While some pundits continue to downplay the increasingly strong partnership between Russia and China, the reality is that as Russia’s economy continues to grow and as China’s geo-political pronouncements continue to become more wide reaching, the world is witnessing the final stage of a new geo-political alignment that has been many years in the making.
China and Russia are now, not only on the same side of many global issues but they are speaking in a singular voice with a similarly loud volume.
Three areas where this has manifested itself include of Venezuela, Afghanistan and North Korea. In each of these cases, both Russia and China are saying almost identical things at the same time and are doing so forcefully.
By contrast, during the early stages of the Syrian conflict which started in 2011, while China was always supportive of the Syrian government in its battle against terrorists, Russia took a lead in the conflict both in respect of diplomatic announcements and after 2015, in respect of military assistance to the Syrian government.
China’s quiet support for Syria has been replaced by vocal support for Venezuela, Pakistan in respect of the Afghan war and in respect of clearly articulating the Sino-Russian peace plan for the Korean peninsula.
Here are the key statements:
On the 17th of August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered a statement in which he said war in Venezuela is viewed as unacceptable by Russia.
“We are united in the need to overcome the existing disagreements in the country by peaceful means through a nationwide dialogue as soon as possible, without any external pressure, not to mention the unacceptability of the threats of military intervention in the internal affairs of this count”.
Shortly thereafter, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said,
“The present problem in Venezuela should be resolved by the Venezuelan government and people themselves.
The experience of history shows that outside interference or unilateral sanctions will make the situation even more complicated and will not help resolve the actual problem”.
This was followed by a statement the following day from Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova who similarly stated,
“We are strongly against unilateral sanctions against sovereign states. The recently announced measures of financial pressure on Venezuela and President Maduro were introduced by Washington when that country started showing signs of relative domestic stabilisation following elections to the National Constituent Assembly….
In these circumstances, the announced sectoral sanctions against Venezuela’s financial and oil sectors are clearly aimed at further unbalancing the situation in the country, and exacerbating its economic problems. They embolden the irreconcilables who do not see how they can realise their political potential without removing the Venezuelan leaders from office”.
A SUMMARY OF SINO-RUSSIAN POLICIES:
In respect of Venezuela, Russia and China are both utterly opposed to military action against Venezuela, both oppose unilateral US sanctions and both continue to trade with Venezuela as well as support the reforms of President Maduro.
There is clear blue water between the mutual Sino-Russian position on Caracas vis-a-vis the position of the United States which has implement sanctions, has threatened war and has tried to de-legitimise President Maduro’s government as a “dictatorship”.
On the 22nd of August, when Donald Trump accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and not doing enough to fight terrorism and instability on its border with Afghanistan, China and Russia offered robust defences of Islamabad’s record in these areas.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry came out first with a strong rejection of Donald Trump’s assessment of its Pakistani ally,
“Pakistan is at the forefront of the counter-terrorism efforts. For many years, it has made positive efforts and great sacrifices for combating terrorism and made important contributions to upholding world peace and regional stability. We believe that the international community should fully recognise the efforts made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism”.
China further stated,
“The Chinese side is actively committed to promoting the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. We always maintain that political dialogue is the only way out for resolving the Afghanistan issue. The international community should support the ‘Afghan-led’ and ‘Afghan-owned’ reconciliation process, support Afghanistan in realising the widespread and inclusive political reconciliation, support the Afghan people in exploring a development path suiting their own national conditions and support the Afghan government in enhancing counter-terrorism capability and combating extreme terrorist forces. We need to attach importance to the important role of Pakistan in the Afghanistan issue and respect the sovereignty and legitimate security concerns of Pakistan. The Chinese side is willing to maintain communication and coordination with the United States on the Afghanistan issue and make concerted efforts for achieving the peace and stability of Afghanistan and the region at large”.
Shortly thereafter Russia’s envoy to Kabul said,
“Putting pressure [on Pakistan] may seriously destabilise the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan”.
Sergey Lavrov furthered stated that Donald Trump’s approach to Afghanistan was effectively useless. Lavrov said,
“The main emphasis in the new strategy, which was announced by Washington, is made on settlement through use of force. We believe that it’s a dead-end approach”.
A SUMMARY OF SINO-RUSSIAN POLICIES:
In respect of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia and China are both opposed to any further attempts by the US to escalate the war. Both countries call for a peace process that involves fostering dialogue between the government in Kabul and that moderate rebel elements of the Pashtun dominated Taliban.
Russia and China equally call for Pakistan’s role in the conflict to be respected and for Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns to be addressed without equivocation.
While China has been more detailed in its opposition to India playing a role in the conflict which would disrupt important cooperative efforts between China and Pakistan, namely the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Russia’s silence on the India issue combined with its vocal support of Pakistan against Trump’s accusations, make it clear that even in respect of Russia’s old Cold War ally in New Delhi, Moscow does not think it is proper for India to intervene in a conflict on Pakistan’s western borders.
China, Pakistan and Russia are therefore reading from essentially the same page in South Asia in spite of historic differences in the region.
3. North Korea
On the 26th of May, shortly before the far less important G20 summit in Hamburg, Chinese and Russian leaders met in the Russian capital along with leaders of business and media enterprises from both countries. Scores of bilateral deals were signed, thus cementing the importance of the Sino-Russian partnership for the 21st century.
It was during these meetings that the Foreign Ministers of each country, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi developed a jointly agreed peace plan for North Korea, a plan which both countries continue to pursue.
At the time, Sergey Lavrov said the following,
“We noted that attempts to use Pyongyang’s actions as a pretext to boost military presence in the region, including the deployment of another part of the US’ global anti-missile defence (THAAD), are counterproductive
We are for adopting measures that, on the one hand, would hamper the further development of the North Korean nuclear missile programs, but at the same time would not lead to an increase in tensions in the region, would not block the possibility of a political and diplomatic settlement of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear problem”.
Wang Yi then stated,
“We insist on ensuring peace and stability on the (Korean) peninsula, (oppose) any negative actions and statements that contribute to tension, oppose the deployment of the THAAD system in the Republic of Korea under the pretext of the DPRK nuclear problem.
Military actions can only escalate the crisis and bring serious consequences. No matter it was in the past, or in the future, it should not be an option for any country. China and Russia have reached consensus on this issue”.
This was the birth of the so-called ‘Double-freeze’ policy for the Korean peninsula which China and Russia have both restated on the record at the United Nations Security Council multiple times, including when both countries supported increased sanctions on Pyongyang.
However, while Russia and China continue to discourage further missile tests from the DPRK, both countries stood resolutely opposed to further unilateral sanctions imposed by the US on North Korea. These sanctions also targeted foreign businesses conducting commerce with North Korea.
A SUMMARY OF SINO-RUSSIAN POLICIES:
China and Russia remain committed to their ‘Double-freeze’ which calls for North Korea ceasing to conduct missile tests while calling on South Korea, the US and Japan to cease their own missile launches and military drills in the region. Additionally, Russia and China continue to jointly call for direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington while reiterating that the UN Security Council is the only proper forum to discuss the matter.
Both countries are totally opposed to war anywhere on the Korean peninsula.
The aggregate effect of these news developments means that China has finally come out of what many perceived (however simplistically) to be Russia’s geo-political shadow while Russia continues to pursue global economic projects around the world, marking a sharp contrast to the 1990s and early 2000s when the Russian economy was reduced to chaos and collapse.
With the Syrian conflict about to end and Russia and China both being vindicated by being on the winning side, it will be unlikely that there will be any future global conflict where a joint Sino-Russian voice will not be heard in a manner that is loud and clear. The NATO powers will have no choice to but to listen to the Sino-Russian opinions on future conflicts as China and Russia are both stronger than ever and more united than ever.
With Russia and China standing together on major global issues, the US will not be able to act with the unilateral ease it exercised during its wars on Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011).
Additionally, while Russia continues to expand positive relations with its Cold War adversary Pakistan, India and Vietnam appear to be stuck in a Cold War mentality (albeit with pre-Cold War antecedents) whereby both countries trust Russia but not China. With China and Russia speaking increasingly as one, Vietnam and India both face a decision which will in time amount to choosing both Russia and China or choosing neither.
Luckily for both Hanoi and New Delhi, because of Russia’s relaxed and fluid approach to alliances and because of Moscow’s policy which does not prohibit good bilateral relations with multiple countries, including those engaged in local disputes with one another, India and Vietnam have the ability to move gradually in one direction or the other.
The choice will ultimately be left to both India and Vietnam as neither Russia nor China seeks to impose a partnership on either. In the end this will mean that a pragmatic approach to economic realities will guide both India and Vietnam towards thawing relations with China, that is unless ideology trumps economic considerations, something which is the reality in Modi’s India but may not be the reality in the hearts and minds of future Indian leaders.
The unity between two of the three world’s superpowers means that while the decline of the US will not be as rapid as some expect, American isolation among the elite club of superpowers is already a fact of life, whether Washington acknowledges this or not.