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Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties

Is the U.S. Driving Them Closer Together?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a meeting at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 2018. Donat Sorokin / Pool via REUTERS

Early last week, Russia concluded Vostok-2018, its largest military exercise since the fall of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t just their size, however, that made the recent war games so groundbreaking. For the first time in history, 3,200 Chinese troops trained alongside some 300,000 Russians in eastern Siberia. Previously, the Kremlin had issued invitations to take part in such exercises only to formal military allies such as Belarus. Yet when asked at a press conference if the exercise made him worry about a possible Russian-Chinese military alliance, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was dismissive. “I see little in the long term that aligns Russia and China,” he said.

Mattis’ view echoes the Western conventional wisdom, which holds that mistrust between Russia and China is too deep to form meaningful strategic bonds. Yet this view is dangerously wrong. The deepening of military ties between these two former rivals is real,

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