Judgment and prediction: The New Direction for Russia-China Relations
On May 24, Russian
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accepted an exclusive interview with the
Russian-language newspaper Argumenty i Fakty, which mainly focused on
Russia-U.S. and Russia-Ukraine relations. In his discussion on Russia-China
relations, Lavrov made it clear that Russia would not form an alliance with
China, and also hinted that he had no intention of joining the "U.S.-China Cold
War". This is not the first time that Lavrov has made such a statement, and
there have been repeated changes of Russia's attitude in recent time. This
could very well signify that certain changes in Russia-China relations are bound
to take place.
In the interview, the
reporter's primary focus is on the U.S.-Russian relationship, and mentioned the
incident where Russia and the U.S. recalled the ambassadors. Lavrov acknowledge
the challenges faced by the U.S.-Russia relationship, though he apparently
downplaying it by describing the recall of ambassadors to be a normal
diplomatic act, and said that he looks forward to the meeting of the heads of
the two countries to improve the mutual relations. Compared with the more aggressive
attitude of the Chinese diplomats to the U.S., sometimes touted as
"wolf-warrior diplomacy", the answers given by the Russian Foreign Minister
were moderate and showed the desire to improve Russia's ties with the U.S.
Most parts of the
interview concentrate on the relations of Russia with the United States and
Ukraine, and China was only mentioned at the very end. The reporter asked that
both China and Russia are on the same side against the United States, hence if
there is possibility for Moscow and Beijing to establish a sort of alliance, or
maybe even military political union.
repeated his past attitude, calling Russia-China relations to be at the highest
point in history, but also added that the existing bilateral relation model is
better than the alliance formed during the Cold War. The message behind his
words is rather obvious, that Russia has all to gain from its relations with
China now, compares with during the period of Soviet Union that it had to spend
Lavrov made the
comparison using the Cold War era as example even without the reporter
mentioning it, and there are certainly some implicit meanings. For the Foreign
Minister of Russia, China and the United States are actually in the Cold War
status, or approximate to it. The former Soviet Union, as a participant in the
previous Cold War, should have certain judgements for the current situation. By
using such comparison, Lavrov subtly denied the possibility of Russia-China
alliance, only recognizes that there is good bilateral with China. At the same
time, he also revealed Russia's assessment and position on U.S.-China relations,
that is, Russia will not participate in the U.S.' confrontation, or Cold War
While emphasizing that Russia
is satisfied with the existing form of cooperation as it allows it to resolve
even the most difficult issues in bilateral dialogue, he also agrees with Chinese
Foreign Minister Wang Yi's statement that there is no ending point for
Russia-China cooperation, while reaffirms that Russia will not further moving
towards forming an alliance with China.
Since Russia has
repeatedly touched on this issue, it has become something that China cannot avoid.
On May 25, at Chinese Foreign Ministry's press conference, spokesman Zhao Lijian
stated that the China-Russia's new era comprehensive strategic partnership is
firmly established, yet he also said that the two countries will neither form
alliance nor confrontation; instead, both will adhere to multilateralism.
Russia has actually repeatedly
stressed that it would not form an alliance with China, the reiteration of this
point by Russian Foreign Minister this time also intentionally mentioned the
"Cold War". This apparently is directly related to the upcoming meeting
of American and Russian heads. The theme of the interview published by Argumenty
i Fakty is of course, U.S.-Russia relationship. The Russian Foreign Minister
first gave signals of improving relations with the United States, and it is
towards the final part of the interview that he talked about the relationship
with China. The implicit message is certain directed towards the U.S.
government that Russia would not confront the U.S. along with China. Obviously,
to Russia, its relationship with the U.S. is more important than with China, and
this will also affect its relationship with Europe and other Western countries.
Russia now has clearly indicated its position.
It is certainly not easy
for Chinese senior officials to accept such position of Russia, yet there is
nothing much that they can do, as this is related to China's basic judgment on
Russia. On May 19, China reported in a high-profile manner that Chinese leaders
and Russian President Vladimir Putin had participated in the opening ceremony
of the China-Russia nuclear energy cooperation project. As it is difficult to
see improvement in U.S.-China relations, while the EU has frozen the China-EU
Investment Agreement, China has all the reasons to forge closer ties with
Russia urgently to show that it is not isolated. However, the attitude of the
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has shown that Russia thought rather
differently. The current situation has almost provided a clear and unmistakable
proof for China's anti-Russian factions, that as China was eager to work with
Russia against the United States, yet instead it was only used by Russia as a
bargaining chip in its dealing with the United States.
As it stands, China's
state-run press agency Xinhua now quotes Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman
Zhao Lijian that both China and Russia have always been respecting each other's
core interests and taking care of each other's reasonable concerns. Russia now obviously
not giving what China wants, instead it concerns about its own interests
without taking care of China's "core interests" or "reasonable
On May 25, the White
House announced that Biden and Putin will meet in Geneva on June 16. The U.S.
government must have understood the message of the Russian Foreign Minister
promptly, hence the decision of the summit meeting between the two sides was
immediately finalized. In contrast, the U.S.-China diplomatic talks in Alaska were
a deadlock. With Chinese diplomats having public spats with U.S. officials,
this has in fact strengthened the United States' perception on China, pushing
the summit meeting for the heads of U.S. and China into uncertainties.
U.S. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken has indeed, risked huge disagreements back home in the U.S. when
he lifted sanctions related to the Nord Stream II pipeline. Russia in return, moves
to get closer to the U.S. by adopting its current position on China. It is
worth noting that the U.S.-Russia heads of state summit is now to be held
earlier, this signifies that the U.S. has made a strategic choice between China
and Russia. The United States and Russia have been long-term rivals, and it is
unlikely that the relationship between the two sides will get too close. That
said, under current circumstances the two countries will only ease the mutual
After the four-party
summit meeting of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, there was the
U.S.-Japan summit, and then the G7+4 foreign ministers' talks. The U.S. and
South Korea leaders had also just met, and now the U.S.-Russia talks are just
around the corner, while China is being left aside and marginalized. Once the
United States reached this goal, it would realize the tacit understanding and
aspirations of the past Presidents. The U.S. government is now actually getting
close to forge an expansive alliance against China. Even countries that are
unable to join such an alliance for the time being because of their own
interest will at least posit themselves to not joining China against the United
States. With this, all major countries in the world will have to choose a side.
tracking research indicates that the future Russia-U.S. relations will not be exactly
smooth. The anti-Russian factions in the United States will not give up easily,
and neither will Russia's actual threat to the United States simply disappear.
The problem is that even if the contradictions between the United States and
Russia remain, this situation will not change Russia's current basic strategy.
China will still be an important strategic bargaining chip for Russia. For
Russian leaders like Putin who are adepts in geostrategy, they clearly understand
that Russia's greatest window period that allows it return to the global arena
is during the peak of U.S.-China confrontation, that is, the eve of the outbreak
of a nuclear war. At that time, it will be Russia and not the United States that
shall become the key to stop the outbreak of a global nuclear war, which in
reality will actually be a war waged between the U.S. and China.
From another perspective,
China will be facing a daunting future, and it will have little chance to win a
conventional war. If a war breaks out in the Taiwan Strait, the United States
and Western factors will definitely intervene, using nuclear weapons as a
strategic deterrent. When this happens, Russia will stop it, causing the
emergence of subtle "balance of nuclear power" or "nuclear
stability" structure, which is tantamount to stopping war being waged at
the Taiwan Strait. If this does come to pass, then the future world, especially
between the United States and Russia, will at least reach a strategic agreement
on the geo-structural issue of "balance of nuclear power" or
"nuclear stability". This does not refer to the balance of nuclear
confrontation between two countries, but it is about the establishment and maintenance
of a new, stable global balance of power structure related to nuclear power.
This is particularly meaningful for the overall situation of nuclear
proliferation in the current world. Putin will certainly understand this, and
in the current world, only two countries in the world have the will and ability
to transcend geographical scope and consider themselves to bear the
responsibility in maintaining the world; one of them is the United States, and
the other is Russia.
Perhaps now it is the
time for us to calmly observe if this shall be the direction the world is
and Policy Recommendation:
1. Although there are structural problems in both the U.S. and
Russia, under the current geopolitical outlook, the easing of U.S.-Russian
relations has become the general trend. More importantly, both countries have
maintained a certain degree of flexibility and space in this regard.
2. For Russia, China is one of the few and a valuable bargaining
chip. Putin will not easily make a decision that is fatal to China if it is not
3. The complex relationship between China, the United States and
Russia will continue for a period of time, but the overall trend remains rather
unfavorable for China.
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