During their summit in Beijing on February 4, 2022, the two presidents, Russian Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, affirmed in Beijing that the relationship between their countries is based on “friendship without borders” and that there are no “no go zones”. cooperation within the framework of their strategic partnership. At the time, Moscow and Beijing made no secret that their main objective was to break American hegemony in the world and to reshape the rules of the international system that favored it. As well as the launch of a camp led them to counterbalance the camp led by the United States. Indeed, recent days have seen substantial advances in this regard. In early September, China, together with other countries, participated in large-scale Russian military maneuvers in the Russian Far East, which lasted a week. This was followed a few days ago by Russian energy giant Gazprom announcing that China would start paying for Russian gas shipments in the two countries’ national currencies, the ruble and the yuan, at the instead of the dollar, as part of Moscow’s efforts to soften the impact of Western sanctions imposed on it due to its invasion of Ukraine.
Faced with these geopolitical developments, which may lead to a reconfiguration of the international order, the United States, Russia and China find themselves faced with complex calculations reminiscent of the “triangular diplomacy” approach. This strategy was adopted by Washington in the early seventies of the last century, that is, at the height of the Cold War, as part of its efforts to take advantage of the acute ideological division that was is produced at the end of the fifties of the last century. , between the Soviet Union and China. However, if the last century was characterized by intense competition and great sensitivity between the two communist countries, in a way that allowed the United States to strike each other, today’s reality seems more different, and more complex, without any similarity.
Only three weeks after the Putin-Xi summit, Russia invaded Ukraine, but Washington and its allies managed to turn the invasion into a very costly war of attrition for Moscow, economically, militarily and politically. At that time, China was in a critical situation, as it could not abandon its Russian ally, nor did it want to risk provoking the wrath of the United States, in a way that might require imposing sanctions on it. economic. Although the Biden administration has been careful during its year and a half in office, only the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not to pressure Russia to the point of pushing it into the Chinese embrace. However, the harsh and suffocating sanctions the administration has imposed on Moscow, particularly in the energy sector, have left it no choice but to knock on Beijing’s doors. This represented, and continues to be, a dilemma for Washington, especially since the Biden administration, according to the “Interim Strategic Directives” document published by the White House in March 2021, considers China “as the only potential competitor able to combine its economic, diplomatic, military and technological strength to form an enduring challenge to achieve stability and an open international order. After that comes what China sees as US harassment over Taiwan, which came to a head last month after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island. China’s large-scale military maneuvers around Taiwan ensued in response. The situation escalated further when the Biden administration announced plans to sell advanced weapons to the island for hundreds of millions of dollars.
However, Washington is not alone in facing dilemmas. Moscow and Beijing also face dilemmas, if not more, as their alliance is based on necessity, not belief. It is known that Russia and China seek to establish themselves as two global rivals of the United States, and therefore an alliance between them without borders carries great risks for them.
Russia realizes that China is the world’s second largest economy with a volume exceeding $16 trillion per year, compared to its economy, which ranks eleventh in the world with less than $2 trillion per year. Moscow also does not forget that it has border disputes with Beijing. Moreover, although China imports about 70% of its weapons from Russia, over the past decade and a half it has focused more on manufacturing its weapons, taking advantage of its theft of Russian military technology, according to the accusations from Russian companies. For Moscow, this means that China is on the way to becoming the second largest military power in the world, and this power is with it on a common border of several thousand kilometers. What is most bitter for Russia is that the trade balance between the two countries is clearly skewed in favor of China, which, despite importing more of its oil and gas now, in a way that mitigates the impact of sanctions. on it, Russia has increased its dependence on the Chinese market, which has made China its main trading partner. Here, we must recall the reluctance of Chinese investors, subject to the government of their country, to invest in Russia, for fear of Western sanctions, and the absence of a promising Russian economic market.
Russia’s concern about China is heightened in light of the latter’s expansion into its traditional areas of influence, as well as into Central Asia, which is now a key part of the world. China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative is a series of infrastructure projects stretching from Europe to East Asia and aims to ensure the economic and diplomatic expansion of Beijing, which it funds with hundreds of billions of dollars. of loans. In this sense, the landlocked countries of Central Asia will no longer depend on Russia to export their goods abroad. Russia’s loss of influence in Central Asia will also undermine Putin’s attempts to rehabilitate his country’s image as a great power by making it merely a junior partner and vassal of China.
On the other hand, Beijing also finds itself forced into a necessary alliance with Moscow, at a time when it does not want to sacrifice huge Western economic markets for the benefit of a comparatively small Russian economy. China needs Russia to strengthen its position against what it sees as US attempts to harass and contain, backed by a broad global alliance that includes Europe and countries in Asia. China hopes for Russian support in case it invades Taiwan, but at the same time it worries about the poor Russian military performance that exposed its invasion of Ukraine. However, in the absence of its seemingly powerful allies, such as a nuclear Russia, Beijing still needs Moscow, albeit at very tight budgets.
The bottom line is that the world is on the threshold of a new world order in which the United States is trying to preserve its privileges, but a Russian-Chinese alliance will present a fundamental challenge. As Russia and China together attempt to upset the foundations and rules of the existing international system, they fear, at the same time, losing each other’s “ally”. In the context of competition and attraction between the three powers, Russia appears as the weaker party, contrary to what was the case in the last century, at the time of the Soviet Union.