The Ukraine crisis became a turning point in the revival of the strategic partnership between Russia and China. The most obvious sign of a shift in partnership is the defense engagement between Russia and China, which is today set to include cooperation in sensitive areas such as strategic missile defence, hypersonic technology and the construction of nuclear submarines. Although there are growing disputes over Russia becoming a “junior partner” with China, defense cooperation between the two countries reflects the opposite. Despite China indigenizing its defense industry since 2000, it remains largely dependent on Russia for high-end weapons and technical support. President Putin recently revealed that Russia has agreed to help its Chinese allies build a missile strike warning system. This would greatly enhance China’s defense capability and would join the United States and Russia in the list of nations that have such systems.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday described Russia as Beijing’s “most important diplomatic partner” amid China’s continued refusal to condemn the attack on Ukraine. Wang Yi said that China’s relations with Moscow are “one of the most important bilateral relations in the world”. “No matter how dangerous the international scenario may be, we will maintain our diplomatic position and continue to promote the development of comprehensive China-Russia partnership in the new era,” he told a press conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s parliament. The friendship between the people of both the countries is strong. This statement of China has come at a time when Russia has inflicted the wounds of a never-ending war on Ukraine, on which the whole world is raising its voice against Russia. But China is sprinkling salt on these wounds.
The main thesis of this essay is that in a world increasingly shaped by U.S.-Chinese superpower rivalry, the United States is clearly interested in preventing China and Russia from becoming too close; China appreciates its close partnership with Russia, but, as essentially a solo player, is neither ready nor willing to enter into a military alliance with it; and Russia, a major independent international actor but not a superpower like the other two, seeks to maintain an equilibrium, though not equidistance, vis-à-vis China, America, and their rivalry. This state of affairs within the geopolitical and military triangle is likely to continue until a major crisis in U.S.-Chinese relations—e.g., over Taiwan—which would put the two countries on the brink of a military collision and make them energize their alliances and partnerships.