Moscow loves Beijing. Beijing loves Moscow—for now.
The two countries, the two leaders, the two systems, have a common cause—a strong dislike for what they view as a morally and politically corrupt West and its liberal values.
This is coupled with a firm belief that their 1984-ish censored authoritarian system which has harnessed market forces to state control is the future.
The result is that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are busily jumping in out of each other’s metaphorical beds.
For the first time ever, the Chinese Navy recently sent three warships to participate in a Russian naval manoeuvre in NATO’s Baltic backyard.
On his way to the G20 summit Xi had one stopover—Moscow, to collect Russia’s highest honour, the Order of St Andrew’s.
When Russia staged a military parade to mark the end of the war against Germany, Xi was the guest of honour. When China staged a parade to mark its victory over Japan, Putin was the guest of honour.
China has copied Russia’s stringent laws on NGOs. Russia is learning to apply the Great Firewall to Russian internet users.
In the UN Security Council, the political lovers, either openly support each other or quietly abstain.
When pushed to take a stand on Ukraine, President Xi smiles enigmatically and shrugs. Putin does the same when the South China Sea is mentioned.
In North Korea, little is made of the fact that Russia also borders North Korea; was largely responsible for starting the still unresolved Korean War; provided Pyongyang with the building blocks for its nuclear programme and is being every bit as uncooperative as the Chinese.
But the romance won’t last. Remember the 60s and 70s when the two communist giants nearly came to blows over who should lead the world revolution? The forces of geography, history, culture and the uneven distribution of power and resource between the two countries means that this romance can only end in tears—and perhaps worse.
To start with is the fact that for centuries the two countries have sparred for influence in Central Asia. Russia likes to think they are top dog, as for a long time they literally owned the Asian ‘stans’ such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan , and Kazakhstan. But that is quickly
changing as Chinese money pours into the region and its new silk road or “Belt and Road Initiative” links China to Central Asia and both regions to Europe.
Russia is a political and economic minnow swimming in shark-infested Chinese waters. The only area in which super-fit Judo expert Vladimir Putin excels is military muscle.
Russia is still a nuclear super power. It boasts the world’s largest nuclear arsenal with an estimated 4,300 nuclear warheads compared to 4,000 American warheads and a paltry 260 in China.
It is because of Russia’s imbalance of military versus economic power that Moscow is a greater threat to world peace than Beijing. The Chinese prefer to exercise their power with cash. The result is that they now have a massive stake in the stability of the world order.
Moscow’s only weapon is—well, weapons. It projects political power by destabilising countries and regions through the barrel of a gun. And the Russians love power. Ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin is not alone in wistfully dreaming of the halcyon Cold War days when the dominoes were falling in Moscow’s direction.
In those now long ago years, Russian military was backed up with a political ideology that gave it a world mission. Now it is no more than the underachieving playground bully who seeks dominance through violence. This makes Russia the greater threat to the security of the world and that world includes China.
Tom Arms is the editor of LookAheadnews.com