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Why are China and Russia strengthening ties? | Politics News


Weeks after sailing warships around Japan’s main island, the Chinese and Russian militaries have sent bomber flights into Japanese and South Korean air defence zones, forcing Seoul to scramble its fighter jets in response.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Japan’s Defence Minister Kishi Nobuo met reporters to express “grave concern” over the joint patrols, which took place last week, saying Beijing and Moscow’s moves clearly indicate that the “security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe”.

As he spoke, his Chinese and Russian counterparts were holding virtual talks, where they lauded the air and naval drills as “major events” and inked a new pact to further deepen defence ties.

The roadmap, signed by Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Chinese vis-à-vis Wei Fenghe, capped a year that has seen an unprecedented growth in military cooperation, including large-scale war games in China’s Ningxia in August, when Russian troops became the first foreign forces to join a regular Chinese drill, as well as announcements to jointly develop military helicopters, missile attack warning systems and even a research station on the moon.

“It’s the strongest, closest and best relationship that 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 firing ground on the Baltic Sea coast in Kaliningrad Region, Russia August 8, 2019 [File: Vitaly Nevar/ Reuters]

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

Diplomatic, economic ties

It is not only on defence that the two have moved closer but also on the diplomatic and economic fronts.

On foreign policy, Beijing and Moscow share similar approaches to Iran, Syria and Venezuela, and recently revived a push to lift United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a 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 biggest 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 $55bn gas project that is the largest in Russian history.

Gould-Davies of the IISS said the main driver behind all of this is China and Russia’s hostility towards liberal democratic values.

“Both countries are ruled 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, beyond their own borders, that embody liberal values. So, their main common interest is in effect, 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 American intelligence assessments listing 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, planning to broaden its focus to address countering both countries.

In an interview with the London-based Financial Times last month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he does not see China and Russia as two separate threats.

“China and Russia work closely together,” he said. “This whole idea of distinguishing so much between China, Russia, either the Asia-Pacific or Europe — it is one big security environment and we have to address it all together.”

But some say this assessment is too simplistic and could result in “grave mistakes”.

“There is no grand conspiracy against the West,” said Bobo Lo, a former Australian diplomat and an independent…



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