China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats observed in the intelligence community’s most recent threat assessment that “China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s.” Although U.S. observers have feared such an alignment for decades, there is ample evidence that relations between the two are indeed closer than they have been since the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s.
In July 2017, the two countries’ navies conducted a joint exercise in the Baltic Sea for the first time. In September 2018, China participated in Russia’s annual Vostok military exercise — another first. Russia has also sold China advanced military equipment, including an S-400 air defense system and 24 SU-35 fighter aircraft.
According to Chinese government data, bilateral trade grew from $69.6 billion in 2016 to $84.2 billion in 2017 to $107.1 billion last year, marking the first time that that figure surpassed $100 billion. Moreover, despite facing setbacks in diversifying away from the U.S. dollar, Beijing and Moscow are conducting more of that trade, albeit still in small amounts, in their own currencies.
Russia became China’s largest supplier of crude oil in 2016, displacing Saudi Arabia, and it is contracted to sell China 1.3 trillion feet of cubic gas annually for three decades, beginning this year, through its Power of Siberia pipeline.
Finally, Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited Moscow more than any other capital city since he assumed power. As of August 2018, he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had met 26 times. In June 2018, moreover, Xi gave Putin China’s first-ever friendship medal, calling him “my best, most intimate friend.”
It is not surprising, then, that U.S. analysts are increasingly concerned by the multifaceted momentum in Sino-Russian relations. In a speech that he delivered at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Oslo in December 2016, former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (who passed away in 2017) warned that Washington “must be wary of the great danger that China and Russia could form a strategic alliance, generated in part by their own internal, political, and ideological momentum, and in part by the poorly thought out policies of the United States. Nothing,” he concluded, would be “more dangerous” to U.S. national interests than such an outcome.
Additional reporting by James Dobbins, Howard J. Shatz, and Ali Wyne edited for reproduction by SCF.