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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.

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