United against the USA? How far does cooperation between China and Russia go

China and Russia signed an agreement this week to develop a lunar space research station. According to a statement from space agencies of the two nations, the International Lunar Science Station, which will be built on or in the Moon, will conduct a wide range of scientific research, including exploration and use of the Moon, and will be open to interested countries and international partners. “China and Russia are committed to cooperation in the areas of space technology, space science, and space applications,” says the statement published on March 9.

The integration of aerospace research between the two countries must have caught the attention of the West, even though the project’s objective is scientific and not military since competition between great and new powers in outer space has accelerated in recent years. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) recognized this in a report on future challenges, published last year.

“In recent years, an increasing number of actors have entered the space, with concomitant increases in the risks of accidents or hostile action. The development of new sophisticated military technologies by Russia and China threatens the security of the Allies in this field and has made outer space a new theater for geopolitical competition ”.

The same report recommends that NATO designate “a special unit within the JISD [Joint Intelligence and Security Division] to monitor and evaluate how Russia-China cooperation in the military, technological and political fields, including coordination in disinformation and hybrid war, impacts Euro-Atlantic security ”.

Political opposition to the West, especially the United States, has strengthened the relationship between China and Russia. Both are targets of US sanctions. Meanwhile, the European Union, which no longer has such a good relationship with the Kremlin, is considering imposing sanctions against Chinese politicians because of human rights violations in Xinjiang province. This should upset Beijing deeply because the Chinese government considers that any condemnation of what happens in its territory is undue interference in China’s internal affairs.

In a call between Beijing and Moscow at the end of last year, China’s President Xi Jinping said that his government would work “unswervingly” to develop an ever-closer partnership with Russia and that “strategic cooperation between China and Russia can effectively resist any attempt to suppress and divide the two countries ”.

This approach is not new, but it has been accelerating since the United States shifted the focus of its foreign defense policy to the East. In addition to cooperation in areas of scientific, technological, and military research, both are aligned on some international issues, such as the crisis in Myanmar, to name an example.

There are internal factors that allow this approach: the Kremlin does not see China’s rise as a threat to its regime, while Beijing appreciates the support it receives from Russia on the international stage. And also economic: with American and European sanctions, Russian industries have come to rely more on the Chinese market, and, in contrast, Russia is becoming an important energy supplier to China.

All of this has prompted speculation about a formal alliance between China and Russia, especially after Russian President Vladimir Putin said the hypothesis should not be ruled out, although Beijing and the Kremlin consider that a military alliance, such as NATO, is not necessary because the relationship between them “is already strong enough”.

The limits of cooperation between China and Russia

Despite the friendship, there are conflicts of interest in this relationship. One example, according to China-Russia relationship researchers Natasha Kuhrt and Marcin Kaczmarski, is China’s aggressive stance on India and other Russian allies in the Indopacific region. “In response to the clashes on the Sino-Indian border, Moscow has done its best to mitigate both partners and remain neutral. An alliance with Beijing would make this policy much more difficult, ”they wrote.

Forming an alliance could also jeopardize their economic interests because it would inevitably pose the United States and its allies as enemies. Despite geopolitical tension, both China and Russia want to expand their trade relations with the United States and Europe. The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is an example of Russian interest in the European market – despite pressure from the United States for the project to be aborted. China has its economy deeply tied to the United States, its main trading partner and with whom it is expected to resume bilateral negotiations next week.

Therefore, transmitting the idea that a defense alliance between Russia and China is possible, at this moment, is more interesting for both governments than actually having one, according to Kuhrt and Kaczmarski, because in this way, they do not lose room for maneuver in their relations international standards.

The tightening of cooperation observed in recent years is more a form of defense and mutual support against Western discourse – and its sanctions – than a real intention to create a military alliance. This would only occur in the future in which the United States and its allies were simultaneously jeopardizing the security of China and Russia.

Source: with Agencies

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