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Watching in 2020: The Growing Relationship Between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation

In 2021, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the Russian Federation referred to their relations as “unprecedented,” evidencing how close the two superpowers are now with one another. Both countries continue to act aggressively on the world stage, with tens of thousands of Russian troops currently on the Russia-Ukraine border and China continuously sending its military fighter jets into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone.

The PRC supports Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position on Ukraine, while the Russian State defends the Chinese State’s behavior towards TaiwanOverwatch analyzed the growing relationship between Russia and China over the last thirteen months. We assessed that Russia and China are progressing towards an alliance around mutual objectives to expand global influence and threaten the U.S. and its interests.

The following information is a timeline of key events in Russia-China relations from December 2020 – January 2022. Events are categorized as either tech, political, economic, or military.

TIMELINE OF RUSSIA-CHINESE RELATIONS
DECEMBER 2020 – JANUARY 2022

Tech: On December 12, 2020, China and Russia designated 2020-2021 as the China-Russia year of Scientific and Technological Innovation. With the announcement, Xu Xinchao, the Vice Chairman of the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, said, “Beijing looks forward to extensive, continuous and in-depth cooperation with Moscow in sci-tech innovation.”

Political: On December 24, 2020, Chinese Foreign Minister Lin Wang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to oppose U.S. moves that “crackdown on Russia and China” and to strengthen their strategic cooperation.

Political: On December 29, 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin said that ties were the “highest” in their nation’s history.

Political: On March 7, 2021, Russia and the PRC agreed to work together to fight disinformation and color revolutions. Color revolutions are protest movements that attempt to influence or completely change a government.

Political: On April 27, 2021, the PRC called Russia a strategic partner of coordination in a New Era.

Economic: On May 19, 2021, Russia and the PRC held a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant, which is a result of a 2018 nuclear energy agreement between both nations. The project is estimated to cost 3 billion USD.

Political: On May 26, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to work with China to restore global stability.

Tech: On July 3, 2021, China and Russia pledged further cooperation on data security, the Arctic, and infrastructure. China and Russia have significant scientific, military, and territorial interests in the Arctic.

Political/Economic: On July 26, 2021, China and Russia offered their support to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Russian has supplied Syria with arms and military support since the civil war started in 2011. However, the PRC does not have a pattern of supporting Syria and invited Syria to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative to help repair its war-torn economy and infrastructure.

Military: On August 9, 2021, the Russian military joined the People’s Liberation Army for five days of military drills in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The drill marked the first time that the Russian military used Chinese-made weapons.

Political/Economic: On August 27, 2021, Russia and China told the Taliban they would help them rebuild Afghanistan.

Military: On September 4, 2021, the Russian Federation offered Sukhoi Su-35 multipurpose combat aircraft to the PRC. In May 2020, China bought 24 Sukhoi Su-35s from Russia for $2.5 billion.

Military: On September 21, 2021, both nations held anti-terror drills together in Orenburg, which is in Southwest Russia.

Tech: On September 24, 2021, Russia announced that it would install GLONASS monitoring systems in China. GLONASS is a satellite system for both civilian and military use. While Russia is installing GLONASS in China, the PRC will install Beidou, the country’s response to the U.S.-owned GPS system.

Political: On October 12, 2021, Russia supports China’s policy on Taiwan, referring to the island as part of China.

Military: On October 15, 2021, Russia and China held Naval Drills in the Sea of Japan.

Military: On October 16, 2021, China tested a hypersonic missile. In response, Russia said, “China is developing arms systems within the framework of its international obligations.”

Military: On October 28, 2021, General John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Washington’s second-most-senior military officer, warns China’s military could surpass the U.S.

Tech: On November 4, 2021, Putin referred to China as a key partner in AI technology.

Military: On November 8, 2021, the PRC and Russia signed a contract to develop a heavy helicopter together.

Tech: On November 17, 2021, China and Russia established the China-Russia Consortium Space Weather Center.

Military: On November 19, 2021, Chinese and Russian aircraft enter South Korea’s KADIZ (Korea Air Defense Identification Zone).

Military: On November 24, 2021, China and Russia signed a roadmap to military cooperation.

Tech: On November 30, 2021, China and Russia launched a joint project in art, tech, science, trade, and research in Qingdao.

Economic: On December 3, 2021, China and Russia said they are developing a long-haul jet together.

Economic: On December 15, 2021, China and Russia agreed to develop an independent financial system aimed at circumventing U.S. sanctions or the U.S. financial system.

Political: On December 24, 2021, President Putin said there is “no limit” for Russia-China cooperation.

Political: On December 31, 2021, China’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, met with the Taliban’s Acting Deputy Prime Minister, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. In the meeting, Wang expressed China’s desire to help with reconstruction of the country and independent development.

Political: On January 4, 2022, Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Mawlawi Sahib Abdul Salam Hanafi met with Russian investors in Afghanistan to discuss oil refineries and the production of a cement plant in the country.

ASSESSMENT

Overwatch assesses continued economic, technological, and military cooperation between China and Russia focused on mutually eroding the U.S. as a global power and enticing investments into European and Asian countries. Russia and the PRC will do more than provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan but invest in the Afghan economy and its infrastructure, creating a larger space for influence over the Taliban and giving both Russia and China some degree of control over Afghanistan’s natural resources.

China and Russia’s stated goals to develop a financial system that circumvents U.S. sanctions illuminates how both nations aim to decrease the power of the U.S. financial network and its reach to punish aggressive acts on the world stage. In the event that the PRC and Russia successfully develop their independent financial system, the U.S. could lose the effective diplomatic leverage of sanctions.

Cooperation between Russia and China is more about common grievances against the United States. The One China policy insists Taiwan is an inalienable part of China that will eventually reunite with mainland China and its government. Similarly, Russia continues to pursue having Ukraine back under Russian control, as it did before the breakup of Soviet states under the USSR. China’s motivations with Taiwan mimic Russia’s motivations for bringing Ukraine back under the Russian state, economic position, and historical cultures. Both motivations share the interest of removing the U.S.’s dominant influence in the region and improving the attraction for other countries to enter into partnerships and trade agreements that bolster China and Russia’s economies.

The increase in joint military exercises, Russian troops using Chinese-made weapons, and the agreement from nations for military cooperation indicate that the relationship between China and Russia’s armed forces will only continue to advance.

In addition, suggesting that China and Russia are now “allies” is premature since the diplomatic definition of an “alliance” is that one will come to the defense of another if attacked. However, expect the tacit cooperation to weaken U.S. influence.

Further, Russia and China will continue to act aggressively globally, which will lead to condemnation from the U.S. That condemnation will likely result in Russia and China launching disinformation campaigns that incite social division within the United States.

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