Russia and China Aren’t the Natural Allies Many Assume them to Be
In the wake of mounting tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine, one now finds countless media stories on the “China-Russia axis” and the “bond between Russia and China.” The ideological benefit of connecting Russia to China is undoubtedly clear to anti-Russia hawks. Russia is a relatively weak state with a small economy. China, on the other hand, tends to look more formidable. By connecting Russia to China in a new version of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” it becomes easier to downplay calmer voices noting the many limitations Russia faces in terms of its geopolitical ambitions.
But just how secure is this supposed Sino-Russian friendship? While the two states may broadly agree on the need to limit US hegemonic power, the two are likely to also find many reasons to view each other as more immediate sources of conflict.
In his book Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower, China scholar Michael Beckley notes there are many issues mitigating China-Russia “unity”:
Russia and China currently maintain a strategic partnership, but this relationship is unlikely to become a genuine alliance. … In parts of the world that matter most to them, Russia and China are more rivals than allies. … For every example of Sino-Russian cooperation, there is a counterexample of competition. For instance, Russia sells weapons to China, but it recently reduced sales to China while increasing sales to China’s rivals, most notably India and Vietnam. Russia and China conduct joint military exercises, but they also train with each other’s enemies and conduct unilateral exercises simulating a Sino-Russian war. The two countries share an interest in developing Central Asia, but Russia wants to tether the region to Moscow via the Eurasian Economic Union whereas China wants to reconstitute the Silk Road and link China to the Middle East and Europe while bypassing Russia.
The potential for an ongoing border dispute between Russia and China remains, as well. For its part, China has as many as 18 border disputes going on right now, and Russia continues to deal with several border issues with both Ukraine and Georgia. In Siberia, however, both states face a low-intensity conflict over the Russia-China border that is an ongoing source of division between the two states. While unlikely to lead to violent conflict in the near future, this border situation does provide an informative example of one of many ways that the Russia-China “partnership” faces many pitfalls.
What Is Russia’s Far East Problem?
As Russia’s population has declined, the Chinese side of the border looks increasingly like a source of political instability and ethnic incursion into Russian territory. Beyond the near term, this is likely to lead to more conflict over the exact location of the border and who dominates the region.
Many have noted this. In 200
Article from Mises Wire