American perceptions of Sino-Russian relations

by Qurat Ul Ain Shabbir

US perceives lack of common interests, resistance to US hegemony, and the reduction in western influence have prompted Russia and China to pursue strategic partnership which has potential to affect US interests globally. Both Russia and China have challenged US supremacy in their priority sphere of influence. Russia has given tough time to US in Europe and Middle East whereas China in Asia pacific and its maritime peripheries. The dynamics of their relationship are such that they challenge US not only politically, economically and in security domains but have also undermined US position in Europe, Middle East and Asia.  There is also this perception in US foreign policy makers that Russia and China are undermining US through bilateral relations in multilateral forums with US archrivals like North Korea, Iran and Syria. They are now viewed as a revisionist state who are challenging global and regional order backed by US.

The US national defense strategy summarized in 2018 that the biggest challenge to US prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term strategic competition by Russia and China whom were named as revisionist states in the summary. These policies declarations portray a different picture from two year earlier, when Trump resumed power as a president of US. There were speculations among foreign policy analysts and makers that he would pursue the path of rapprochement with Russia. One of the purposes for pursing such policy was to keep Russia away from China. This was thought to be done through strong US-Russia relations. This triangular diplomacy was in the line of Henry Kissinger’s diplomacy of 1970s. The only difference was that this time China and Russia share cordial relations which wasn’t the case during that time. But Trump’s effort went all in vein due to domestic back clash on what was perceived to be Russian meddling in 2016 presidential elections. But many US analysts view that Henry Kissinger kind of diplomacy in today’s world was bound to fail due to lack of context which was there during Cold war. Russia and China have learnt their lessons and moved beyond their cold war rivalry. There is realization among both countries that their prosperity and national security depend on their close bilateral relations.

Moreover, there is growing perception within US that Russian arms trade with China is not all about economics. China is the most important recipient of Russian arms and military equipment.  Initially Russia was reluctant to transfer sophisticated arms to China fearing it would further strengthen Chinese leverage in their bilateral relations. The S-400 missile system deal in 2014 was declared as a viable financial decision by both Russia and China but US viewed it as strategic partnership that would undermine its positions. Despite their diplomatic and strategic divergences such as Russia’s export of three-kilo class submarines to Vietnam since 2009 which sent a message of deterrence to China. But regardless of ideological and strategic differences, their partnership has clearly challenged that US hegemony globally. US perceives this convergence of interests as a soft “alliance” against US. There is growing perception within US that resetting its equation with Russia and China both is a need of time given the declining US influence in the world.

Arms trade between Russia and China has always been an important component of their bilateral cooperation. This trade does not just provide Russia with much needed revenue but also strengthen the strategic aspect of their partnership. This bilateral strategic cooperation has always been a source of concern for US policy makers. But there is not much US can do about it as this arm trade will likely to continue as long as China become independent enough to make its own arms. Such situation can threaten US global supremacy.

The most important implication for US is that both Russia and China share a threat perception with regard to US global hegemony. They consider US as a military and technologically superior rival whose interests are in direct clash with theirs. Teaming up against US global and regional interests is one of the most significant implications that US needs to work on.

Despite having reservation on Central Asia’s reorientation toward China, Russia showed little to no resistance in countering Chinese influence. The reason for such policy is to prevent Sino-Russian relations from going bitter. According to some analysts Russia might have come to terms that China is an economic power and as for now Russia is not capable enough to challenge China in this domain. This situation is very tricky for US whose regional interests are at stake due to this bilateral cooperation of two regional powers. China can have access to European market through Central Asia is another implication of Sino-Russian relationship for US.

United states of America’s global influence is in decline which is a major cause of concern among US policy makers. This also explains Trump’s America first policy and why US policy makers are now thinking to stop their liberal values at border and not to promote democracy and political reform anywhere in the world. As this policy have antagonize both Russia and China to the point where they have teamed up against US hegemony in the world.

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