Vladimir Putin, the all-powerful Russian President just talked about a possible Russian alliance with China. While talking about the subject during an ongoing video conference, he talked about it in general terms, not ruling out its possibility sometime in the future.
It is quite possible that whatever Putin has said is quite premature and if and when this happens, that is likely to take quite a bit of time. However, given the current state of flux the entire world is in, it will be very critical if this kind of alliance is formalised in near future.
While Putin probably has talked about the idea with the NATO military alliance in the mind, it will be interesting to analyse if China will be agreeable to it and if yes then why. It is quite inconceivable that Russia has come out with this idea on its own without even discussing with China, at least informally.
In course of the said discussions, Putin also spoke of very good relations with China and the high level of trust and mutual understanding existing between the two.
An important component of the bilateral relationships between Russia and China also relates to their joint military exercises and regular strategic and security interactions.
And to top it all, the high level of personal chemistry and bonhomie between Putin and Xi Jinping too has a lot to contribute to this emerging talk of Russia-China alliance.
Xi Jinping-led China with its wolf-warrior diplomacy in the last couple of years has played a highly disruptive role in global politics. It has tried to continue with its coercive politics, from domains of the military to the economy and to the cyber realm.
From building a military base formally at Djibouti to Gwadar (Pakistan) and trying to build more in South East Asia, China is all set to rewrite the rules of the game in international politics and diplomacy. Intimidating all the smaller nations in South China Seas to creating and naming nearly hundreds of islands, seamounts, ridges in the region and threatening Taiwan, almost on a daily basis China so far, has continued to defy the world opinion, still struggling from the deadly effects of Corona pandemic.
Economically too, with its debt diplomacy-driven Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a good number of countries in Asia and Africa are already under the clutches of Chinese neo-imperialism.
The Chinese self-interests, mostly visible in its unending lust for land, resulting in territorial disputes with the maximum number of countries, is quite apparent in its acquiring land fully or on lease from many countries, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and many others in the last few years.
While formally China has continued to stick to a policy of no military alliances aimed against a third country, it has shown no inhibitions on using a third country to target, who it considers adversaries. The examples of using Pakistan and in recent times, Nepal against India and following a Pearl of Strings strategy, is a big example.
Wooing a cornered Iran against the US, Myanmar against the western countries on the Rohingya issue, furthering a rift between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the other instances of Chinese realpolitik.
It is therefore very clear that once its interests, military and economic gets threatened, getting into an alliance might well become a priority for China. However, it will always try to secure that it gets the optimum benefits out of an alliance to be a part of it. And one of the biggest threats that it perceives today is the entry of the US-led QUAD in the South China Seas, challenging its interests in maritime trade as well as the issue of Taiwan.
How uncomforting China is with the issue of QUAD is evident in its reactions to the joining of Australia to the Malabar naval exercise. Even previously, it had dissuaded the Australian government in joining this exercise. With India too, it has repeatedly expressed its displeasure in all the QUAD members, India, US, Japan and Australia conducting this exercise together.
The recent Tokyo meeting of the four foreign ministers together and India’s invitation to Australia to be part of the naval exercise also saw China’s ‘taking note’ of it.
It is certain that China is waiting for the 4th November US Presidential election results. It’s waiting to see if Joe Biden succeeds Donald Trump will bring about a rapprochement with China or if Trump gets back to the White House, then will he continue with his anti-China tirade or gets back to his old ways of deals with China.
And there lies the catch, the very formalisation of a QUAD in a truly military alliance, is all dependent upon the US Presidential election results.
This is the reason that except Pompeo, all the other three foreign ministers of Japan, India and Australia refrained from directly naming China after their meeting in Tokyo. One of the biggest obstacles in the making of QUAD is the very uncertainty associated with the US approach to it.
The other three members seem unsure of the American attitude towards it after the elections. Whether Biden, in case of a win, will be as pro-active towards QUAD or Trump will go an extra mile towards formalising it. With no one sure of Trump’s thinking, not only China but the other members of the QUAD too, are waiting for the outcome of the November 4 US Presidential elections.
From China’s perspective, QUAD will be a huge economic and military challenge to it. Currently, it has huge bilateral trades with QUAD members and maintains a trade surplus with all of them.
A trade of $728 Billion with the US, $380 Billion with Japan, $93 Billion with India and $252 Billion with Australia on a bilateral basis is a huge economic and psychological positive for China. If, however, these countries start trading more amongst themselves or their allies that could hit the Chinese economy very badly.
Militarily QUAD will be a serious challenge for Chinese endeavour to emerge as a serious contender to the US in the next few years. There are informal plans to add countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea and a few others in it.
And many of them have territorial, land or maritime disputes with China. With QUAD as a military alliance in operation, China’s efforts to rule the South China Seas and maintain its strategic eminence there will be severely compromised.
Its major trading lanes at Malacca Straits will always be in danger of getting chocked by the QUAD powers, individually or collectively. And the most important issue of so-called unification of renegade province Taiwan, will all be lost.
Hence, China cannot afford to let QUAD turn up as a formal block to challenge and derail its plans on its way to the perceived Super Power status. In the scenario where QUAD does shape up as a real politico-military alliance on the lines of NATO, there is a real possibility of China entering into a military alliance with Russia and the proposed alliance of Putin, taking a concrete shape.
A Russo-Chinese military alliance then may even add a few more nations and will have very critical politico-security implications for the entire world. A cold war that is being informally talked about in strategic circles currently, could well turn out to be a reality.