September 23, 2005
By Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
In foreign policy it's critical to "know thine enemy." So
American policymakers should be aware that Russia and China are
inching closer to identifying a common enemy - the United
The two would-be superpowers held unprecedented joint military
exercises Aug. 18-25. Soothingly named "Peace Mission 2005," the
drills took place on the Shandong peninsula on the Yellow Sea, and
included nearly 10,000 troops. Russian long-range bombers, the
army, navy, air force, marine, airborne and logistics units from
both countries were also involved.
Moscow and Beijing claim the maneuvers were aimed at combating
terrorism, extremism and separatism (the last a veiled reference to
Taiwan), but it's clear they were an attempt to counter-balance
American military might.
Joint war games are a logical outcome of the Sino-Russian
Friendship and Cooperation Treaty signed in 2001, and reflect
the shared worldview and growing economic ties between the two
Eastern Hemisphere giants. As the Pravda.ru Web site announced,
"the reconciliation between China and Russia has been driven in
part by mutual unease at U.S. power and a fear of Islamic extremism
in Central Asia."
Relations between Russia and China have steadily improved since the
mid-1980s. The recent military exercises may have helped renew a
post-World War II alliance they forged against the U.S. It lasted
several years before a bitter split, when Soviet leader Nikita
Khrushchev denounced dictator Joseph Stalin's bloody purges and
refused Chairman Mao an honor to be a co-leader of the global
Today, Moscow and Beijing want to build a multi-polar world. That
would require diluting American global supremacy and opposing the
U.S. rhetoric of democratization. Both sides are willing to bend to
reach those goals. China, for example, supported Russia's
heavy-handed tactics in Chechnya (search). Russia, in turn,
supported China's demands that Taiwan reunite with the
A sign of their newfound cooperation surfaced during the July 6
Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
China and Russia demanded the U.S. provide a timetable for
withdrawing its troops and bases from central Asia.
Geopolitically, China and Russia share interests as well. They both
want to keep insecure central Asian dictators in power, because
those dictators are likely to serve as a counterweight to American
influence. Unfortunately, the harsh regimes may boost the case of
radical Islamists and lead to more extremism and violence in
post-Soviet Muslim areas and the Xinjiang province.
Perhaps more alarming from an American perspective is the close
relationship both China and Russia have with Iran. China has signed
25-year, $50 billion deals to develop and import liquid natural gas
from the giant South Pars field in Iran. Russia benefits from
large-scale contracts with Iran, including construction of the
Bushehr nuclear reactor.
If the U.S. and the three European powers, which failed to
negotiate a halt in the Iranian nuclear program, bring the case
against Tehran to the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China are
likely to block real sanctions. They may threaten to veto a
resolution calling for the use of force to terminate Iran's
Moscow and Beijing want to work together because each country now
views the other as its "strategic rear." Given this reality, the
U.S. should take prudent steps to drive a wedge between Russia and
China. To do that, the Bush administration should:
-Work with Russia to battle radical Islamic groups in Central Asia.
Opposing Islamic terrorism and militancy is a joint interest for
the two powers. Washington should help develop joint energy,
services and manufacturing projects in Central Asia among, for
example, Russian, Turkish and Indian firms.
-Increase intelligence monitoring of relations between Russia and
China, especially in national security areas. Intelligence
gathering should focus on the condition of Russian forces in the
Far East, including the possibility of the Russian Pacific Fleet's
intercepting the U.S. Seventh Fleet in any confrontation in the
East China Sea.
-Strengthen military and security cooperation with India and Japan.
The U.S. should work with them to secure shipping lanes and develop
Central Asia and the Russian Far East to offset China's growing
Despite strides in Sino-Russian rapprochement, Moscow remains
nervous about China, especially its intentions in the Russian far
east and Siberia. Riding the Chinese dragon may well prove even
less comfortable for the Russians than they anticipate.
At that point, they may wish to renew a genuine partnership with
the United States. But until then, we must monitor this emerging
partnership carefully - and work to keep it from getting too
Cohen is research fellow for Russian and Eurasian
studies at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on FoxNews.com
In foreign policy it's critical to "know thine enemy." So American policymakers should be aware that Russia and China are inching closer to identifying a common enemy — the United States.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
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