. Russia’s military cooperation with Vietnam, which has disputes with China, has not gone down well with the world’s most populous country. Since 2009, Russia has supplied three Kilo-class submarines to Vietnam, which are far more advanced that submarines it has sold to China.
Feng says it’s too early to term China-Russia relationship either as an “alliance” or “partnership.” The bilateral relation still lacks common identity and mutual trust. But a big common threat from the Western countries could push Russia and China to move closer. The United States has been pushing hard on Ukraine, NATO expansion toward Russia; and has been rebalancing against China. If the U.S. pushes too hard against them both, they may form a formal alliance, despite all the differences. So, it is largely in the hands of the U.S. policymakers.