When I was a young child at school in the early 1960s we were warned of “reds under the beds” and “beware the yellow peril”. I doubt these were the official policy of the Education Department in South Australia but I recall at least one teacher earnestly stating those maxims to our impressionable young minds.
As we observe the blossoming relationship between Russia and China, the relevance of those warnings by my primary school teacher take on enhanced significance.
Most recently, we have all noted the remarks by President Xi and President Putin that Sino-Russian relations are “at their best time in history” and that there were “no limits” to the relationship.
Of course, Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine will pressure-test the relationship but the truth is that there is much more that binds Moscow and Beijing than divides them.
President Putin regards China as the dominant economic and military superpower of the future and wants to leverage Russia’s side of the relationship, whilst slapping the west as he does so. President Xi sees a vast and immensely resource rich neighbour that is relatively sparsely populated and led by a man whose global and domestic viewpoint is not entirely different from his own. Sure, there are some differences, but those can be managed.
As it happens, Moscow and Beijing also have similar annoyances about the west. The Chinese are frustrated that they do not receive the recognition and respect they feel they deserve as a great power. Similarly, Moscow has long been annoyed at the manner the US, in particular, meddles in issues impacting Russia and is almost dismissive of Russia’s security concerns and sphere of influence. Both nations feel that the US and her allies talk down to them and if the west had their way, China and Russia would merely be the back-water sweatshops or global quarry of the west.
Both Russia and China are mystified, not to mention bemused, that the west would squander its supremacy so easily on the litany of socially progressive policies that pander to non-productive (and morally questionable) agendas that weaken the west economically and militarily. The west, in their view, has fallen for the doctrine of ‘soft power’ without the hard power to back it up. The creation of ‘red lines’, only to allow those lines to melt away, has both intrigued and baffled them.
President Xi is convinced that China’s ‘moment in time’ is fast approaching and that a resurgent east will soon dominate a declining west – and this belief is shared by Putin. China is flexing its rising capacity with increasing belligerence, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and it’s clear that western warnings to Russia didn’t dissuade Putin from entering the Ukraine.
For her part, Russia is looking to fully exploit its vast resources and that pivot was well underway prior to the Ukrainian invasion. Whilst the west has halted any engagement, China has no such compunction and this is a long term strategy. It suits both nations to establish supply lines that are sheltered from western interference. To this end, for example, Russia and China now trade directly in the ruble and yuan and avoid any reliance on the US dollar.
The relationship between Russia and China has been nurtured and expanded for years. The degree of trust is such that China was reputedly informed of the details of the Russian invasion of Ukraine well before the event took place. China reportedly asked that the invasion be held off until after the winter Olympics. Whether those discussions actually took place remains to be proven but there can be no doubt that both Russia and China have taken numerous, and effective, cooperative steps to minimise the impact of the inevitable sanctions.
Despite those efforts, the system cannot be faultless and there is plenty of economic pain heading for Russia and, for the moment, Russia is reliant on China for trade income as a hedge against western sanctions. Of course, the west is applying significant pressure to China for it to decouple from Russia, but this is extremely unlikely due to the long-term implications for access to energy and mineral wealth that China covets.
Ultimately, President Xi will not be diverted from what he perceives as China’s future and in any event, Xi doesn’t trust the west and thinks it is a decadent and failing power.
Of course, Xi is watching events closely and the resolve of the west. It’s clear that the extent of the sanctions has a sub-text to China lest it have any thoughts about Taiwan. The problem is that an invasion of Taiwan and corresponding sanctions imposed on China, would result in the global economy screeching to a halt. Sure, it would hurt China as well but if China was indisputably the dominant global power, how long could a weakened west maintain the pressure? Would we even dare to try and thrash China like has been done to Russia?
We must recognise what is happening: China has cemented a reliable and uninterruptable supply of energy, minerals and other resources which it will use to achieve its destiny. It cannot allow itself to be reliant on the west. By happy coincidence, China’s huge and nuclear armed neighbour has those items in abundance and what’s more, is deeply offended at decades-long western efforts to suppress and isolate it.
It is only relatively recently that the world has realised the likelihood of China achieving both economic and military dominance over the west in the next few years. Western governments have now stumbled into the realisation that the new Sino-Russian relationship will guarantee supply of resources China needs to achieve and maintain global dominance and render her largely immune to outside coercion. The relationship is vital to China and, she will be in lock-step with Russia who will benefit from incalculable trade with China whilst extracting revenge on the west. Both nations have much to gain.
We are witnessing a major step-change towards the future world order.