The fear for future joint military operations led by the Sino-Russian axis remains vivid, while the relevance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an alternative to the Western power alignment cannot be overlooked.
The 2001 Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, signed by China and Russia, has thrust the two countries towards growing relationships and economic cooperation in the last ten years. As a matter of fact, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that followed just one month later, provided the general framework conducive to improve relations among its members (China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) on economic, security and energetic issues, while on the other hand the organization, by covering the 60% of the Eurasia landmass, posed itself as the political bulwark against further U.S. penetration in the region.
Political and economic ties between China and Russia, former Cold War rivals, have deepened steadily in the afore-mentioned fields, as the last SCO international meeting held in Beijing on the 6th and 7th June has confirmed. According to the Russian press agency Interfax, Sino-Russian bilateral trade approached $100 billion this year, backed by an impressive 40% annual rate in the past two years. In addition, the two partners have called to further stabilizing their economic ties, by signing a mutual fund of $4 billion worth, in order to develop reciprocal and broader investments in mining and consumer goods industries, infrastructure, agriculture and power plant construction, and to double trade figures to $200 billion by 2020.
Another relevant point discussed in Beijing has concerned military and security cooperation in the Asiatic area. The Chinese PLA relies massively on Russian military technologies purchasing, even though the higher devices are not being sold to Chinese anymore. Despite this partial refusal due to Russian security concerns, both the major Asiatic powers are willing to maintain naval joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, as opposed to the U.S.-Vietnamese ones which occurred in the last months. Indeed, by publicly promoting these operations as pillar in guaranteeing regional security on the bases of international law, the strategic non-declared objective is to limit the American influence in the region after the announced 60% redeployment of its naval forces in Asia.
Finally, both Russia and China, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, have stressed rejection of military intervention in the affairs of Syria, in order to halt all acts of violence on those territories and to respect comprehensive national dialogue on the basis of Syria’s unity, sovereignty and independence. The shady statement, adopted by the Organization’s six members of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, put together different and contradictory principles, on one hand by calling upon the international community to respect the principles and basics of the UN Charter and the rules of the international law, on the other by recalling the independent choices of the region’s peoples.
Alongside common strong economic, security and diplomatic positions, the relationship between Russia and China suffers from some minor disagreements, mostly due to disputes over Russian unwillingness to sell its fighter jets and other military hardware to China, and the longstanding wrangle between Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. about the price of gas to be delivered by two Siberian pipelines: Russia prefers to link gas prices to oil prices, as it does in Europe, while China wants a lower price.
Despite these marginal questions, the strategic and political alliance between Russia and China is improving day by day, partially disguised by the shroud of fog provided by the SCO. As a matter of fact, it’s clear how its two major powers and their respective national interests lead such a multilateral organization, whose most important concern is to promote a multipolar world and, accordingly, to limit the influence of the United States both in East and Central Asia. In fact, it’s no coincidence that in the last SCO summit the special guest was the Afghan President Hamid Karzai (along with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad): in order to secure Chinese and Russian energetic and geopolitical interests in the country after the first U.S. troops withdraws, Putin and Hu Jintao have both declared a desire to increase their military presence throughout Central and South Asia. In addition, this new alignment should be, according to the Chinese head of state, the regional tool of management in the foreseeable future.
In conclusion, the future alliance between Russia and China could be seen through two different perspectives: from a more naïve and cooperative standpoint, it should not be viewed as a threat to U.S. strategic national interests, rather as a new form of collective security concurrent with the American strategic and regional interests related to the prevention of terrorism in Central Asia (as a form of “thanksgiving” towards the U.S. and NATO after years of Russian and Chinese free-riding). Conversely, leaving the Eurasia heartland to Russia and China, along with the likely strengthening of the Chinese presence in East Asia, could be a risky bet to win for the U.S. Indeed, recent rumours by the Persian service of the Fars News Agency have revealed an imminent joint war game in Syria, according to which 90,000 forces will be involved, along with 400 warplanes, 1,000 tanks, plus several Russian and Iranian battleships, submarines and 12 Chinese warships (whose passage through the Suez Canal would be granted by Egypt). Even if Syrian and Russian officials have promptly denied the news (that has coincidentally come out with the worsening of the Syrian situation on international level), the fear for future joint military operations led by the Sino-Russian axis remains vivid, while the relevance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an alternative to the Western power alignment cannot be overlooked.