Feng Yujun (Fudan University) and Shang Yue (CICIR) take a closer look into developments between Russia, China and the US in the most recent issue of China International Studies (September/October 2018). The Chinese-language version of the article was published in late July.
The worsening of Russia-US relations provides the backdrop for deliberations on China’s policy. The authors argue that the conflict between Moscow and Washington is no longer only about geopolitics and strategic balance but has shifted to domestic politics and the normative sphere. While in their view being ‘anti-Russian’ in the US has turned into an element of ‘political correctness’, in Russia ‘anti-Americanism’ is employed by the authorities to build domestic consensus by creating the impression of external hostility. They disagree with the notion of a ‘new Cold War’ between Russia and the US, seeing the two states as ‘limited opponents’. This has become the ‘new normal’ that can be expected to stay for a long time.
Against this backdrop, the authors make a compelling argument against the formation of a Sino-Russian alliance. Such an alliance, they claim, would not help either side to resolve their tensions with the US. Closer economic cooperation between China and Russia would not alleviate the negative impact of the US sanctions on Russia. Closer political-security cooperation would not diminish Beijing’s security concerns related to US policy. The Sino-Russian strategic partnership has not altered Washington’s foreign policy – either in terms of the military presence in Eastern Europe, or with regard to naval operations in the South China Sea and the deployment of a missile defence system in the Korean Peninsula. The hegemony of the US dollar remains unchallenged, despite increasing use of the yuan and rouble. While Moscow and Beijing working jointly are able to increase pressure on the US, the benefits of an alliance are difficult to predict and its negative spill-over may be problematic to control.
The authors recognize that there are three pairs of relations (China-US, China-Russia, Russia-US) rather than the triangular relationship familiar from the Cold War period. Nonetheless, they identify four areas of potential cooperation between the three powers: (1) the maintenance of security in North-East Asia; (2) counter-terrorism cooperation; (3) the maintenance of the strategic arms balance; (4) Track II and think-tank dialogue.