October 22, 2019

Why Russia and China Are Joining Forces

“Russian and Chinese military aircraft probed South Korean and Japanese air defenses last week, leading the South Koreans to fire more than 300 warning shots before the intruders departed.

This was just the latest manifestation of a deepening alliance between Russia and China. James Dobbins, Howard Shatz and Ali Wyne described the emerging alignment in an April essay in the Diplomat. In 2016, Russia displaced Saudi Arabia as China’s largest source of imported oil. In 2017, the two countries held their first joint naval exercise in the Baltic Sea. In June 2018, Xi Jinping called Vladimir Putin “my best, most intimate friend,” and later that year Chinese forces participated in the largest military exercise on Russian soil since 1981.

The departing director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, says the two Eurasian supergiants are as close as they were in the 1950s. From Venezuela to Syria to Serbia, they are working to frustrate the West. They are also increasingly cooperating in sub-Saharan Africa and have found ways to reduce their competition in Central Asia.

Many analysts discounted the prospects for deep Sino-Russian coordination. Mr. Putin’s overarching foreign policy objective has long been to build up Russia as an independent great power between Europe and China; a close alliance with a rising China works against this goal. Tensions along their lengthy border, commercial rivalries, and Russian suspicion of Chinese designs on its Far Eastern territories tend to drive the two countries apart. Given Russia’s slow decline and China’s rapid rise, some expected Russia would support Western efforts to balance China rather than undermine them.”

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