Could China-Russia Alliance Be Broken in 2023?

‘This is the key moment to use Chinese weakness to push for a breakup of an alliance that only appears to be getting stronger given the enhanced military cooperation between the two nations recently.’

Alexandr Demyanchuk, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Presidents Xi, left, and Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan, September 15, 2022. Alexandr Demyanchuk, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Will 2023 be the year America finds ways to break the unholy alliance between Communist China and revanchist Russia?

On the face of it, undermining the Sino-Rus axis seems like a mission impossible. Both countries are ruled by authoritarian strongmen, and they are united by their desire to replace the American-led world order with their own model.

Despite historic enmities, this point in time seems ideal for Moscow and Beijing to close ranks. Russia needs financial aid to keep its Ukraine war going. China is thirsty for oil. President Putin commands a powerful nuclear arsenal. Chairman Xi’s military is growing. 

Both countries threaten their neighbors, as well as faraway places like Africa, the Mideast, and Latin America. Both are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, where they ally against America and Europe. 

Looking closer, however, the despotic Kremlin leader is very different from his Beijing counterpart. 

Mr. Putin is the rowdy boy who breaks the rules. All id, he often pushes his dwindling pile of poker chips to the middle of the table, playing a high-stakes game with rules he has made up. Poking everyone in the eye is his favorite modus operandi.

Mr. Xi is the master of the long game. He calculates, and moves deliberately. Rather than breaking it all up, he builds toward a Beijing-led future that according to his plans would bury America by 2050. 

In a September summit at Uzbekistan, the two announced “no limit” to their friendship. Yet, these differences point elsewhere.

Mr. Xi has expressed neither support nor opposition to his ally’s Ukraine war. He has backed the Kremlin financially, but at least overtly did so without breaking global sanctions against Russia. 

Differences in style at times point to deeper mistrust, as the following diplomatic faux pas can attest: Earlier this year the Russian press quoted a top Beijing legislator, Li Zhanshu, as saying that Communist China “understands and supports Russia.” Beijing went ballistic. Mr. Li’s remarks to Kremlin officials were made off the record, and by airing them Moscow undermined Beijing’s public pretense of neutrality. 

Yet, is it really a pretense? How long can Mr. Xi continue to bankroll a war that to date has yielded few Russian victories? While Russia is China’s third-largest energy supplier, would Beijing risk defying American-led sanctions?

America and European allies have imposed a cap of $60 a barrel on Russian oil exports. On Tuesday, Mr. Putin announced Russia would not sell oil to any country that abides by the cap. Now, a bipartisan Senate proposal threatens secondary sanctions against banks, insurers, brokers, and other institutions that abet Moscow in exceeding the price cap. Can Beijing risk facing such consequences?

Remember, Communist China can’t afford to be shunned from the global economy, as Russia is. Especially not now, as Mr. Xi’s recent abrupt exit from his disastrous zero-Covid policy threatens to further drag down the already-depressed Chinese economy. 

“This is the key moment to use Chinese weakness to push for a breakup of an alliance that only appears to be getting stronger given the enhanced military cooperation between the two nations recently,” a Democratic political strategist, Douglas Schoen, told the Sun. 

Mr. Schoen’s book, “The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership,” exposed Washington’s weaknesses in facing the alliance. Now, he says America could utilize China’s current troubles to undermine the partnership. 

By “using all the different forms of leverage at our disposal,” Washington must pressure Beijing “to get the Russians to stand down in Ukraine, and at the very least offer a peace proposal to Ukraine where they offer to return to the 1991 borders,” Mr. Schoen said. 

Such a move would undermine the alliance, as it “will no doubt enrage the Putin government and lead to a fissure between the two nations,” he added, “especially if there is a public statement or leak to this effect.”  

A former American national security adviser, John Bolton, has proposed another path to weaken the alliance: using America’s tightening relations with India, which has strong military ties with Russia but is wary about Communist China. 

Washington could convince the Indians that “they’ve either got to disentangle themselves from their reliance on the Russians” or “pull the Russians away from China,” because if they can’t, they’ll “find themselves vulnerable to Chinese pressure via Moscow,” Mr. Bolton told the Sun’s Caroline Vik.

Sharing a long border, Russia and China are far from natural allies. In 1972, President Nixon used historic differences between the two Communist regimes to divide them. Washington would benefit from studying that strategy now to undermine a bloc that threatens America’s future.   

The New York Sun

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