Putin and Xi: Friends Enough to Hurt Us

Putin and Xi: Friends Enough to Hurt Us
Russian President Vladimir Putin arriving for a welcoming ceremony for heads of delegations participating in the Third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Oct. 17, 2023. (Konstantin Zavrazhin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Grant Newsham

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Beijing was a rousing success, according to Russian and Chinese media.

That’s what they always say.

But what’s the reality? Are the Chinese and Russians really in a “no limits partnership,” or is it a shotgun marriage that will only last until one is free to stab the other in the back?

A friend asked for my take, so here it is:

This is not good. Mr. Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s strategic interests align—and they both smell weakness and confusion. They’ll keep pushing—including using proxies such as Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba. And they’ll light more fires as they go along, including encouraging secessionists from New Caledonia to Yap to Guam.

Russian and Chinese militaries have been conducting joint training and exercises since the early 2000s and in earnest since the 2010s. They held combined naval and air operations near and around Japan and further afield in the South Atlantic, Baltic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and even near Alaska. There are also ground exercises in Siberia.

One suspects that both leaders see a window of opportunity that they couldn’t have imagined four years ago and aim to seize the advantage over their enemies—the United States and its friends, in particular.

Yes, but ...

Don’t the Russians have a visceral dislike of the Chinese? Yes, they do. But it doesn’t matter. Not right now, anyway.

Don’t the Chinese want to retake the territory they lost via conquest and unfair treaties with the Russians in past centuries? Yes, they do—and they think that when the time comes, they’ll take it back.

For now, it doesn’t matter. They’ll get it “when the time is right”—as they said in 1974, when Portugal offered to give back Macau.

Isn’t Mr. Putin afraid of getting rolled by the Chinese, who see him at a disadvantage? Or waking up and finding five Shenzhens on his side of the eastern border, where there are few Russians but tens of millions of Chinese on the other side? Probably. Is that going to affect his decisions? No.

For now, Mr. Putin and Xi see an opportunity to reset the world, and they’ll keep the pressure on and in as many places as possible.

As he bid adieu to Mr. Putin at the Kremlin in March 2023, Xi reportedly said, “Right now, there are changes—the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years—and we are the ones driving these changes together.”

Mr. Putin reportedly replied, “I agree.”

This shouldn’t have surprised anyone, considering the nature of the two regimes.

Yes, there may be limits to their military cooperation, but these are ultimately mutually reinforcing—as they serve to put the United States and its friends (and people who might become friends) on the back foot. Meanwhile, a good chunk of the so-called global south (developing countries) sees the Russians and Chinese as having the momentum.

Look what happened recently in Niger, where the Americans were told to get lost—and the Russians, “Welcome aboard.”

And it’s the geopolitical backstopping that really matters. Consider how the United Nations has been totally neutered—as if that was even possible.

North Korean sanctions? Dead.

Sanctions Proofing

Ultimately, the two nations are sanctions-proofing themselves—further weakening the United States and the free world’s ability to deter, much less prevail against, China and Russia—one on one or against both.

Consider the economic advantages for Moscow and Beijing: cheap energy and food from Russia, while Russia gets vital components for its military; and China’s proxies—Iran and North Korea—provide the Russians with all the drones, missiles, ammunition, and artillery shells they need.

And then there’s the potential of Russia and China getting out of the U.S. dollar stranglehold—that is maybe the biggest “club” the United States still has in its toolkit.

The Adults in the Room

Mr. Putin may have only been a mid-level KGB officer, but he’s played and gotten the better of world leaders for 25 years.

Remember President George W. Bush—“I was able to get a sense of his soul.” President Barack Obama—“After my election, I have more flexibility.” French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fared no better in dealing with Mr. Putin.

Xi hasn’t been at it as long as Mr. Putin, but he’s been no less successful.

Who on Team Biden scares the Chinese and the Russians? Nobody.

The Biden administration’s foreign policy team crowed that “the adults” were in charge once they arrived in 2021.

They even revealed U.S. intelligence to China while Mr. Putin was building up forces on Ukraine’s border in 2022. The theory was that Beijing would use its influence to dissuade Mr. Putin from invading. Instead, the Chinese passed along the intel and gave Mr. Putin the go-ahead.

The “adults” haven’t done anything since then that’s slowed down the Russians or the Chinese—or the Iranians or North Koreans or anyone else.

Mr. Putin and Xi might be forgiven for thinking, “If not now, when?”

But come on, Newsham, are things that bad?

I’ll concede that there may be a silver lining in all this. But if there is one, it appears to be well hidden.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Grant Newsham is a retired U.S. Marine officer and a former U.S. diplomat and business executive with many years in the Asia/Pacific region. He is a senior fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies (Tokyo) and Center for Security Policy and the Yorktown Institute in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the best selling book “When China Attacks: A Warning to America.”
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