Days after senior U.S. officials publicly clashed with their Chinese counterparts in March, a chorus of western nations — led by Washington and Brussels — released yet another round of sanctions and censures against Beijing and Moscow.
Meanwhile, seated in the southern Chinese city of Guilin on March 23, the Communist Party’s foreign minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, sat down for their first meeting, reaffirming the two nation’s shared strategic and ideological ambitions.
Despite encountering intense criticism from the West, the pair of autocratic countries struck an amicable tone.
Yi and Lavrov reproached the West for coordinating sanctions against their respective nations, while also ridiculing western governments for “imposing their own rules on everyone else, which they believe should underpin the world order,” according to The Associated Press.
Alluding that western sanctions are, in fact, drawing Russia and China closer together, Lavrov maintained that the West’s conception of democracy is not universal, stressing the significance of Russian and Chinese national sovereignty.
“Interference in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs under the excuse of ‘advancing democracy’ is unacceptable,” the ministers said in a joint statement.
And in accordance with Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy, the officials reiterated their commitment to fighting the coronavirus pandemic by supplying the Global South with inoculations, as well as addressing concerns of climate change.
However, the meeting was notable for more than just its rhetoric.
Within days, Moscow increased the number of military personnel on the nation’s western border with Ukraine — its largest number since the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. Meanwhile, Beijing ramped up its military assault exercises in the South China Sea and began penetrating Taiwan’s air defenses at the highest rate in over two decades, according to NPR.
Beijing and the Kremlin now display that their rhetoric may be matched with coordinated action.
According to Foreign Policy, Beijing now uses Russian material assets to brim over holes in its military defenses. Russia’s weaponry strengthens China’s air-defense, anti-ship and submarine capabilities, which gives the Chinese Communist Party the tools necessary to expand its interests throughout an Indo-Pacific predominantly controlled by the U.S.
Moscow relies upon China’s fiscal authority to fuel the nation’s struggling economy, especially as the Kremlin drifts farther away from the West’s incentive-based economic order.
With Beijing, the Russian government now has access to a lucrative market in which to trade arms, invest in Chinese markets and distribute the nation’s expansive reserves of natural resources.
Their strategic partnership also includes their willingness to challenge critical strategic choke-points within the U.S.-led international order.
In the Indo-Pacific, Beijing’s regional ambitions have led to sporadic border skirmishes with India and Vietnam. And international waters surrounding the nation are used to bolster Beijing’s territorial claims throughout the South China Sea.
For the Russian Federation, the Kremlin has set out to reconsolidate land along its border with Ukraine, in addition to Georgia and Moldova. Looking northward, however, Moscow has heightened interest in the Arctic, which serves as a future hub for trade, oil and natural gas.
The two countries share more in common than just resources and military capabilities, however. They are also aligned under an agreed-upon authoritarian worldview that challenges western liberalism — consisting of rights, liberty and free enterprise.
The Kremlin and Beijing now blatantly cast aside laws and agreements that protect intellectual property and cyber-security, which aim to secure and expand internet sovereignty. The heightened interest in cyber warfare gives Beijing and Moscow another tool by which they can assault the West’s critical online infrastructure.
Striking a play from the Soviet handbook, the two nations also invest heavily into promulgating worldwide disinformation campaigns that aim to discredit and control the narrative on public discourse.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Moscow has launched a campaign to undermine confidence in western coronavirus vaccines by using online forums and publications to question vaccine efficacy and safety.
And Beijing is directly responsible for a surge in online propaganda that aims to sway attention away from the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, as well as the government’s tyrannical initiatives in Hong Kong.
Navigating the Unknown Waters
The new American administration must come to terms with the growing Russian-Chinese partnership. According to President Joe Biden, China is America’s “most serious competitor.”
“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action … push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance,” Biden said in a speech about America’s role in the future.
Biden’s plan to maintain a competitive and, in some cases, adversarial relationship with China is prudent, as its regional and geopolitical power increases as the years continue. But the new administration must not maintain such a strategic competitive relationship with both Russia and China.
Pinned together, the Kremlin and Beijing possess more resources and gumption to outcompete the U.S. The Biden administration’s commitment to alliance-crafting can mitigate some of the material disadvantages, as multilateralism gives the West a sufficient means by which to counter Russian and Chinese aggression.
Because of this, Biden’s administration must ascertain whether its policy will truly benefit the political and economic interests of the United States, or simply draw Russia and China closer together, aiding their partnership to the dismay of the American people.
It would be extremely wise for the new administration to find common ground with the Kremlin and align themselves under mutual interests that build relations between Washington and Moscow, while also excluding Beijing.
For example, the U.S. and Russia share a mutual interest in excluding certain nations — such as China — from having future access to the Arctic circle.
On ideological grounds, however, the administration must continue to recognize that China and Russia mutually share a disdain for the freedoms and liberties inherent in most western countries.
There is no ground on which to compromise. Washington, along with the West, ought to demonstrate the preeminence of popular government, for there is no convincing an authoritarian that people are endowed with individual rights that prevent the state and its officials from controlling and coercing the people.
Walking this line will prove to be difficult. Washington ought to craft a reasonable, far-sighted foreign policy, with the main purpose of procuring peaceful longevity. In short, it may be prudent for the administration to cultivate an international policy that distances itself from the errors and follies of the last 20 years.
Avoiding actions that reinforce the Russian-Chinese partnership will undoubtedly be difficult. But with creative thinking, the U.S. can preserve national and shared interests.
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