Too alone, China races to find allies: Is an alliance with Russia possible?

While America’s network of allies has been of great help to Washington in its strategy to counter China’s rise, Beijing is rather pitiful when it is “always alone”.

Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, since coming to power, President Joe Biden has especially “cultivated” relations with allies, especially in his Asia-Pacific strategy. This made Beijing worried and began to rush to race to “please” other countries.

As can be seen, in its first year, the Biden administration forged long-standing alliances such as those with Japan and South Korea, and put considerable effort into strengthening multilateral partnerships such as the Dialogue. Security Quadrangle (with Australia, India and Japan) and the new AUKUS agreement born (with Australia and the UK).

In contrast, China has shied away from formal alliances citing differences in international relations and Beijing’s pragmatic desire to avoid “falling from the sky” risks.

China wants to create its own alliance network

Too alone, China races to find allies: Is an alliance with Russia possible?  - Photo 2.
Chinese soldiers take part in the Victory Parade to mark the Victory Day of the Great Patriotic War at Red Square in Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2020.

So far, China has avoided building a traditional network of allies for reasons ranging from longstanding ideological leanings to tough strategic calculations. Since its early days, Beijing has tried to promote the Non-Aligned Movement’s principles of non-interference in “internal affairs” and anti-imperialism. But there are already signs that Beijing is making a turning point in this strategy.

In recent years, the country has upgraded its strategic partnership and expand military exchanges and joint exercises with countries such as Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Of course, these partnerships are still far from US alliances (with regard to mutual defense provisions, extensive base arrangements, and common military alliance capabilities). 

But over time, it could form the basis of China’s own network of alliances if its leaders believe that this alliance system is necessary for both deterrence and dominant position in the long-term competition with the United States and its allies.

This trend will mark a real turning point in the era of US-China competition and fuel concern about the risk of regional and great power conflict.

According to Foreign Affairs, China currently has only one official ally, North Korea, when the two share a defense treaty. But Beijing also has countries as close as Russia, Pakistan, some Southeast Asian countries as well as countries as far away as Egypt, Brazil, and New Zealand.

China has also invested money and effort in building multilateral mechanisms led by it such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum. Sino-Arab countries cooperation.

Too alone, China races to find allies: Is an alliance with Russia possible?  - Photo 4.
A new runway project built by a Chinese corporation at Velana International Airport in the Maldives. Photo: AP

China does not just use its economic potential to advance its goals.

In fact, it has rapidly expanded its military capabilities over the past two decades and used its newly acquired power to threaten Taiwan, provoke India along its disputed border, and exert pressure, force for unreasonable claims in the South China Sea. However, while China’s leaders view military might as essential to protect the country’s core national interests, they have shown little reluctance to make external security commitments out of concern. fear could push themselves into far-reaching conflicts.

Instead, Beijing has bet entirely on economic diplomacy by providing loans, investments and trade opportunities to please other countries and increase its influence in the international arena. And this strategy has worked. Many of China’s partners, especially in developing countries, have welcomed Beijing’s investments and supported China’s core interests.

Beijing’s attempt to change

China and Russian Navy hold joint drills in the Sea of ​​Japan.
China and Russian Navy hold joint drills in the Sea of ​​Japan.

In the near future, China is unlikely to abandon its geo-economic strategy for complete dominance.

But there are two possible scenarios to push the country to build a network of allies: if Beijing perceives the security environment to deteriorate further or if it decides it will have to overtake the United States as a major military power. not only in the Indo-Pacific region but globally. (Of course, these two scenarios cannot be ruled out at the same time.)

Although Beijing continues to insist that China and Russia are “not allies”, it has begun to assert that there is both “no restricted area” and “no upper limit” in their relationship. 

Since 2012, China-Russia has conducted increasingly extensive military exercises, including regular naval exercises in the East and South China seas, and sometimes in conjunction with third parties like Iran and South Africa. Just last month, the two made headlines when they staged their first joint patrol in the Western Pacific, which China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said was “aimed at the US”.

To be sure, the historical ups and downs of the Beijing-Moscow relationship and the value of both countries for strategic autonomy may limit the scope of their partnership.

However, the two countries can envision an agreement to provide mutual military aid ranging from logistical support to direct support, including in the “gray zone” or conventional military operations, if either country considers it, they face an existential threat.

To be sure, emulating America’s historic alliance strategy will not be easy. After all, most of the advanced economies of the world are already official allies of the United States. Beijing itself also faces profound global skepticism about its long-term strategies and hegemonic tendencies.

That is true even of Beijing’s closest partners of the Belt and Road Initiative. Many countries have made it clear that they do not want to be exclusively associated with Beijing or Washington. But nothing is impossible. China is rapidly cultivating relationships with both developed and developing countries, while trying to decouple the relationship between the United States and its allies and partners.

What should America do?

The major strides the Biden administration has taken to revitalize America’s alliances and increase its contribution to security in the Indo-Pacific region are essential in an era of shifting balance of power and power. this strategic competition.

But Mr. Biden should note that as the US is working to restore its standing globally and move towards a “new 21st-century vision” of “integrated deterrence”, Beijing is likely to follow suit similar strategy to entice Washington’s allies.

This is not to say that Washington should distance itself from its allies in the hope of correcting China’s behavior. However, now is the time for the US to think seriously about “how to live with floods” and better prevent such an outcome.

The United States needs foresight and a strategic plan because those are necessary to prevent a truly divided world, with an opposition led by an increasingly assertive and more interventionist China. lead.

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