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The China-Russia axis (Velina Tchakarova)

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Against the backdrop of China-Russia meeting between Xi Jinping and Putin, what are the real motives and geopolitical interests of the two leaders and their countries to enter a modus vivendi of systemic coordination? My thread on the #DragonBear from #realpolitik perspective.

  • First and foremost, it’s about a matter of survival in a highly volatile global system. Russia’s political, economic, and financial survival will depend on China amid the country’s worst isolation by the West and following the military failures on the battle fields in Ukraine.
  • The international order is in a transitional phase in which two centres of power are emerging—the US and China. In this context, China needs to avoid any scenarios of domestic instability following the pandemic and at the same time face global system bifurcation.
  • It is plausible that Russia urgently needs a powerful ally following the precarious isolation by the West, while China seeks a loyal partner with regional power projection to bolster its global influence and strengthen regional networks in Eurasia and beyond.
  • The ‘DragonBear’ is neither an alliance or an entente nor a “marriage of convenience”, but a temporary asymmetrical relationship, in which China predominantly sets the tone but remains interested in Russia’s commodities, space & defence sector, as well as presence in the Arctic.
  • Russia and China assume that the global order is undergoing a systemic transformation, the outcome of which is unpredictable, but likely with a variety of unforeseen negative implications for Russian and Chinese interests.
  • Thus, the ‘DragonBear’ is not a classic alliance according to Western concepts. Rather, China & Russia have tactically entered into a rapprochement to manage the uncertain transitional phase of the bifurcation together and ensure their domestic stability key to their survival.
  • The main common denominator is not only the goal of demonstrating a credible counterweight to US global power. It is also about creating a significant Eurasian connectivity in response to US maritime dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, and in the Arctic in the long run.
  • The ‘DragonBear’ may have also discovered a successful formula of task-sharing in the future—Russia plays the role of the security provider and the diplomatic facilitator, and China is the financial and economic provider—that can be applied in other parts of the world.
  • The modus vivendi of coordination extends beyond Eurasia to South Asia. Moscow is helping Beijing stabilise and facilitate political and economic networks in Afghanistan and prevent spillover effects of terrorist activities in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
  • Potential points of conflict btw Russia & China arise from their geographic prioritisation & overlapping geopolitical interests. Russian fears growing Chinese influence in Central Asia, the Far East, & other traditional spheres of influence in the post-Soviet space.
  • Even as a junior partner to the ‘DragonBear’, Russia could completely reshape the European security architecture while diverting the West’s attention from China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region (and in the South China Sea in particular), if its war against Ukraine succeeds.
  • China and Russia may have coordinated the timing of Moscow’s launch of the reinvasion of Ukraine to take place after the Winter Olympics held in Beijing. Putin would never have launched such a large-scale war against Ukraine if he had not relied on China’s comprehensive support.
  • Russia wants to play the role of a major free rider in the global power competition between two systemic rivals, the US and China. Moscow does not shy away from using hard power to gain more bargaining leverage or expand its projection in geographic areas of primary interest.
  • In the global geopolitical context, Russian President Putin sought to trigger a systemic confrontation between the US and China because of his anticipation for the avert Beijing’s support. Russia’s war vs Ukraine is thus a manifestation of Cold War 2.0 amid global bifurcation.
  • For the US, a modus vivendi btw China & Russia and, thus, a two-front scenario against it, will be extraordinarily threatening. The most important common denominator of the ‘DragonBear’ will remain the goal of counterbalancing the US in all areas of international politics.
  • Given the critical uncertainties and unpredictable course of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Putin may turn the country into a global mercenary for China’s geoeconomic interests due to increasing dependencies on the ‘DragonBear’, if Moscow is successful in the war against Ukraine.
  • Neither the US nor China wants a scenario in which Russia becomes part of the adversarial geopolitical bloc. From the Chinese perspective, an ad hoc partnership between Russia and the US as well as a collapse or dissolution of the Russian Federation are the worst-case scenarios.
  • Conversely, Russia will never endorse Chinese domination in the sense of a «Pax Sinica» in Eurasia and adjacent areas in the «near abroad» (Black Sea region, Eastern Mediterranean, South Caucasus, and Eastern Europe).
  • The extent to which the DragonBear will increasingly shape the global system will depend on whether China continues its economic rise & helps Russia avoid a collapse. Both want to give the impression to the outside world of a stable and resilient relationship against the West.
  • The geopolitical modus vivendi appears to be tactical, not strategic. Even maintaining the status quo will probably be acceptable to both states as long as the rise of China does not pose a direct threat to Russia’s strategic interests in its own geographic «sphere of influence.»
Samuel Hodder SamuelCHodder

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