Moscow was shocked when US President Richard Nixon drove a wedge between the Soviet Union and China 50 years ago, but now Russia is returning, analysts said Wednesday as they assessed the dynamics between the US and China and Russia. Vladimir Putinthe threat of further invading Ukraine.
Since 2014, Putin’s Russia has effectively exploited Beijing’s growing enchantment and frustration with the United States, amplified by Donald Trump’s government’s confrontational policies.
“Putin played the China card on us,” said Evan Medeiros, president of Asian Studies at Georgetown University. “And it’s been very, very successful. So … the challenges of trying to break them down are significant.”
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Relations between Russia and China were strengthened when President Xi Jinping supported Moscow’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, analysts said, support that could be reciprocated if Beijing tries to take Taiwan by force.
“It simply came to our notice then Putin sense of confidence and helps explain why Putin considers it his time to push his maximalist demands, ”said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
‘He knows he has a partner in crime. He has Xi in his corner. They are working together now to really push back and try to change the order that they see does not benefit any of them. ”
The U.S. government is also sounding the alarm about these efforts, with State Department spokesman Ned Price pointing to the lengthy communiqué issued by Moscow and Beijing earlier this month as evidence of a shared vision of a “destructive” new world order.
“This is an order that is and would be deeply illiberal, an order that stands in contrast to the system that countries around the world – including Russia in general, and in some ways [China] – has built over the last seven decades, “Price said on Wednesday.
He called on Beijing instead to use its “significant influence” on Moscow to urge Putin to refrain from violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, noting that the inviolability of territorial sovereignty was an integral part of China’s own sovereignty.
But analysts said the chances of the United States once again running a wedge between Beijing and Moscow were significantly diminished by how different conditions are now.
China is no longer the weak nation it was in 1972. Washington was also able to exploit other cracks, such as China’s fears of a Russian attack following their border clash in 1969, and some Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai, who advocated reforms and greater ties with the West.
Now the two autocratic nations are far stronger in line on many points, including common defense interests and their distrust of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and free media.
“While China does not directly and openly support Russia, there are areas of their partnership that they can still continue to work together and deepen, and that are a consequence for the United States,” Kendall-Taylor said.
But their national interests are far from identical, with differences including their respective penchants for stability, analysts said at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The Chinese do not want a collapse of the global order … China’s progress has been facilitated by globalization. They just want globalization more on their terms, increasingly in terms of making the United States and other Western economies worse off,” said Medeiros, who served as the top political adviser to Asia-Pacific in President Barack Obama’s administration. “Putin wants to break it.”
China also has significant economic and political interests in Ukraine as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which may be undermined by protracted disruption and war.
“They’ll have to balance it with the kind of support that we’re seeing them give Russia now,” said Angela Stent, emerita director of Georgetown’s Russian studies department. “I think we’ll have to see the reaction to the sanctions.”
Tuesday the US President Joe Biden announced sanctions against two major Russian banks and Russia’s sovereign debt in response to Putin’s deployment of “peacekeeping” forces into Ukraine’s eastern breakaway regions.
He extended the sanctions on Wednesday to include sanctions against the company building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
U.S. analysts said the natural rifts could eventually pull China and Russia apart, but any gap could be far-reaching given the strength of their current common interests.
Others questioned the logic of trying to widen the rift between China and Russia at all, arguing that this only risked pushing the two authoritarian states closer together.
“I think we spent way too much time, especially in Washington … thinking about how to separate Russia from China,” said Michael McFaul, a professor of international studies at Stanford University.
“We should think much more strategically about how we unite the democratic world.”
With about half of the world’s GDP, the United States and its allies are in a strong position to stand up to Russia and China, Price said, adding: “We have innovation, we have entrepreneurship, we have a common set of values that we really believe is a core instrument of national power. “
McFaul said the strongest U.S. asset is not its computer chips, aircraft carriers or soldiers. “That’s our ideas. That’s where we’re strongest against Xi Jinping,” he said. “That’s where the world is on our side.”
Analysts noted the irony in that the wedge strategy was running around.
“The United States today is in the same situation as the Soviet Union was in the early 1970s,” Stent said.
“And today, the United States is in the position where we see these two powers meet. I think it is impossible at the moment to try to convince Russia that it should weaken its ties with China.”
Additional reporting by Owen Churchill
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