Russia & China have denied that they are planning to enter into a formal Military Alliance, even as the two powers increasingly worked together in multiple fields, praised the relationship they forged and now argue it represents a new, higher form of cooperation in the face of troubled ties with the United States.
Delivering his annual big press conference Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was explicit: “We do not have a military alliance with China and we do not plan to create one.”
At a time when Moscow and Beijing are involved in more joint endeavours than ever before, Putin said that following in the footsteps of Washington in forging formal defence pacts as the United States did with Japan and South Korea would “be counter-productive, and this does not bode well.”
Instead, the Russian leader said, his intention in assisting China with defence projects such as a new missile early warning radar system was to “add new quality to the defence capability of our strategic partner.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang agreed. He told a press briefing Friday that “China-Russia relations have shown strong vitality and broad prospects after weathering the changing international landscape throughout the past seven decades” and “have become an example for a new type of major-country relations featuring close cooperation, partnership instead of alliance and dialogue instead of confrontation.”
“The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has become a major-country relationship featuring the highest degree of mutual trust, the highest level of coordination and the highest strategic value,” he added, noting this partnership “does not target any third party and will not be affected by any third party”—a clear reference to worried minds in the West.
Although the missile early warning radar system being developed by the two countries for China’s use was defensive in nature, it signalled a new degree of collaboration for neighbours with a much longer history of mutual suspicion. Seventy years after establishing ties, Russia and China have overcome much of their Cold War-era bickering and both sides describe their ties as being the best they’ve ever been.
Their position is that it is the U.S. that is stuck in a “Cold War mindset,” a way of thinking dominated by “zero-sum” tactics irrelevant to an emerging, more multi-polar world.
Washington, however, sees two strategic competitors making gains on its global military and economic supremacy, while at the same time destabilising an “international rules-based order” established in the wake of World War II.
Unlike the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact that collapsed along with the communist Eastern bloc in the 1990s, the U.S.-led NATO military alliance has only expanded, now covering nearly every Eastern European nation once aligned with Moscow’s collective.
Washington’s 2002 exit from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has allowed it to deploy advanced defence systems here and its decision to walk away from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has paved the way for the installation of mid-ranged, land-launched missiles not seen for decades.
The moves have proved a core frustration for Putin, who witnessed the development of this “global missile shield” in his two decades of leadership. Not only were such weapons deployed to Europe, but also to Russia’s eastern flank in the Asia-Pacific, making them a primary concern for China.
Beijing, which has far fewer nuclear weapons than Moscow and Washington, has refused to enter into any bilateral arms control agreements, including the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that limits Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals and is set to expire in February 2021 if President Donald Trump declines to extend it.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has joined his Russian counterpart in investing heavily in military modernisation, but it was the economic might of the People’s Republic that allowed it to compete on a global scale.
President Xi’s intercontinental Belt & Road Initiative a series of global infrastructure, technology and energy projects has been dismissed by the Trump administration as a ploy to trap countries in debt. For Putin, it’s an opportunity to boost his own Eurasian Economic Union and push to drawn in more Chinese capital as he provided oil and joint military drills.
The U.S. has accused both countries of pursuing aggressive, underhanded tactics to forward their respective, authoritarian agendas, while they charge Washington with seeking to maintain global hegemony.
Still, commentators have long described Moscow and Beijing’s relationship as a marriage of convenience and it was unlikely they would fight one another’s big battles, even if that was part of their message to the world.
“Politically, especially militarily, I would say we are advancing, but we are not allies,” Moscow based PIR Center President Evgeny Buzhinskiy, a retired Russian lieutenant-general who is also vice president of the Russian International Affairs Council, said last month.
“That means that both sides do not want to obligate themselves to interfere. Russia doesn’t want to interfere and help Chinese militarily in its adjacent waters with all their conflicts with their neighbours, as well as China is not going to support us militarily in case there is a conflict between NATO and Russia.”
As for why Moscow has not been able to form a new Eastern military pact of its own, Buzhinskiy said that “unlike the Soviet Union, now Russia is not in a position to create strong alliances, because if you create alliance like the United States you’ve got to support it, let’s be real, you’ve got to pay, Russia is not so strong economically as to pay for any strong alliance.”
He hailed Russia and China’s joint development of the missile early warning system as “a great step forward” and discussed future endeavours in the Indian Ocean, the Arctic and beyond. “We are not allies,” he reiterated, “but we are more than strategic partners.”