Russia and China: Friendship Does Not Need a Military Alliance

© Izvestia / Pavel Bednyakov

Council on Pacific Affairs Exclusive – Nikolay N. Goryachev CPA

The year 2021 in relations between Russia and China was marked by good-neighborly cooperation, despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. On June 28, the «Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation» between the two countries was extended for another five years. 

Sino-Russian relations are themselves a phenomenon with strong intrinsic motivation. Moreover, this motivation does not depend on external conditions. Rather, on the contrary, external conditions only emphasize the importance of the fact that relations between countries are developing in a positive way. Therefore, when speaking about bilateral relations between Russia and China, one should take into account that the issue of strategic stability is always on the agenda. This topic includes the geopolitical challenges and problems that both powers are facing now, or may face in the future.

On December 15, Russian President V. Putin met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The talks between the two leaders took place via video link. Both leaders planned to discuss, among other things, issues related to the aggressive rhetoric from the US and NATO, which has been taking place recently. It is clear that the part of the negotiations open to the public included only the general, protocol part. Both leaders noted their complete satisfaction with the way relations between Russia and China are developing, and expressed their hope for a further increase in the quality level of interaction between the countries.

Aide to the President of Russia Yuri Ushakov told the press that the leaders managed to discuss all the actual problems of bilateral relations and the international agenda. Based on his words, it is interesting that Xi Jinping separately emphasized that relations between China and Russia are not officially allied – but in terms of strength and essence, these relations exceed the allied level. At the same time, the President of the China expressed concern about the US activity in reconfiguring the situation in the Pacific region. He criticized the creation of new alliances, such as the American-Australian alliance, as it undermines the foundations of the nuclear safeguards regime.

In this regard, the remark in italics highlighted above by the Chinese leader is of particular interest. Over the past years, among Western experts and the media, there has been a constant opinion that Russia and the PRC are about to conclude (if they have not already concluded secretly) a military alliance, and in this case the West will have to resist the combined power of the two powers. Moreover, to the accompaniment of such moods, a picture is created in which the state, known to all, should again assume the functions of the savior of the world. Only this time not from communism, not from terrorism, but from the “autocratic regimes of Russia and China.” This can explain a lot – the formation of AUKUS, and the constant statements of the command of the US forces in the Pacific about the need to increase its presence, and constant provocations in the territorial waters of China and Russia.

That is why the joint patrols of strategic military aircraft in the Pacific Ocean in November 2021 produced an effect comparable to that of the fox that entered the chicken coop among the chicken in that coop. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation even published a visual map of the patrol route, which shows that the borders of no neighboring state have not been violated (© RIA Novosti).

        However, this did not stop some countries from resenting. The indignation was caused by the alleged flight over the territory of the disputed Dokdo islands and the air defense identification zone above them. Immediately after the incident, claims were made to Russia and China by South Korea, and then to South Korea and Russia by Japan. The South Korean authorities even announced the opening of warning fire in the direction of Russian aircraft. However, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation denied this information. “If the Russian pilots felt a threat to security, the answer would not be long in coming,” the Defense Ministry said. As for the air defense identification zone, “such zones are not provided for by international rules and are not recognized by the Russian Federation, which was repeatedly reported to the South Korean side through various channels.”

         Thus, without a military alliance, the Russian and Chinese military are quite successfully carrying out the exercises they need, while not violating international law. However, even this causes indignation among the countries that are in such allied relations with third countries. Moreover, do Russia and China really need a military alliance?

         The military-political alliances that exist today, despite the democratic nature emphasized by their members, are in reality hardly democratic. Obviously, most of the decisions of these alliances are dictated by their most powerful member – the United States. Therefore, these alliances have a subordinate character. In some cases, alliance members are even denied the right to sovereignty. Moreover, in pursuing their policies (both domestic and foreign), such countries are sometimes forced to follow not their national interests, but the interests of the alliance. How democratic it is – everyone decides for himself.

         At the same time, the presence of friendly relations between China and Russia not only does not interfere with military cooperation, but also has some advantages that a formal alliance does not have. This allows both countries not to comment on topics that are not of interest to one of the parties. For example, the situation in Ukraine, which the Chinese traditionally pass over in silence, or the militarization in the South China Sea, in which Moscow, unlike many, did not blame Beijing.

        However, for those who believe solely in the power of arms, one should remember the thousand-year history of both China and Russia. Both countries went through many trials that strengthened and tempered them. Therefore, one cannot but agree with the characterization of Sino-Russian relations, which was given to them by Russian President V. Putin. According to President Putin, « A new model of cooperation has developed between our countries, a model based, in part, on the principles of non-interference in each other’s affairs and mutual resolve to turn our common border into a belt of eternal peace and good-neighbourliness. I regard these relations as a shining example of interstate cooperation in the 21st century ».

Thus, weapons are not required for friendship.

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