Why are China and Russia strengthening ties?

Weeks after crusing warships round Japan’s fundamental island, the Chinese and Russian militaries have despatched bomber flights into Japanese and South Korean air defence zones, forcing Seoul to scramble its fighter jets in response.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Japan’s Defence Minister Kishi Nobuo met reporters to precise “grave concern” over the joint patrols, which passed off final week, saying Beijing and Moscow’s strikes clearly point out that the “security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe”.

As he spoke, his Chinese and Russian counterparts had been holding digital talks, the place they lauded the air and naval drills as “major events” and inked a brand new pact to additional deepen defence ties.

The roadmap, signed by Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Chinese vis-à-vis Wei Fenghe, capped a 12 months that has seen an unprecedented progress in navy cooperation, together with large-scale battle video games in China’s Ningxia in August, when Russian troops turned the primary international forces to hitch a daily Chinese drill, in addition to bulletins to collectively develop navy helicopters, missile assault warning methods and even a analysis station on the moon.

“It’s the strongest, closest and best relationship that the two countries have had since at least the mid-1950s. And possibly ever,” stated Nigel Gould-Davies, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia on the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Marines from China participate within the International Army Games 2019 on the Khmelevka firing floor on the Baltic Sea coast in Kaliningrad Region, Russia August 8, 2019 [File: Vitaly Nevar/ Reuters]

Noting that China-Russia relations have traditionally been marked by mutual wariness, together with a border battle within the 1960s that reportedly pushed Beijing and Moscow to the brink of nuclear battle, Gould-Davies stated the present state of affairs is “exceptional”. Ties have “developed very rapidly, really within the past 10 years,” he stated, accelerating within the wake of Western sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Diplomatic, financial ties

It shouldn’t be solely on defence that the 2 have moved nearer but additionally on the diplomatic and financial fronts.

On international coverage, Beijing and Moscow share related approaches to Iran, Syria and Venezuela, and lately revived a push to elevate United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have a private rapport, too, having met greater than 30 occasions since 2013. The Chinese chief has even known as Putin his “best friend”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes half in a video convention name with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 28, 2021 [File: Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin, Sputnik via Reuters]

For China, Russia is the largest provider of its weapons and the second-largest supply of its oil imports. And for Russia, China is its high nation buying and selling accomplice and a key supply of funding in its power initiatives, together with the Yamal LNG plant within the Arctic Circle and the Power of Siberia pipeline, a $55bn fuel challenge that’s the largest in Russian historical past.

Gould-Davies of the IISS stated the primary driver behind all of that is China and Russia’s hostility in direction of liberal democratic values.

“Both countries are ruled by anti-democratic regimes that share a strong common interest in resisting the influence of liberal Western values within their own countries,” he informed Al Jazeera. “They also have a strong shared interest in undermining the states and alliances, beyond their own borders, that embody liberal values. So, their main common interest is in effect, an ideological one – they seek to undermine the democratic and liberal West.”

Self-fulfilling prophecy?

The deepening of ties has certainly frightened the West, with American intelligence assessments itemizing China, Russia and their alignment as the largest safety threats to the United States and NATO, the Western safety alliance created in 1949 as a bulwark in opposition to the Soviet Union, planning to broaden its focus to handle countering each nations.

In an interview with the London-based Financial Times final month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated he doesn’t see China and Russia as two separate threats.

“China and Russia work closely together,” he stated. “This whole idea of distinguishing so much between China, Russia, either the Asia-Pacific or Europe — it is one big security environment and we have to address it all together.”

But some say this evaluation is simply too simplistic and will lead to “grave mistakes”.

“There is no grand conspiracy against the West,” stated Bobo Lo, a former Australian diplomat and an unbiased worldwide relations analyst final month. “What this is, is a classic great power relationship, meaning it’s driven by common interests, rather than shared values,” he stated at a digital speak organised by the US-based Center for Global Security Research.

By supporting one another, China and Russia achieve “critical dividends”, Lo stated, together with reinforcing the “legitimacy and stability of their respective regimes”. Defence cooperation permits Moscow to challenge Russian affect on the world stage, he added, whereas Beijing is ready to achieve entry to Russia’s superior navy expertise and operational expertise.

The relationship additionally permits Moscow to “fill the technological gap left by the withdrawal of Western companies in Russia” following sanctions imposed within the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea. “And Chinese investment in technology has been absolutely critical to the realization of Russia’s Arctic LNG projects,” Lo stated.

Alexander Gabuev on the Carnegie Moscow Center agrees.

Ties between Russia and China are “driven by fundamental factors beyond Western control”, he stated, noting in a chat in March that the 2 nations additionally share a 4,300 kilometre (2,672 mile) border. Due to the border clashes of 1969, “they know how really dangerous and expensive it is to be enemies,” he stated.

That is why, he stated on Twitter final month, NATO’s declare that China and Russia are one problem, “overstates current level of China-Russia cooperation and nuances”.

Both nations are “religious about their strategic autonomy,” he stated. And “by lumping China and Russia together as a quasi-alliance that needs to be countered through a unified toolkit, the West risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, when dual containment leads to further deepening of China-Russia cooperation, that leads to more US pressure.”

‘Hypocritical aggressor’

For some, US strain is the start line.

“Both China and Russia feel the US is a hypocritical aggressor who is intent on diminishing them in order to maintain hegemony,” stated Einar Tangen, a Beijing-based political analyst who additionally works as a commentator for China’s state broadcaster CGTN.

US actions on this regard, he stated, embody branding the 2 nations as its greatest nationwide safety threats, the imposition of sanctions over alleged human rights abuses, in addition to the forging of what Beijing and Moscow view as anti-Russia-China alliances.

These embody the Quad, an off-the-cuff US-led alliance that features India, Japan and Australia. The group, which China has denounced as an “Asian NATO”, resumed naval drills final 12 months for the primary time in 13 years. The 4 navies expanded the workouts this 12 months by holding them in two phases within the Philippine Sea and within the Bay of Bengal.

Then there’s the newly shaped safety alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US, often called the AUKUS. Announcing the trilateral pact in September, the US and UK stated Australia will get nuclear-powered submarines – a move analysts stated would enable the Australian navy to patrol the disputed waters of the South China Sea in addition to the Taiwan Strait.

China condemned the alliance as an “extremely irresponsible” risk to regional stability, whereas Russia known as it a “great challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime”.

“These [type of actions] inevitably encourage China to conduct closer cooperation with Russia to seek reciprocal responses to hostile acts,” stated Danil Bochkov, an analyst on the Moscow-based Russian International Affairs Council.

These responses embody the latest joint Chinese-Russian drills within the neighborhood of Japan and South Korea, each of whom are US allies.

Bochkov stated the intensifying rivalry could effectively end result within the re-emergence of the inflexible blocs seen through the Cold War, with the US-led neighborhood on one facet and China, Russia and their allies on the opposite.

“That creates geopolitical stalemate which seems impossible to overcome whatsoever,” he stated, “leaving all powers to accumulate their might for worst-case scenario by simultaneously testing each other’s ‘red lines’ with dangerous pinprick-like local face-offs.”

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