Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
In connection with the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries there is discussion about the future of China in the West, in particular the prospects of its military-political cooperation with Russia.
The American New York Times (NYT) on July 23 predicted: “The world system and American influence in it will stand on its head if Moscow and Beijing get closer even more”. This is a threat to Washington, the publication says, continuing: “Now China and Russia are getting closer, and this suggests that the constant system of their relationship can create complex problems for the United States”. In the long run, both countries will pose an even greater threat, the NYT emphasized.
Reasons for Western Concerns
One can understand the concerns of western “friends”. Today, China and Russia have raised bilateral ties to the level of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation. This was fully confirmed by the results of the June 5-7 state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russia and the documents signed: the “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the Development of Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Entering a New Era” and the “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Strengthening Global Strategic Stability in the Modern Era”. They proved once again that the Sino-Russian relations are going through the best period in history with views on the future. In the face of complete uncertainty and instability of the current international situation, China and Russia have strengthened comprehensive strategic cooperation, which not only gave a new impetus to the development of the two countries, but also serves to strengthen global stability and gives the world additional energy in this matter.
The parties confirmed that they will continue to adhere to the fundamental principles: mutual respect, equality, mutual trust, mutual assistance, good-neighbourliness and friendship, mutual support and strategic cooperation, mutual understanding and consent, mutually beneficial cooperation, non-alignment to blocs, absence of confrontation and orientation against third countries.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping unanimously decided to continue to follow the main goal of the Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation between China and Russia and the spirit of other documents on bilateral relations, striving with all their might to put into practice the ideas of mutual assistance and support, deep integration for the sake of innovation, the common good and joint benefit, in order to develop comprehensive relations of strategic interaction and partnership in the new era. With regard to political cooperation, the parties will continue to use a high degree of trust as the cornerstone.
Moscow and Beijing understand national security as a common cause, so they intend to create favourable conditions for their own stable development and effectively respond to traditional and new threats and challenges.
In the international cooperation sphere, China and Russia will do their utmost to protect peace and stability, promote respect for international law, promote the democratisation of international relations and promote the development of the world order in a more just and rational direction.
Strengthen the Military-Technical Cooperation
The MTC of Russia and China is of particular concern to the collective West. The following facts and figures show that our countries are consistently strengthening bilateral ties in this area.
In early September, Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Council of China Zhang Xu and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an agreement to further deepen cooperation. According to the Federation Council Committee on Defence and Security of the Russian Federation, the agreements may relate to the exchange of technologies and the use of elements of China’s air defence systems in the Far East, which indicates a high degree of mutual trust.
The White Paper on defence, published by Beijing on July 24, says that cooperation with Russia in the military field is developing at a high level and plays a significant role in maintaining global strategic stability. It is stressed that military cooperation is not directed against third countries and will increase on land, in the air and at sea. Since 2012, officers from the two armies have held seven rounds of strategic consultations. In 2017, Russia and China organised the first joint naval manoeuvres in the Baltic Sea. In 2018, PLA formations took part in the Vostok strategic exercises. In April-May of this year, “Naval Interaction” took place in the Qingdao area.
China sent 3,500 troops, 900 units of heavy weapons and 30 aircraft of the Northern Joint Command of the PLA to participate in the large-scale Russian military exercises “Centre-2019”, held on September 16-21 (“Airmobile Application”). During the draw of the main stage of the Command Post Exercises (CPE), the Russian Tu-22M3 missile carriers and the Chinese Hong-6 long-range bombers dropped more than 150 250-kg bombs, hitting clusters of automobiles and armoured vehicles of the simulated enemy.
On July 23, the PLA Air Force and the Russian Air Force conducted the first joint air patrol by long-range aircraft over the waters of the Japanese and East China Seas, which caused a violent reaction of the US military allies in the Far East and other regions of the world. Western experts regarded these actions not only as ordinary joint exercises but as a demonstration of the readiness of Russia and China for even greater cooperation in the military sphere.
Speaking at a security forum in the American city Aspen, the commander of the Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces Admiral Davidson said: recently, there has been a significant strengthening of military cooperation between Russia and China, as evidenced by the example of the flight of Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers around Taiwan in mid-July 2019. China has not protested about this, although it does so in relation to all other countries that commit such acts. This circumstance, according to the admiral, means that everything was done with China’s tacit approval.
According to the admiral, Russia in the Far East with its ballistic missiles and submarines poses a threat to the very existence of the United States, and the military strengthening of China could lead to the fact that in the middle of the next decade, the United States will lose its advantage. In his opinion, the United States would not want such a development of events so that Russia and China together would oppose the international order that presupposes a free and open Indo-Pacific region, as well as the world order as a whole.
One of the most important areas of relations between Russia and China is the military-technical cooperation. Presently China, along with India, is one of the key partners of the Russian Federation in this area. “Today, the portfolio of orders from China exceeds seven billion dollars. I think that what is more important for assessing the volume of our cooperation is the stable positive dynamics of China’s share in the total portfolio of orders for Russian military products, which since 2013 has grown from five to 14-15 percent”, said Dmitry Shugaev, Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, during the China 2018 Airshow exhibition. China was the first foreign country to adopt the Russian S-400 Triumph and the Su-35 4++ generation multirole fighters, for which it paid with sanctions announced by the United States on September 20, 2018.
In other words, there is a systematic progressive build-up of military cooperation between Russia and China. To prevent their further strengthening, the American edition of The Hill calls to make every effort to create a conflict between them. Such actions will benefit not only the United States but all Western “democratic” countries, the newspaper writes.
Is a Military Alliance Possible?
The West has recently sounded the alarm: the purpose of all the above Moscow and Beijing actions go beyond the usual military cooperation and is not only to demonstrate a willingness to challenge the United States and its military-political allies, but ultimately to create something like a military alliance. But how do these assumptions correspond to reality?
If we rely on official statements of the Chinese top leaders, they adhere to a non-bloc policy, exclude military alliances with anyone, oppose the use of force and are for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Thus, speaking at the end of 2014 to members of the Politburo Standing Committee and high-ranking officials with a lengthy speech about the country’s foreign policy, Xi Jinping said that China would not join a military block with Russia or anyone else. It would only tie Beijing’s hands. China will strengthen its influence in the world, forming a network of friends on all continents, relying on its “soft power”. The Chinese leader stressed the need to stay away from military blocs, in other words, to pursue a course of non-alignment. Blocs are not needed; instead China will form a network of partnerships around the world.
At the same time, China has not worsened relations with the West, despite the problems in the field of trade; it continues to strengthen relations with the United States so that both powers can coexist in conditions of international stability. In the above-mentioned White Paper, “China’s National Defence in a New Era”, Beijing is trying to allay the fears of the West. The priority of relations with Russia is confirmed, but at the same time the US and is allies are invited to broad military cooperation.
In short, China proceeds from the fact that a non-bloc policy is optimal for it. It should also be borne in mind that both Moscow and Beijing wish to maintain flexibility in foreign policy, which to some extent will be hampered by the entry into closer military-political relations.
Yet the West once again became very worried: will Moscow and Beijing go beyond the usual framework of military and military-technical cooperation. After all, a military alliance of such powerful military powers would change the entire strategic alignment. The concerns are caused not only by the military and military-technical spheres, but also by the fact that the two countries have the same or similar positions on most international problems and jointly speak on international platforms. The Russian specialist in the field of strategic culture expert of the League of Military Diplomats, corresponding member of the Academy of Military Sciences Aleksandr Bartosh notes the proximity of many components of the strategic culture of Russia and China, which is manifested in the defensive nature of military doctrines, in the rejection of hegemony in international affairs, in relation to the use of military force, as well as in the direction of patriotic education of youth in the spirit of dedication and devotion to the Motherland. These and some other factors create prerequisites for the development of mutually beneficial relations between the two countries in the interests of joint resistance against threats and challenges of our time, strengthening the world order. That is, the question of a military alliance does not really look completely unreal.
However, talk of a formal military-political alliance is premature. This is quite understandable and reasonable. Such alliances, especially of states that have historically threatened no one, are concluded only as a last resort, on the basis of defensive considerations. In other words, the actions Beijing and Moscow in this direction will depend crucially on the policies of the West and its allies. If the Trump administration in its foreign and security policy continues the course directed against the national interest of Russia and China, including implementing plans to deploy missile and naval strike forces in the European and Asia-Pacific regions, further military rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow will become inevitable. China, which does not yet have parity with the United States on strategic nuclear weapons, will be extremely interested in attracting the military power of Russia to its side. As, however, Russia will make every use of the economic power of neighbouring China.
It is too early to say that in the near future Beijing and Moscow will conclude a military alliance and even make mutual commitments on mutual assistance in the event of a military attack. This may not happen at all if external factors are favourable.
In conclusion, we can say that Russian-Chinese relations have withstood the tests associated with the international situation, which is undergoing serious changes. They are day by day becoming more mature, stabilised and strengthened, becoming a relationship between the two great powers, which have the highest degree of mutual trust, the highest level of interaction and maximum strategic value, which is not only an accelerator for the development and revival of the two countries in a new era, but moreover, turns into a mechanism that can balance international peace and stability.
Vladimir Vinokurov, Professor of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Vice President of the League of Military Diplomats, Doctor of Historical Sciences