It's Not Too Late to Prevent a Russia-China Axis
Chinese tanks splashed through the mud, while a few dozen helicopters flew in formation overhead in eastern Russia, and a young Chinese military recruit explained, âI have never experienced an overseas deployment of this scale.â The scene neatly summed up the much-written-about, enormous Russian military exercises that took place this week. Participants included 300,000 Russian and 3,200 Chinese soldiers. They deeply rattled the West.
Is this the beginning of a Chinese-Russian alliance, as some news outlets proclaimed? Is President Trump pushing President Xi into President Putinâs arms? Not quite. These are slower, more subtle developments: A true Chinese-Russian âaxi sâ is still far from reality. Nevertheless, the West would do well to watch closely as the two countries deepen their ties.
On the military side, Russia and China talk a lot about their enduring friendship, but there are decades of distrust between them. After serious border clashes along the Amur River in 1968-9 (near the site of this weekâs friendly exercises), the Chinese side of the border was so intensely bombed it looked like a moonscape. The two neighbors didnât settle their last territorial dispute until 2008. Russia backed away from an imminent nuclear attack against China only after the U.S. threatened its own nuclear counterattack.
Fifty years later, Xi and Putin show public unity by attending each otherâs military parades, giving each other medals, and sitting through many long Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits.
Beyond the hype, so far there is little sign of the intense cooperation that exists between the U.S. and its milita ry allies in Europe and Japan. Russia sells China weaponsâ"more than $10 billion since 2011â"mostly because it needs the hard currency. They are now jointly developing drones.
Both countries are also (separately) modernizing their militaries. China wants to be able to deny access to American ships in the region, and train its forces to operate beyond Chinaâs borders. The Chinese military has little experience abroad, as the young Chinese soldier hinted when he said this weekâs exercise was his first large overseas deployment. The Russian and Chinese navies increasingly do small exercises together as they both try to deter U.S. influence in Asia.
Importantly, there is so far no formal security pactâ"nothing akin to NATO in Europeâ"that requires China and Russia to defend each other and that could embed this relationship in a mutually beneficial package.
Economic relations follow the same pattern: historic distrust, much more hype than realism about their cur rent partnership, but a gentle trend towards more cooperation. For example, a much-celebrated 2015 deal enabling China to buy Russian natural gas now seems anemic, slowed by disputes over pricing, pipeline routes, and Chinese resentment over Russiaâs negotiation tactics. Trade between the two increased 20 percent last year (to $84 billion) but is still dwarfed by Chinaâs trade with the U.S. ($635 billion in 2017). This July, China Development Bank loaned a Russian state-owned bank over $9 billion to build infrastructure connections between the two countries. Itâs an eye-popping number, but astute observers think much of it wonât materialize.
Chinaâs jaw-dropping family separation policy
Chinese businessmen have told me they are hesitant to invest in Russia because itâs âriskier than Congoâ and âunpredictable.â Despite some aligned economic interests, many Russians donât like the Chinese market much. The distrust is mutual. A history of bord er conflicts and soured business deals has made economic relations rocky. Although the two countriesâ governments sometimes resent the United States, they often differ on major geopolitical issues. Xiâs Belt and Road Initiative (and its militarization of the trade routes) has reduced Russiaâs influence in Central Asia. China bristles at Russiaâs annexation of Crimea, its military aid to regional rivals such as India and Vietnam, and its support for the Afghan Taliban.
Where does all this lead? China has traditionally eschewed formal alliances, and Xi reaffirmed that policy this April. So far, there is no China-Russia âblocâ to worry about. But make no mistake: The Trump administrationâs tough line on trade and the way some U.S. politicians and members of the press seem to treat China as the new enemy is dangerously close to becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
China and Russia will resolutely support each other if cornered. Of the two, China is far more imp ortant to the United Statesâ long-term prosperity. A new Cold War with China is in nobodyâs interest, and will divert U.S. resources from important priorities at home.
If the U.S. wants to avoid driving Xi into Putinâs arms, that doesnât necessarily mean it has to capitulate to Xiâs demands. The U.S. would do well to be clear about where its lines are and enforce them consistently, as it is now doing in the South China Sea. At the same time, the U.S. can hold out an open hand to cooperate with China wherever possible, such as on the climate change deal agreed to in 2014. This will create the goodwill that makes future crises easier to work out. Itâs not too late.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.Anja Manuel is a co-founder and principal at the consulting firm RiceHadleyGates LLC, and a former State Department official. She is the author of This Brave New World: India, China, and the United States.Source: Google News Russia | Netizen 24 Russia