Even if Russian President Vladimir Putin withdraws some of the troops massed near the Ukrainian border and a diplomatic solution to the showdown with the West averts a Russian invasion, tensions between Russia and the West will not go away. so early. Nor are the Kremlin’s efforts to deepen Russia’s ties with China.
The rapprochement between China and Russia, which began with the 2001 friendship treaty, has been slow but steady. It received a boost following Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, with Putin (somewhat reluctantly) pivoting East, including signing a $400 billion deal over 30 years to deliver gas to China.
Nonetheless, Russia and China have remained generally reluctant to get drawn into each other’s fights. Despite the gas deal, China has been reluctant to endorse the invasion of Crimea, nor has it backed Russia’s foreign adventures elsewhere, such as Georgia. So it was notable when, last month, China voiced support for Russia’s aggressive moves toward Ukraine, arguing that Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” must be “taken seriously.”
Just over a week later, Russia and China went much further by issuing a joint statement on “international relations entering a new era”. While China’s Foreign Ministry only released a 1,200-word summary of the meeting, Russia released a 5,000-word text that displays a level of detail and scope never seen before in bilateral relations. .
The Russian text covers a wide range of topics, from pursuing “genuine multilateralism” to expanding bilateral cooperation in areas such as “sustainable development of the Arctic”, manufacturing of vaccines against COVID-19 and security. As the pact stops short of mutual defence, it announces that Russia and China will work together to oppose “attempts by outside forces aimed at undermining security and stability in their common adjacent regions”.
The two sides reaffirm their “strong mutual support for the protection of their fundamental interests, state sovereignty and territorial integrity”, with Russia reaffirming its support for the one-China policy and China declaring its opposition to NATO enlargement.
It can be tempting to brush off these lofty statements. And, in fact, pundits have often dismissed the idea that there is a “growing kinship” between America’s “chief rivals.” They underline the complexity of the relationship and warn that perceptions inevitably shape reality.
True, Russia and China have always had a rocky relationship, exemplified by the Sino-Soviet split in 1960, which Nixon sought to cement 12 years later. Today, significant sources of tension remain, particularly in Central Asia, Africa and the Arctic. It is unlikely that Russia’s intervention in Kazakhstan last month pleased China. Meanwhile, Putin is acutely aware of China’s economic asymmetries and growing geopolitical influence in what he sees as Russia’s backyard.
Thus, the Russia-China link is most likely a marriage of convenience. It wouldn’t be the first time that two countries have only been complementary through the prism of realpolitik – in this case, an economic giant that could soon overtake the United States in conventional military capabilities and a weaponized state. nuclear and hydrocarbon-rich spanning 11 time zones – – have agreed to cooperate.
But Russia and China don’t need to be perfect allies for their relationship to disrupt the international order – and they know it. Their decision to express a common and alternative vision signals a radical change in tone and tactics.
While Russia has never been shy about challenging the international order, China has avoided showing open hostility towards it. Instead, he publicly touted multilateralism and even the democratic tradition, but a version based on “unique cultural characteristics.” He has used the language of the international order to usurp that order, imbuing it with meanings that reflect China’s own ambitions.
Russia seems to be employing the same tactic lately in its stalemate. And with the February 4 statement, China appears to endorse Russia’s more assertive approach, perhaps in preparation for an incursion into Taiwan. More broadly, the alternative vision of the world order that Russia and China put forward could influence other countries, including in the neighborhood of Europe.
The West, together with its democratic partners and allies in Asia, should think carefully about how to counter this “alliance of autocracies”. And yet, locked in competition with China, the US is unable to pull off a Nixon-style diplomatic coup. Meanwhile, Europe remains riven by internal divisions and torn between aspirations for strategic unity and the false hope that it can achieve it on its own.
Economic engagement will not be enough to stem the tide. The world’s democracies, led by the United States and Europe, must work together to restore the prestige of the rules-based international order and to imbue the principles and practices of multilateralism with their true meaning. Unless and until that happens, the alternative vision put forward by global autocracies will continue to gain traction.
Ana Palacio, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain and former Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the World Bank Group, is a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University. — Ed.
By Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org)