Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Weeks after sailing warships around Japan’s main island, the Chinese and Russian armies sent bombers to Japanese and South Korean air defense zones, forcing Seoul to scramble its fighter jets in response.

Japan’s Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo met with Tokyo reporters on Tuesday to express “serious concern” over the joint patrols that took place last week, saying Beijing and Moscow’s moves clearly indicate the “security situation around Japan”. getting worse ”.

While speaking, his Chinese and Russian counterparts held virtual talks, where they praised the air and naval exercises as “major events” and entered into a new agreement to further deepen defense ties.

The roadmap, signed by Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, concluded a year that saw unprecedented growth in military cooperation, including large-scale war games in China’s Ningxia in August, when Russian troops became first foreign powers. to join a regular Chinese exercise, as well as announcements to jointly develop military helicopters, missile attack warning systems and even a research station on the moon.

“This is the strongest, closest and best relationship the two countries have had since at least the mid-1950s. And possibly ever, ”said Nigel Gould-Davies, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Marines from China take part in the International Army Games 2019 at the Khmelevka fire site on the Baltic coast in Kaliningrad region, Russia 8 August 2019 [File: Vitaly Nevar/ Reuters]

Knowing that China-Russia relations have historically been marked by mutual caution, including a border conflict in the 1960s that allegedly pushed Beijing and Moscow to the brink of nuclear war, Gould-Davies said the current state of affairs is ” exceptional”. Tires have “developed very rapidly, really within the last 10 years,” he said, accelerating in the wake of Western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Diplomatic, economic ties

It is not only out of defense that the two have moved closer, but also on the diplomatic and economic fronts.

In terms of foreign policy, Beijing and Moscow share similar approaches to Iran, Syria and Venezuela, and recently made an effort to lift United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin also have a personal relationship, which has met more than 30 times since 2013. The Chinese leader even called Putin his “best friend.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin participates in video conference call with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 28, 2021 [File: Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin, Sputnik via Reuters]

For China, Russia is the largest supplier of its weapons and the second largest source of its oil imports. And for Russia, China is its top-country trading partner and a key source of investment in its energy projects, including the Yamal LNG plant in the Arctic Circle and the Power of Siberia pipeline, a $ 55 billion gas project that is the largest in Russian history. .

Gould-Davies of the IISS said the main driving force behind it all is China and Russia’s hostility to liberal democratic values.

“Both countries are governed by anti-democratic regimes that share a strong common interest in resisting the influence of liberal Western values ​​within their own countries,” he told Al Jazeera. “They also have a strong shared interest in undermining the states and alliances outside their own borders that embody liberal values. Thus, their main common interest is in fact an ideological one – they seek to undermine the democratic and liberal West.

Self-fulfilling prophecy?

The deepening of ties has indeed worried the West, with US intelligence assessments planning China, Russia and their alignment as the biggest security threats to the United States and NATO, the Western security alliance created in 1949 as a bulwark against the Soviet Union to broaden its focus to address the struggle against both countries.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, said in an interview with the London Financial Times last month that he did not see China and Russia as two separate threats.

“China and Russia are working closely together,” he said. “This whole idea of ​​distinguishing so much between China, Russia, either the Asia-Pacific or Europe – it’s one big security environment and we need to address it all together.”

But some say this assessment is too simplistic and could lead to “serious errors”.

“There is no major conspiracy against the West,” said Bobo Lo, a former Australian diplomat and independent international relations analyst last month. “What it is is a classic big power relationship, which means it is driven by common interests, rather than shared values,” he said during a virtual talk organized by the US-based Center for Global Security Research.

By supporting each other, China and Russia are receiving “critical dividends”, Lo said, including strengthening the “legitimacy and stability of their respective regimes”. Defense cooperation enables Moscow to project Russian influence onto the world stage, he added, while Beijing can gain access to Russia’s advanced military technology and operational experience.

The relationship also enables Moscow to “fill the technological gap left by the withdrawal of Western companies from Russia” following sanctions imposed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea. “And Chinese investment in technology was absolutely essential for the realization of Russia’s Arctic LNG projects,” Lo said.

Alexander Gabuev at the Carnegie Moscow Center agrees.

Ties between Russia and China are “driven by fundamental factors beyond Western control,” he said, noting in a conversation in March that the two countries also share a 4,300-kilometer (2,672-mile) border. Because of the 1969 border clashes, “they know how really dangerous and expensive it is to be enemies,” he said.

That is why, he said on Twitter last month, NATO’s claim that China and Russia are one challenge “overemphasizes the current level of China-Russia cooperation and nuances”.

Both countries are “religious about their strategic autonomy,” he said. And “by merging China and Russia as a quasi-alliance to be countered by a unified toolkit, the West runs the risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, when double restriction leads to further deepening China-Russia cooperation , leading to more American pressure. “

‘Bad aggressor’

For some, American pressure is the starting point.

“Both China and Russia feel the US is a hypocritical aggressor who is intent on reducing them to maintain hegemony,” said Einar Tangen, a Beijing-based political analyst who also works as a commentator for China’s state broadcaster CGTN. .

U.S. action in this regard, he said, includes branding the two countries as its biggest national security threats, imposing sanctions on alleged human rights abuses, as well as forging what Beijing and Moscow consider anti-Russia-China alliances .

These include the Quad, an informal US-led alliance that includes India, Japan and Australia. The group, which condemned China as an “Asian NATO”, resumed naval exercises for the first time in 13 years last year. The four navies expanded the exercises this year by holding them in two phases in the Philippine Sea and in the Bay of Bengal.

Then there is the newly formed security alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, known as the AUKUS. With the announcement of the trilateral agreement in September, the US and the UK said Australia would get nuclear-powered submarines – a move that analysts said would allow the Australian navy to clear the disputed waters of the South China Sea as well as the Strait of Patrol Taiwan.

China condemned the alliance as an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability, while Russia called it a “major challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime”.

“This [type of actions] “China inevitably encourages closer cooperation with Russia to seek reciprocal responses to hostile acts,” said Danil Bochkov, an analyst at the Moscow-based Russian Council on International Affairs.

These reactions include the recent joint Sino-Russian exercises in the region of Japan and South Korea, both of which are US allies.

Bochkov said the growing rivalry could potentially lead to the resurgence of the rigid blocs seen during the Cold War, with the US-led community on the one hand and China, Russia and their allies on the other.

“It creates geopolitical deadlocks that seem impossible to overcome at all,” he said, “allowing all forces to build their power for the worst-case scenario by simultaneously testing each other’s red lines’ with dangerous pin-stabbing local faces.”

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