China’s strategic ties with Russia are rock-solid

Since China and Russia have forged the comprehensive strategic partnership at the high-level unseen in history, there have been inquiries into its endurances. Given the U.S.-led unilateral world order of today, the enhanced strategic entente between the two largest Eurasian powers is perceived as the strongest counter-balance to the U.S. hegemony. Yet, this scenario has been questioned since the Ukrainian crisis started last February. The world has become more concerned with unexpected impacts upon the global economy and energy security under geopolitical repercussions to come.

There is no question that since China and Russia see each other as the strategic assets, people wonder what Russia can expect from China during the ongoing war and its aftermath, and then how Beijing can offer to Moscow which has actually fought alone against the NATO driven by the Anglo-American axis since the crisis broke out. Recently, U.S. President Joe Biden claimed that China has been “keeping their distance” from Russia, yet, China instantly refuted it by saying that China and Russia strategic relations “are rock-solid”. As the largest neighbors to each other and comprehensive strategic partners of coordination for a new era, Beijing and Moscow have the common interests which are primarily built on a high degree of mutual trust and strong internal dynamics. In October, China reiterated that given the mutual trust and firm mutual support to each other’s core interests, China will firmly support Russia in rallying and leading the Russian people under their current leadership to achieve strategic development goals against all the odds and disturbance, and to further establish Russia’s status as a major country on the international stage.

As China is the largest developing country of the worl, Beijing is well-aware that it needs two or three more decades of peaceful environment to become a modernized country. Equally, as China is the largest rising power in history, it opines that the ruling power—the United States and its core allies such as Japan and Britain—will not easily accept the rise of China because it has the glorious dimensions of ancient civilization which has been highly motivated by its modern humiliation imposed by foreign powers. In addition, geographically, Eurasia is defined as the “Heartland” of the world stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic Ocean. It is neatly under the jurisdiction of China and Russia. Accordingly, the scenario is that Beijing and Moscow see each other as the geostrategic sinew regionally and globally. Since 2014, China has further highlighted “back-to-back” partnership with Russia to assure them to address common risks and challenges. However, the United States has held Eurasia as the pivot of the grand chessboard. Even during the 1990s when the supremacy of the U.S. in the world affairs was unchallengeable, American strategists like Kissinger, Brzezinski and etc. argued that no matter which power, either of Europe or Asia, dominates Eurasia, that looming danger is surely seen by Washington as a structural threat to its primacy in the world.

Now and in the near future, the Ukrainian crisis has tested the endurances of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. On the one hand, China has supported Russia diplomatically while making all efforts to promote the direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. In reality, Russia is not alone in fight to end the U.S. hegemonic order simply because it has been sided with the emerging powers of the world and the majority of the Global south. According to BBC news, since the war started in Ukraine, China has substantially expanded trade with Russia, particularly food and energy imports from Russia. Although there is no sample evidence to verify that China has also supported Russia militarily and financially, it is undeniable that the military ties between the two countries have been maintained as usual as Chinese forces joined the regular drills as scheduled previously. For sure, China grasps the consequences if it losses Russia as the most effective strategic partner in the international arena since it is the rationale behind China’s “back-to-back” strategic coordination with Russia.

On November 14, President Xi had a meeting with his U.S. counterpart President Biden in Bali, Indonesia. He said frankly that China was highly concerned about the current situation in Ukraine. And facing a global, composite crisis like the one in Ukraine, it is important to give serious thought to the following: first, conflicts and wars produce no winner; second, there is no simple solution to a complex issue; and third, confrontation between major countries must be avoided. China has all along stood on the side of peace and will continue to encourage peace talk, such as a resumption of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. It is also imperative that the U.S., NATO and the EU will conduct comprehensive dialogues with Russia.

However, U.S. national security strategy outlines that it should make all efforts to prevent the emergence of peer competitors. As an inopportune mentality originated from the Cold War, it only elevates U.S. primacy to the level of doctrine served to antagonize, offend, and alienate China and Russia which are the most ascendant powers among all other major powers. Sadly, the U.S. policy-makers have insisted that they could afford to isolate Russia and China from the world affairs simultaneously. Given this, it is logic to see the return of the new typed China-Russian entente cordial in the name of strategic partnership.

In the next decades that is to say in the next 20 years, China and Russia strategic relations are not only limited to the geopolitical concerns, but also serve a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues. Their economies are highly complementary as China is a manufacturing hub but wants multiple kinds of natural resources. Equally, Russia has enormous energy reserves and much advanced military designs but needs investment and consumer goods to enhance its social-economic demands. Under the Year of Scientific-technological Innovation Framework (2020-21), China and Russia also rolled out a long list of cooperative projects from energy, the Arctic navigation channels to the agreement in joint-building a research station on and orbiting the Moon. It is well-noted that the Sino-Russian space collaboration will cause substantial impact on the U.S. relations with China and Russia and on international security as Graham Allison warned that there was a looming prospect, at least in theory, that China and Russia would co-construct a lunar station before the United States does. If that occurs, the joint Sputnik in the 21st century would dent America’s reputation as the world’s leading technological giant. As a result, it would give China and Russia a leverage in what can be said of an inevitable race for the Moon’s resources, and back on Earth, this grand strategic partnership would further enhance back-to-back strategic coordination in international affairs.

In sum, “together, China and Russia never fail”. It has been reiterated by both Beijing and Moscow. Accordingly, China is ready to work with Russia to pursue a well-coordinated approach to high-level exchanges and exchanges in various fields. Meanwhile, China and Russia along with many other like-minded countries are determined to defend the international system with the United Nations at its core.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.