The Chinese Communist Party would continue to support Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia in the event that it used tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison.
“The answer is yes,” Allison said when asked if China would continue its support of Russia regardless of escalations by Putin.
“Even if it comes to Putin’s use of tactical nuclear weapons on a target in Ukraine.”
Allison, a professor at Harvard University, delivered the remarks as part of an April 19 lecture on the strategic situation between China, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies, a security-focused think tank.
He warned that the United States and China were headed towards a “catastrophic outcome,” due to their increasingly antagonistic rivalry, and that China’s burgeoning alliance with Russia complicated international security given increasing fears that Russia could deploy a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
Allison, who has been a member of the Secretary of Defense’s Defense Policy Board since 1985, cautioned that tensions would continue to worsen due to a lack of understanding in Washington about China’s strategic thinking vis-à-vis Russia.
“Expect things to get worse before they get worse,” Allison said.
“Most people in Washington still cannot accept the fact that Xi has built with Putin’s Russia a functional alliance that is operationally more significant than most of the U.S. treaty alliances.”
The budding alliance between Xi and Putin was solidified on Feb. 4, with the announcement of a “no-limits” partnership, which China later reaffirmed amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Allison said that the greatest challenge would now be to manage the world’s fiercest rivalry between the Chinese regime and the United States without a catastrophic war. It was a point that U.S. military leadership has itself warned of, now that the United States must strategically consider the combined nuclear power of both China and Russia in the event of military hostilities.
To that end, Allison said that policymakers should expect Russia to become “locked into China as a dependency,” and that Xi had done “brilliantly” in manipulating and managing Putin’s ego as a now-junior partner in the arrangement. An arrangement, Allison argued, that could now outlive both leaders.
“Xi has done this … but this will institutionalize Russia’s role as a vassal state, basically providing natural resources for [China],” Allison said.
Allison said that what Chinese communist leadership wanted most was “benign inattention” from the international community, which would allow it to continue to expand its nuclear arsenal and economic coercion with less interference. As such, he said that China would use Russia to keep the international community’s eyes averted from its own actions, and would not interfere with any of Russia’s aggressive actions.
When asked if China could actually leverage its partnership with Russia to displace the United States as the world’s greatest power, Allison’s response was less than optimistic.
“Is that conceivable?” Allison said. “Unfortunately, it is.”
“The Chinese study war way, way, way more seriously than we do.”