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‘Allies’ China and Russia are ganging up on America

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This March 19, 2021, photo composite shows leaders of the world’s three super powers (from left): Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The three-decade-old nightmare of Washington policymakers has now come true: Beijing and Moscow have ganged up on America. 

During their 37th meeting since 2013, Russian strongman President Vladimir Putin and “dear friend” Chinese ruler Xi Jinping solidified their already robust relationship. Putin, according to readouts, supported Beijing’s “legitimate position” on Taiwan, and Xi supported Russian demands for “security guarantees” and assurances that NATO will never admit Ukraine.

Moscow says the ties between the two capitals are at “an unprecedentedly high level,” and the Kremlin before the call even characterized China and Russia as “allies.” 

Beijing does not use that term — it has only one formal ally, North Korea — but the relationship between the Beijing and Moscow is not complicated these days. China is backing Russian aggression, and Russia is backing Chinese aggression. 

Beijing and Moscow have been coordinating external policies and, since 2005, have been conducting joint military exercises. In September 2016, the two militaries, in an eight-day naval drill, practiced “joint island-seizing missions” in the South China Sea. This August, for the first time, Russian troops during an exercise were using Chinese weapons, demonstrating interoperability. The United States has to assume, therefore, that the Chinese and Russian militaries will fight as one.

Many American policymakers have sought to peel China from Russia or Russia from China and decry Washington policies that have forced the two together. “Potentially, the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran, an ‘antihegemonic’ coalition united not by ideology but by complementary grievances,” wrote Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1997 in “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.”

“Washington is making the historic mistake of pushing China and Russia too far at the same time,” the Communist Party’s Global Times tabloid stated in an editorial on Wednesday, after the Xi-Putin virtual meeting.

The answer to such criticisms is that there has been no feasible alternative for the U.S. Both China and Russia have been trying to redraw boundaries by force. Russia, for instance, split apart Georgia in 2008, annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and then took the Donbas from that former Soviet republic. 

China has been, for decades, gobbling up islets and reefs in the South China Sea, most notably from Vietnam and the Philippines. It has also been sending troops deep into Indian-controlled territory in the Himalayas and encroached on Bhutan and Nepal. Beijing has used vessels and planes for years to pressure Japan to give up the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.  

None of these actions were acceptable, and all had to be opposed, even at the risk of forcing China and Russia into each other’s arms. President Biden, however, has aggravated the situation by undermining deterrence. With regard to Ukraine, he announced on Dec. 8 that he would not use U.S. troops to repel a Russian invasion force, forgetting the United States in the December 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty. In short, he has given the Russian despot a green light to commit another act of aggression.

Xi Jinping has also seen that green light. 

Not that he needed one. Beijing has already made it clear that it can do whatever it wants. As Kabul was falling, Chinese propagandists were saying that the U.S. was incapable. The Global Times, hours after the Taliban captured Kabul, asked how could America stand up to mighty China when it could not even deal with the Taliban. The semi-official tabloid also stated this, referring to America: “It cannot win a war anymore.” 

Yet deterrence was breaking down even before Afghanistan fell. In the middle of March, China’s top two diplomats, Yang Jiechi and subordinate, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, traveled to Anchorage, Alaska to lecture Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Yang, in chilling words, said the United States could no longer talk to China “from a position of strength.” Chinese elites are extremely arrogant these days.

The Biden team is doing little to reestablish deterrence. On Oct. 21 at the CNN Town Hall, the president, in response to a question from Anderson Cooper, declared America would defend Taiwan, but within hours his administration corrected him, saying the United States was not committed to doing so. The evident disarray in the White House is emboldening the most dangerous elements in the international system.

Many say China and Russia will never form an enduring partnership, and that is probably correct. But does it matter? Beijing and Moscow are now effectively alliance partners. As a result, the post-Cold War era of peace is over, replaced by a new era of both competition and conflict.

The United States has not had to confront two peer competitors since the end of the Second World War and has not faced a united China and Russia since the last days of the 1950s.  

Now, it does.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.  

Tags Antony Blinken China China–United States relations Jake Sullivan Joe Biden Russia-China relations Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin

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