How do Russians see the Chinese

Will China and Russia ally against the US?

With its tough start against Russia and China, the new US government is pushing the two authoritarian great powers further into each other's arms.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be received by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Monday. What could be seen as a normal trip abroad can only be interpreted in one way after this week of diplomatic scandal: China and Russia are moving closer together because they are being forced to do so by the USA.

At least that is what the Communist Party's propaganda newspaper, the Global Times, wants to see - with reference to "experts". “Russia is the first country with which China will discuss information on important issues after the China-US meeting. This shows that China and Russia trust each other and support each other in their core interests ”, it says in an article.

In fact, US President Joe Biden took on both countries this week. First, in a television interview, he indirectly referred to the Russian head of state as a “killer” who would pay for interfering in the American elections.

Moscow tried not only to weaken Biden's campaign with cyberattacks, but also to attack democracy in the United States, as a report by the US secret service published this week shows.

Russia values ​​chaos

That same week, at the first official meeting of his administration with China, Biden wanted to make it clear how the USA would deal with Beijing in the future: namely, tough, at least where it is necessary. China threatens the rules-based international system.

For example through human rights violations in Xinjiang, its attacks on democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan, its cyber attacks against the USA or the economic pressure that China is exerting on allies of America.

However, the meeting of foreign ministers in Alaska turned into an open exchange of blows, in which the Chinese representatives accused the Americans of violating human rights themselves and denied the Americans their claim to global leadership. Ultimately, the Chinese representatives wanted to emphasize that democracy in the USA was falling apart, and that even the Americans no longer believed in it.

China and Russia have long been autocratic states. What they have in common now more than in previous years is their open, systematic anti-Western propaganda. Putin's foreign policy is primarily about weakening democracies like the EU or America with troll armies and cyber attacks. And the Chinese want to present their system as superior.

China follows the international system, which is held together by the UN, and not a small number of countries in the "so-called rules-based international order," said China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage. "The US has its style - American-style democracy - and China has Chinese-style democracy."

The two authoritarian world powers China and Russia not only have the same enemy. Their rapprochement has been going on since the end of the Cold War and has gained momentum under Biden when he was Vice President in Barack Obama's administration.

2014 is considered a turning point. Since the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing have been working increasingly together - politically, economically and militarily. But will it soon become an alliance? A pact powerful enough to seriously threaten the West?

The answer from international policy experts in the US, Europe and Moscow is usually no. Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow branch of the Carnegie think tank, calls the Russian-Chinese cooperation 100 percent pragmatic. Closer than a strategic partnership, but less than an alliance. Basically an Entente, says Trenin, a high degree of agreement between the political leaderships of both states on economic trade, on the rejection of the USA, on the claim to control world politics.

But with one notable difference: Russia values ​​disorder in world politics, the dissolution of equilibria, and tries to take advantage of it. China, on the other hand, prefers stability and growth. "China does not want to overthrow the world order," said Trenin in a panel discussion in 2019, "it wants to take it over."

Russia is China's second largest oil supplier, just behind Saudi Arabia. Russian gas has been flowing to China via the Power of Sibiria pipeline since the end of 2019. 70 percent of Chinese arms imports come from Russia. However, the interests of the two powers are not identical.

Russia cooperates with its neighbor, with whom it shares the longest national border in the world. But the Russians know that, given the size and potential of China, they would become a junior partner if they tied too tightly to the country. Alexander Gabuew, also from Carnegie in Moscow, reduced this ambivalent relationship to a formula: "Not always with each other, but never against each other."

No assistance pact

From a military point of view, Russia and China do not need each other. Both see the US presence on the periphery of their country as a threat. But they can handle that on their own. The Russians are arming against NATO in Eastern Europe, the Chinese against the American bases in Japan and South Korea and against the Navy in the South China Sea.

A military alliance between China and Russia and an assistance pact against the USA therefore seem unlikely from the current perspective. Russian-Chinese military maneuvers should nonetheless show the West the possibility of such an alliance. In 2015, for example, both countries had their navy practice in the Mediterranean.

More important than the threat of a Russian-Chinese alliance are probably the synergies that the cooperation between the two powers is already producing. For example in disinformation campaigns in Western societies or in work in international organizations. The UN Security Council is a good indicator: Between February 2019 and July 2020, Moscow and Beijing jointly vetoed four times in a row. It was about Syria, the situation in the Middle East and Venezuela - areas in which the US wants to assert its interests.

A double veto is a special show of power. China and Russia want to show the USA and the West the limits of their influence in international politics today.