Three reasons why the Sino-Russian alliance is deepening

Recent efforts by the Biden administration to coerce or persuade Beijing to join the US-led sanctions regime against Russia appear to have come to nothing. This was clarified during last week’s videoconference between President BidenJoe BidenDefense & National Security – Biden huddles with allies in Europe On Money – Unemployment claims at lowest level since late 1960s Energy & Environment – Biden walks a tightrope on industry messaging oil MORE and Xi Jinping, during which the Chinese leader explicitly refused to give Beijing weight to international efforts to pressure the Kremlin to withdraw Russian forces from Ukraine.

And if anyone had any lingering hopes as a result of that exchange, they were definitely dashed the following day when Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng made remarks blaming the Ukraine crisis for threatening the NATO enlargement posed to Russia’s security, likening the threat to that which China believes Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy poses to its own security, and once again rejecting calls for Beijing to imposes its own sanctions.

This is not to say, of course, that Beijing is happy with Moscow these days. This is certainly not the case. The abysmal performance of the Russian military on the battlefield, coupled with the economic damage Western sanctions are taking on that country, has left China with a much weaker strategic partner than it had (or thought). ) just a month ago. And on top of that, the blatant violation of Ukrainian national sovereignty by its Russian ally – a norm that has been a cornerstone of China’s foreign policy since the Revolution – has forced official and unofficial spokesmen of the China to all sorts of circumlocutions as they seek to balance support for their ally against support for this norm.

No, there is no doubt that Russia’s botched invasion of its neighbor has left Chinese leaders appalled, disappointed and perhaps even unhappy.

But that doesn’t mean Beijing is going to comply with Biden’s demands to impose its own sanctions on Russia (although its companies may reluctantly comply with Western sanctions). And that certainly doesn’t mean that China is going to downgrade its strategic understanding with Russia – an understanding that both sides have agreed “has no limits” and in which there are “no areas of cooperation “forbidden”” – either deference to Washington or disappointment to Moscow.

In fact, quite the opposite: China is likely to rally behind Russia’s support, even if it does so quietly and continues to spout platitudes about the desire for peace and the norm of national sovereignty.

The reasons for China’s resistance to US demands – and why it will stick to its deal with Russia, regardless of current tensions – are threefold. First, in the economic field, China needs Russia to ensure its long-term economic prosperity. Russia provides much of the oil and gas, nickel, aluminum and palladium, wheat and corn, and fertilizers that China needs to sustain its economy – a harsh reality that won’t change anytime soon. and which forms the foundation of Russian Entente China. And then there’s the Northern Sea Route (NSR), the increasingly accessible sea route that runs along Russia’s northern coast and is both safer and shorter than China’s traditional sea routes to Europe. Beijing is hardly going to jeopardize its future access to the NSR for something as insignificant to China as the fate of Ukraine.

Secondly, also in the geopolitical field, China needs Russia. In this regard, 2014 was a fateful year. Prior to this year, Sino-Russian relations were not particularly warm. But the confluence of what was seen in Beijing as US efforts to “bully” Russia over Ukraine and China over Taiwan and the South China Sea, and the two over a range of other issues, including their internal affairs, made 2014 a year of what Chinese experts call “an abnormal acceleration of Sino-Russian relations”.

The result of this acceleration was that Beijing committed to greater alignment and cooperation with Russia in order to divide American attention and resources, complicate American military planning in both theaters and otherwise isolate itself from US efforts to “rebalance Asia” and dominate the Western Pacific. .

Finally, at the intersection of the economic and geopolitical realms – let’s call it the geo-economic realm – China also needs Russia. The scope, scale and depth (not to mention the speed) of the US-led economic campaign against Russia have only confirmed Chinese fears that Washington is both willing and able to arm the global economy against any power that too actively seeks to resist its hegemony.

By not following – and perhaps offering Russia various workarounds – Chinese leaders are seeking to blunt what they perceive to be a US-designed effort to discipline and punish Russia for defying the rules-based international order, built by the United States and dominated by the West. – an order that China is also seeking to overthrow, or at least in Sino-formal form.

By undermining the effectiveness of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia, China clearly hopes to weaken the compliance mechanism that keeps this order in place and under US control. Beijing likely also has an eye on blunting the effectiveness of this particular mechanism so that it cannot be effectively deployed against China in case Beijing feels compelled to conduct its own “special military operation” against Taiwan.

So, no, China will not impose sanctions on Moscow for its war against Ukraine. And he’s certainly not going to get rid of his Russian partner just because the Biden administration says so. In fact, quite the opposite. The two revisionist powers are likely to draw even closer together, moving from a relatively loose understanding to a closer alliance – and perhaps even towards the formation of a solid geopolitical bloc.

What this means for the future of the world order is anyone’s guess. But one thing is certain: contrary to the expectations of some and the hopes of many, some form of Sino-Russian axis is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, a fixed feature of the international order.

Andrew Latham is a professor of international relations at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and a nonresident fellow at Defense Priorities in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @aalatham.

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