January 18, 2020

Should a Russia-China Partnership Be Feared?

“‘Great-power competition” is increasingly a central concern in Washington foreign-policy circles. The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy warns that “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” The era of great-power competition is all the more dangerous if America’s adversaries join forces. In a column this year, the Journal’s Walter Russell Mead described factors shaping cooperation between China and Russia. But do the Chinese and Russian people support greater cooperation against the U.S.?

Our research suggests the future elites of both countries, at least, are wary. In mid-2018 we conducted 21 focus groups of students—primarily undergraduates in their junior or senior years, but also a few graduate students—at the leading universities in Beijing and Moscow. We asked each to evaluate Russia, China and the U.S. as “great powers.” The students expressed disinterest, ambivalence or misgivings about Sino-Russian cooperation. Many believed China and Russia did not share sufficient values or interests to work together over the long term. We also found that most of the students in both countries saw much to respect or admire in the U.S.

The Chinese students had internalized Communist Party propaganda that China’s political system is a genuine democracy tailored to Chinese conditions. Consistent with the party’s “China Dream” campaign, students felt that the legitimacy of a particular political order depends on whether it can produce social and economic “development.””

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