China and Russia are not allies, but convenience partners. In recent years they have intensified cooperation in all kinds of areas. They have often coordinated their vote on the UN Security Council. Their main common interest is their joint opposition to the US.
In May, Russia’s Vladimir Putin said relations with China had reached “the highest point in history”. Their navies held joint exercises in the western Pacific for the first time in October.
According to US RAND Corporation war games, the US could win a major war against Russia or China, but not both at the same time. In the simulations, US troops are colored blue. A RAND analyst, David Ochmanek, said in 2019, “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, Blue gets his ass handed over.”
In the war games, the US was able to defend its own territory but not that of its allies against a Russian and Chinese attack.
Biden is dealing diplomatically with both superpowers to avert disaster. He held a virtual summit with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, three weeks ago to “responsibly manage” competition between the two powers, as the White House put it, with Taiwan at the top of the agenda. Biden told Xi that the US “strongly opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.
Beijing’s military committed 159 break-ins in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in November. That is the second highest number on record, and the third consecutive month that the People’s Liberation Army air force has sent more than 100 warplanes to Taiwan’s buffer zone. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a weekend address that “it looks a lot like they are exploring their true capabilities and it certainly looks a lot like rehearsals” for a mainland invasion.
China’s only formal known deadline for its “unification” with Taiwan is 2049. Beijing has always said it prefers peaceful means but will use force if necessary.
Speculation about a much earlier hold from Beijing to Taiwan has intensified with his campaign of intimidation. Mainland armed forces “appear to be preparing for their latest military strike on Taiwan,” Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said earlier this year.
And now Biden has scheduled a virtual summit for tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to “underline US concerns about Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” according to the White House announcement.
According to a Pentagon estimate, Russia has gathered 70,000 troops along its border with Ukraine in recent weeks. Ukraine says there are actually 94,000. Russian-backed forces invaded parts of Ukraine in 2014 and the intermittent war continues. It is estimated that about 14,000 people have died.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said over the weekend there was “evidence that Russia is planning significant aggressive steps against Ukraine”. The Washington Post published US estimates that Russia aimed to muster and invade up to 174,000 troops early next year.
Over the weekend, Biden said he was putting together “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Putin to go ahead and do what people fear he will do.”
Great uncertainty around both theatres. The Chinese and Russian military movements could only be feints. Xi and Putin are masters of the ‘grey zone’ or ‘hybrid’ war, using all means to fight. China may be trying to give the impression of inevitability about its takeover of Taiwan so that it can win without fighting. Similarly, Russia could use its military as a bargaining chip to negotiate with the US-led NATO alliance — Ukraine wants to join the alliance and Putin demands it can’t — rather than as an invasion force. Putin denies any intention to invade.
And while Beijing and Moscow are growing closer, coordinated warfare would go far beyond any cooperation they conducted in the post-Soviet era. A more likely scenario would be that one hits its target and the other seizes the opportunity of American preoccupation to launch its own attack. The uncertainties are great, the risks immense.
The panda and brown bear are not thought to be able to interbreed to produce hybrid offspring, but each is capable of causing a lot of chaos on its own.
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