The Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi was visiting Moscow on August 14-17 at the invitation of the secretary of the Russian national security council, Nikolai Patrushev to participate in the 14th round of Russian-Chinese consultations on strategic stability. This event in Moscow has been closely watched since the two countries are fast nearing a situation of confronting a common ‘enemy’. This is a new experience for both since the halcyon days of the Sino-Soviet alliance in the 1950s.
The mainstream opinion has been that the Sino-Russian comprehensive partnership and cooperation is more the stuff of geopolitical signaling than a strategic alliance. The Western opinion has also been notably skeptical whether such partnership between Russia and China will be sustainable over time due to the growing asymmetry in the two countries’ comprehensive national power. Both premises may be getting outdated by the sheer force of developments.
Curiously, another body of opinion is steadily forming lately whether Russia and China could be actually on the verge of reaching alliance conditions in the rapidly changing global situation characterized by growing tensions in their respective relations with the United States. An essay in the Financial Times this week titled China and Russia’s dangerous liaison authored by the daily’s Asia editor (who used to be the Beijing bureau chief previously), Jamil Anderlini, forcefully makes this point.
The writer argues that it is an intelligence blunder of historic proportions that the West is making by “dismissing the anti-western, anti-US alliance that is now forming between Moscow and Beijing.” Anderlini writes:
This idea that Russia and China can never really be friends is just as wrong and dangerous as the cold war dogma that portrayed global communism as an unshakeable monolith… Their tightening embrace is as much about antipathy towards the US and the US-dominated global order as their rapidly growing common interests… Thanks to its continued rise and obvious ambition to supplant the US, China is a far bigger long-term challenge for America than Russia. No less a figure than Henry Kissinger – the architect of that reconciliation with China in 1972 – has reportedly counselled Donald Trump to pursue a “reverse Nixon-China strategy” by seeking to befriend Moscow and isolate Beijing.
However, the chances of a “reverse Nixon-China strategy” by the US are virtually zero. Even if President Trump is inclined in that direction, the ‘Deep State’ simply won’t allow him a free hand. It is after much effort that NATO has cast Russia in an ‘enemy’ image and anchored a whole new purposive agenda on that platform. Unshackling it can lead to the unraveling of the western alliance system itself. The New York Times reported that the Washington establishment connived with the US’ NATO allies to present a fait accompli at the recent summit meeting of the alliance in Brussels.
In fact, the Trump administration has just announced plans to create a new Space Force as the sixth branch of its military to prepare for “the next battlefield” to counter Russia and China, which are “aggressively” working to develop antisatellite capabilities. Announcing this at the Pentagon on August 9, US Vice-President Mike Pence said,
China and Russia have been conducting highly sophisticated on-orbit activities that could enable them to maneuver their satellites into close proximity of ours, posing unprecedented new dangers to our space systems… We must have American dominance in space, and so we will.
President Trump promptly tweeted, “Space Force all the way!” And this comes soon after the announcement by Washington that it would impose extensive new sanctions against Moscow by August 22, including bans on a wide range of exports, by the end of the month as punishment for the alleged nerve agent attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain in March. The State Department has further threatened another wave of sanctions in 3 months’ time, including a lowering of the diplomatic relations with Russia. Without doubt, within a month of the Helsinki summit, US-Russia relations are in free fall once again.
Moscow has strongly reacted. PM Dmitry Medvedev warned on Friday that tightening up of economic sanctions against Russia may be treated as a declaration of economic war, to which Russia will respond with all economic, political and other means possible.
Similarly, China and the US are embroiled in an escalating trade war. On Wednesday, Beijing unveiled a list of US$16 billion worth of American goods it plans to hit with tariffs. This is response to Washington’s announcement the previous day that it would impose 25 per cent tariffs on an equivalent value of Chinese exports. An editorial in the government-owned China Daily on Thursday flagged that “the possibility that the two countries are heading for a prolonged trade conflict has to be faced.”
Clearly, a closer coordination between Russia and China in a concerted strategy to push back at the US was expected to be a key topic at the consultations in Moscow last week. The point is, the quasi-alliance between Russia and China cannot be belittled as ‘geopolitical signaling’ anymore. Just short of a formal military alliance, the two countries are intensifying their cooperation and coordination. In an unusual gesture, Moscow announced well in advance that President Vladimir Putin would be receiving Yang, signaling the high importance that the Kremlin attaches to the strategic consultations with China.
The bottom line is, despite the attempts by American analysts to create dissension in the Sino-Russian relations – by propagating that China poses demographic threat to the Russian Far East; that China is conspiring to militarily seize the Siberian Lebensraum; that China is overshadowing Russia in the Central Asian region, etc. –the attraction of China is only increasing in Moscow’s strategic calculus, thanks to China’s formidable economic firepower (with its nominal GDP set to overtake the Eurozone’s by the end of this year) and China’s rapidly developing technological sophistication.
Of course, Moscow realizes that no significant improvement in the Russian-American relations can be expected either so long as Trump remains in power. To be sure, new directions of Russia-China cooperation will be identified at the talks in Moscow. Read a commentary, here, by a leading Chinese pundit who envisions the Northern Sea Route (which is a key template of Moscow’s Arctic strategies) as an “important component” of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and could be considered as “part of an ambitious strategy to change China’s land and sea connections to Europe and the world.”
Source: The Indian Punchline