First it was Blake and Gwen, then Meghan and Harry. Now everyone is asking: What’s up with Vlad and Jinping? The answer: It’s rough times ahead for the China-Russia bromance.
Beijing and Moscow share a common daydream of an isolated and diminished America that allows them to run amok around the world. But shared dreams alone are not a solid foundation for a long-term relationship.
For starters, China’s approach to geopolitics is best summed up by Rick’s classic line in the film “Casablanca”: “I stick my neck out for nobody.”
Sure, Beijing green-lighted Russia’s war of aggression and provided political cover for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the United Nations. After all, it cost China nothing and discombobulated the West. And it’s more than happy to buy steeply discounted oil from Moscow.
China would probably do much more for Russia, too, as long as it couldn’t be held accountable for it. But take a real risk for Russia? I think not.
Washington recently warned that Beijing is considering sending arms and military aid to Moscow. The Chinese foreign minister denied that Wednesday. Who knows what the ground truth is? Still, it would be out of character for China to take a risk that didn’t directly offer a big payoff. Arms to Russia offers no such thing. Instead of untrained Russians being killed carrying Russian equipment, they’d be killed with Chinese equipment. That would not be a good look for China.
From China’s perspective, the war in Ukraine is a win-win. If Russia crushes Ukraine: Europe is divided, destabilized and distracted; the U.S. role in Europe is diminished; and NATO finds itself on shaky ground. That puts China in a stronger position globally.
If Moscow fails, it opens plenty of opportunities for Beijing to expand its influence in Central Asia, Mongolia and perhaps even parts of the Russian Federation. With luck, it might be able to supplant Russian influence in some places.
Beijing has only one goal coming out of the war against Ukraine: to make the world a better place for China.
The best way for America and its allies to lower the threats a Russian-China détente pose is to make Russia a less desirable ally for China. Every day, Ukraine diminishes Russia’s conventional military capability. That helps. And every day, Europe is weaning itself from its dangerous dependence on Russian oil and gas. That helps, too.
With only a gutted Putin by his side, even the Taiwan-coveting Xi Jinping should think twice about doing something rash, à la Putin. But to make sure the Chinese dictator refrains from tossing his weight around, the United States will need to get its own act together.
We need domestic policies that set the stage for a roaring economy, one that’s not dependent on doing business with China. We need a Navy that scares the heck out of Beijing. And we need to make sure China can’t outmatch our nuclear arsenal or overwhelm our missile defense.
China is happy to be friends with a war-mongering Russia, as long as Beijing is the dominant partner and the friendship comes with significant benefits. The United States and the rest of the West ought to work to make this a worse partnership than bringing together Bridezilla and the most repulsive Bachelor ever.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post