The Sino-russian embrace
The sino-russian partnership has expanded considerably over the last few years and is now arguably stronger than it has ever been. Russia has moved closer to China, a turn in Russian policy that China has embraced. Russia strengthened its economic relations with China during the global financial crisis, followed by a strategic pivot to China as a result of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea and the resulting Western sanctions. The growing power gap between them makes China the senior partner in the relationship. Moreover, the us continues to be a common denominator. In fact, Russia’s relationship with the us is currently at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and China’s strategic rivalry with the us has intensified.
The possibility of China and Russia entering into a formal military alliance is relatively small, but their strengthened relationship has implications for security in asia and europe. China supports Russia to alleviate the impact of Western economic sanctions following the crisis in ukraine, and they are now able to add leverage to each other’s energy diplomacy. above all, by developing a cordial relationship, they both keep their strategic rear safe. This enables Moscow to deploy most of its armed forces on the european front facing NATO, and beijing to give priority to its most pressing security challenge, confronting the us in the asian maritime domain.
Diverging threat perceptions across the Atlantic
the latest National security strategy of the united states, issued in December 2017, identifies both China and Russia as challenges, China is perceived as a larger challenge than Russia. seen from europe, however, Russia is the main challenge. The mainstream thinking in europe is that China does not pose a direct threat to european security, and that China offers european countries a wide range of opportunities in terms of economic co-operation. europe and the us both have three legs in their asia strategy — economic co-operation, diplomatic engagement and security — but europe’s security leg is at best very soft. europe’s policy on Russia is largely determined by Moscow’s military posture, but its approach to China is mainly driven by beijing’s agenda on global governance and the international order. This divergence of views presents the transatlantic relationship with a number of challenges.
europe and the us might disagree on a number of issues related to China. One recent example was the us effort to convince european nations to boycott the Chinese-led asian Infrastructure Investment bank (aiib), an effort that did not get any resonance in europe. Moscow and/or beijing could try to exploit such disagreements to divide the West.
The perception of China as being a security threat could, of course, also take hold in europe. If so, should europe and the us agree on a new type of transatlantic division of labor, with europe being mainly responsible for deterring Russia, enabling the us to focus its resources on China and the larger Indo-pacific Theater, or should europe pivot to asia along with the us? a european security pivot to asia could potentially take three forms: a more strategic use of arms sales; an increase in capacity-building and co-operation on non-traditional security; or military deployments.