Wang’s comments raise the specter of the two most significant challengers to American power coordinating their efforts to undercut the U.S. Pentagon analysts have acknowledged “a relatively high degree of military cooperation” between the current and former communist regimes, but Western analysts tend to think that historical tensions between Beijing and Moscow circumscribe their range of joint action.
“They are both competitors,” the Heritage Foundation’s Jim Carafano said. “They both want to see the United States diminished. They both want to win without fighting, and so, they share a common goal in that, but it’s difficult for them to cooperate.”
Pentagon analysts have acknowledged “a relatively high degree of military cooperation” between the current and former communist regimes — an observation confirmed by the Kremlin.
“Undoubtedly, cooperation between Russia and China is boosting the defense potential of the Chinese People’s Army, which is in the interests of Russia as well as China,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October when asked about the prospects for a Sino-Russian alliance. “Time will tell how it will progress from here. So far, we have not set that goal for ourselves. But, in principle, we are not going to rule it out, either. So, we will see.”
That statement caught the eye of geopolitical analysts around the world. “There is little doubt that their ‘strategic partnership’ has already led to an alliance, of sorts, between the Russian and Chinese militaries,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyst Thomas Joscelyn wrote in response to Putin.
Chinese analysts described the former KGB officer’s comments as more of a political statement than a sign of an impending treaty, as the two countries remain wary of mutual defense obligations. “It’s not necessary. It’s better to keep things tacit,” Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences researcher Li Lifan told the South China Morning Post.
Russia and China have tightened their diplomatic cooperation in recent years on issues ranging from Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons to watering down international sanctions on North Korea. The increasing frequency of economic clashes between the U.S. and each government (whether through trade war tariffs on China or sanctions over Russia’s attack on Ukraine) has spurred the regimes to tout their “strategic coordination.”
“China is ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with Russia to cope with the impact of unilateralism, protectionism, and bullying on international relations,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said last month following a phone call between Wang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
And yet, China and Russia hesitate “to take any risks for the other guy,” as Carafano observed, and other analysts agree. Still, Putin’s team seems willing to take risks in their dealings with Beijing, as evidenced by the Kremlin’s embrace of Huawei. The telecommunications company gives China’s spy agencies access to the communications networks of the countries that rely on the Beijing-backed tech giant, according to Western intelligence agencies.
“Russia’s dependence on China has not yet reached a critical level,” the Carnegie Endowment’s Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia and the Asia-Pacific based in Moscow, wrote recently in the Moscow Times. “But if relations with the EU and United States continue to deteriorate during the next ten to fifteen years, and the role of China as a trade partner and source of technology continues to grow, then Beijing could end up with the means to put pressure on Moscow.”
Russia’s decision to rely on Huawei for fifth-generation wireless technology underscores the dilemma that the Kremlin faces in working with China.
“The only option they have is to buy from China, and, yeah, they’re completely creating a problem for themselves,” Carafano said. “What it’s going to wind up doing in the end is creating tensions between them because, at the end of the day, Moscow does not want to be a suburb of Beijing. And at the end of the day, Beijing sees Moscow as a potential suburb.”✪