By Ambra Visentin
“For a long time, China has avoided calling its adversary – the United States – by its name, but now the time has come to do so”. This is how Alexei Maslov, professor and director of the Institute of Asian and African Countries at Moscow State University, comments on the joint declaration by Russia and China – a 5300-written document signed in Beijing on 4 February that establishes a new level of partnership between the two countries and identifies US foreign policy as the primary source of destabilisation in Asia and Europe.
The Russian-Chinese collaboration already touches on several spheres of action: economic, with the aim of reaching 200 billion dollars in annual trade (the figure currently stands at 147 billion), energy, with greater supplies of gas and oil and the construction of additional nuclear power stations in China, aerospace, but above all political-military. It is precisely in the mutual support in matters of international importance that this agreement finds its greatest application and raison d’être. While Beijing, for its part, continues to curb criticism of Russia at the United Nations in New York, Russia in mid-January this year brought Bashar al-Assad’s Syria to sign up to Beijing’s New Silk Road project.
On the military side, a new phase for Russian-Chinese cooperation had already begun in 2018, when Russia helped China build a missile strike warning system (MSRN). According to Vasily Kashin of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, it was the arms race in the field of new technologies (hypersound, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems etc.) and US attempts to exploit the potential of allies Japan and Israel that pushed Moscow and Beijing into such interaction. This interaction continued to grow until the new Road Map for military cooperation was drawn up and signed in November 2021. The parties agreed to increase cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces through strategic military exercises and joint patrols, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
With the new policy document, Vladimir Putin and Xi Zinping call for the beginning of a new phase of international politics characterised by “true multilateralism” and based on “peaceful coexistence in a climate of mutually beneficial cooperation”. Several requests were made directly to the United States in order to initiate this new geopolitical system free of ‘cold war relics’, including a call to abandon plans to deploy intermediate-range and short-range ground-based missiles in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, and a call for greater transparency in the production and storage of bacteriological (biological) and toxic weapons and their destruction. Russia and China also expressed concern about the decision of the newly formed AUKUS partnership (Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom) to start cooperation in the field of nuclear-powered submarines also in the Asia-Pacific region, calling on the participating countries to fulfil their nuclear and missile non-proliferation commitments.
According to Maslov, what was achieved through this joint declaration is a common political line of thought on the values and political interests of what is to be the new world, as well as the sharing of an idea of the sovereignty of individual countries that opposes external interference in matters concerning tensions in their own territories and neighbouring territories. While Putin recognises the principle of the ‘one China’, for which Taiwan would be an inalienable part of China, Xi in turn supports the Kremlin in opposing NATO expansion into Europe and considers Putin’s demands for greater security guarantees legitimate.
The conflict in Ukraine could be seen as a test for a potential conflict in Taiwan and a way to answer the fateful question: will the US really intervene? Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia programme of the Herman Marshall Fund, believes, however, that a parallel between the two contexts is misleading: “China is not Russia and Taiwan is not Ukraine. In Taiwan, the stakes for the US are much higher than in Ukraine.”
Cover photo: Xi and Putin
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)