Americans are routinely warned of the stronger and growing alliance between China and Russia. As tensions increase in the Indo-Pacific and open warfare rages for over a year in Ukraine after the Russian unprovoked and barbaric invasion, the US and its allies must deal with the Xi and Putin relationship. The most immediate problem for the West is whether Beijing will backfill Moscow’s warfighting equipment and weapons lost in Ukraine. Despite warnings from the US not to enter into the Ukraine fight by providing lethal aid to the Kremlin, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears prepared to do just that.
On a weekend talk show, Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempted to clarify the US position. “The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they’re going to provide lethal support. And we’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship,” Blinken said on Face the Nation. In a side-bar discussion at a recent international security gathering in Munich, Germany, the US chief diplomat warned his CCP counterpart, Wang Yi, that Chinese support for Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would have “serious” consequences. As is often the case when US and China diplomats talk, whatever our State Department wants to discuss, the Chinese foreign ministry dismisses Blinken’s concern and changes the subject. The Chinese diplomat “scolded Washington as ‘hysterical’ in a running dispute over the US downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon,” Reuters reported.
China and Russia Relationship Concerns US
In answer to a reporter’s question on the US position on the China-Russia bond of friendship, “I’m not going to weigh in too much on the visit from the – Wang Yi’s visit to Russia. I will just say that his travel there on the eve of one year of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, is further evidence that the PRC continues to align itself with Moscow, even as Moscow wages this brutal war,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told a press conference. With geopolitical emotions running high between Washington and Beijing, the Biden foreign policy team’s warning could fall on deaf ears.
Nonetheless, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has not made a firm decision to provide lethal aid to Russia. Analyst Hlib Parfonov, who recently wrote about the new Russian offensive in Ukraine for the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, DC, told Task & Purpose:
“If China ultimately decides to arm the Russians, it has the ability to provide Russia with crucially needed munitions, including 122mm and 152mm artillery shells along with rockets for BM-21 Grad and BM-30 Smerch Multiple Launch Rocket Systems…The Chinese could send the Russians trucks to replace some of their losses from the failed drive on Kyiv as well as armored vehicles such as the Type 86 infantry fighting vehicle, a Chinese version of the Soviet BMP-1 [Armored Personnel Carrier].”
The closer the Kremlin and the CCP, the more complicated the consequence of the relationship becomes. While Moscow focuses on Kyiv, Beijing has Taiwan in its sights as its near-term geopolitical prize. It is not lost on the PRC that the US is drawing down its warfighting inventory to support Ukraine. In the long game, the CCP would be pleased to wait out the conflict in Ukraine in the hope that:
- The American people will get tired of the US being in the midst of what appears to be a perpetual war with no end in sight, or
- The US will decide the juice is not worth the squeeze, and US dollars and fighting forces would be better spent elsewhere.
In either case, China has a better opportunity to take Taiwan peacefully or by force, as it has continuously threatened. Cozying up to Russia strengthens the PRC’s position in the Indo-Pacific region. It drives the US to make more difficult strategic choices regarding where to put potentially decreasing and limited resources. Even with an $857 billion defense budget, attempting to shore up Ukraine’s defense capability in real-time and paying the bill for nuclear modernization while building a warfighting capability against China is a tough challenge.
Putin Boasts of the China and Russia Bond
According to the Washington Examiner, during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s recent visit to Moscow, Putin boasted: “Russian-Chinese relations are developing as we planned in previous years…Cooperation in the international arena between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, as we have repeatedly said, is very important for stabilizing the international situation.” For the CCP and Kremlin, “stabilizing the international situation” means eliminating the US as a global power.
Regardless of how foreign policy pundits look at the developing relationship between China and Russia, unless handled adroitly, the partnership bodes ill for the US. The Biden administration’s track record for dealing successfully with either Russia or China is not comforting.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.