Russia and China join forces: how scared should you be?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

China and Russia are celebrating seventy-five years of diplomatic relations in 2024 and their relationship is no longer just ‘an axis of convenience’. They are determined to upend the global order.

What does this mean?

 The partnership between China and Russia has only grown and strengthened since Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. It serves, for them, as a counterbalance to the influence of the United States and its allies, all in an attempt to promote a multipolar world; one where existing western powers of diplomacy are challenged and the U.S. hegemony is dismantled. Indeed, the bond between China and Russia has never been stronger. 

Economic threats

Last year, trade between Russia and China reached a staggering $240 billion, the highest it has ever been, and their interdependency and independence is deepening week to week. For example, they have started to move away from using U.S. dollars for trade, a process known as de-dollarization. 

During Xi’s tenure China has been more willing to supply Russia with advanced military gear and although  it’s not directly supplying Moscow with weapons, the flow of Chinese technology and goods have aided Russia’s war effort. In exchange comes one of the greatest security threats to the US and its allies; China leveraging post-Soviet designs and accessing mainly European technology.

China’s strategy of using market distortions and unfair competition by leveraging several competitive advantages, from government subsidies and currency manipulation to low labor costs and economies of scale, means it undermines world markets with its cheap exports. Whilst fuelling China’s economic growth, this also gives China a competitive advantage and economic ascendancy in the global market, equipping it with even more power in times of crisis. Additionally, China has the largest domestic market for renewable energy in the world. Whilst this has scaled up production, lowered global market costs and increased accessibility to renewable energy, it also means that in times of geopolitical tensions, other countries have a high dependency on Chinese imports – providing it with another form of soft power it can exert to coerce other countries to align with its strategic goals and interests.

Military threats

The Chinese-Russian joint military exercises have also seen a huge increase in frequency, scale and complexity. For example, they’ve conducted at least five joint exercises in the region over the last year. 

China’s assertive stance on Taiwan and the recent military exercises conducted parallel Russia’s earlier annexation threats in Ukraine. These displays of power from China in Taiwan implicitly support Russia’s actions by showing a united front against Western intervention in their internal affairs.

Furthermore, whilst Taiwan’s newly elected President Lai Ching-te tries to maintain his government’s position on sovereignty, not conceding to Bejing’s claim that Taiwan belongs to China, any conflict involving China could potentially draw in Russia, and vice versa, thereby raising the stakes for all adversaries considering opposition, resistance and intervention.

As the world’s two largest autocratic powers unify and perhaps soon strike out beyond regional hegemony in an attempt to dominate Eurasia, we’re left asking whether any alliance based on the adage that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” can end well?

 

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