Russia and China are strengthening ties across virtually every dimension of their relationship. Yet Washington is divided over what these growing ties portend. The conventional wisdom has long held that the Chinese-Russian relationship will remain distant and distrustful—that each country will keep the other at arm’s length. Observers such as the American Enterprise Institute’s Leon Aron (“Are Russia and China Really Forming an Alliance?”) cite a litany of barriers—historic mistrust, economic and military asymmetries, and lingering tensions on several foreign policy issues—that make the Chinese-Russian partnership an unnatural and unlikely one. In short, today’s skeptics argue that concerns about deepening Chinese-Russian relations are overblown and that the two powers are unlikely to enter into a formal alliance.
The conventional wisdom no longer applies. Already, the depth of relations between Beijing and Moscow has exceeded what observers would have expected just a few years ago. Moreover, the two countries acting in concert could inflict significant damage on U.S. interests even if they never form an alliance. In fact, whether Russia and China are becoming formal allies is not really the relevant question today. Rather, the questions policymakers should be asking are how deep their partnership will grow, how it will affect U.S. interests, and what Washington can do to shape its trajectory and ameliorate its negative effects on the United States and other democracies.
TIES THAT BIND
Russia and China have long shared a common complaint: since the end of the Cold War, both powers have been uneasy with the United States and the international order it dominates, which they feel disadvantages them. But although Russia and China may have initially banded together in discontent, their repeated interactions are fostering a deeper and enduring partnership. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi put it in a press conference in March, Beijing’s relations with Moscow are increasingly “steady and mature.” As Moscow and Beijing work together on areas of mutual interest, from North Korea to the Iran nuclear
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