Is the “Russia-China Axis” Possible?

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The alliances established for defense and security purposes in international relations are dangerous formations which will be able to lead to total wars in a short time. For instance; the beginning of the events causing the First World War can be attributed to the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance formations established dating from the 1880s. Today, AUKUS, the security alliance established by the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of America (USA) in the Asia-Pacific, draws attention as a formation that can endanger the peace and security of the world. On the other hand, The QUAD platform, which includes India, Japan, Australia and the USA, is also a reflection of the polarization in the region. While AUKUS represents an Anglo-Saxon alliance, QUAD refers to the security mechanism established for the construction of a free and open Indo-Pacific, mostly under the leadership of the USA.

Since it was created by actors adopting Western values, QUAD is considered by China and Russia as a mechanism similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In return, it is claimed that China tends to form an alliance with Russia. In other words, Western powers have brought Beijing and Moscow closer to each other due to the alliances they have established. Another example of this is NATO.

At the NATO Summits took place in the last year, China has also started to be shown as a threat. In this sense, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that both Russia and China should be dealt with because they have been acting together according to his statements. Of course, the reason of this situation is that the USA is targeting China. However, at this point, two important questions come to mind: “Is China a real threat to Europe?” and “How and why should NATO, the Euro-Atlantic alliance, fight China, a Pacific country?”

So, for the US, there is a need for a NATO formation in the Indo-Pacific to combat China. AUKUS and QUAD are also preparatory steps to this path. NATO’s pressures on Russia also lead it to form an alliance with China.

On October 6, 2021, NATO’s cancellation of the 8 people’s accreditation from the Russian mission deepened the West-Russia polarization. Western powers want Russia to end its “harmful-destructive” activities on Ukraine. Nonetheless, it is not easy to hold Moscow and Beijing responsible for their actions on these and similar issues. This is because states are always in pursuit of power maximization.

Chapter 7 of the United Nations (UN) charter provides for coercive measures to prevent states from using force. However, today’s wars are no longer “frontal warfare/direct use of force”. Therefore, it is very difficult for states to be penalized by an international authority on the grounds that they use force. This is because today, there are many forms of warfare that do not require the direct and open use of force by states such as cyber warfare, proxy warfare, hybrid warfare, gray zone warfare, fifth column activity and fourth generation warfare.

China aims to gain a strategic advantage over its rivals, including Russia, by carrying out more “gray zone” activities. In other words, China is trying to “play the game by its rules”. In this way, it can easily take a step back when it sees an approaching danger. Beijing’s strategy in question is lawful in appearence. In contrast, Russia uses hybrid warfare, which includes activities such as military operations, disinformation, propaganda, cyber activities, intelligence and counterintelligence, very well. China’s gray zone activities and the Russian hybrid warfare model conflict with each other.

China is unwilling to engage in hybrid wars as Russia has done because Beijing values ​​the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs in principle. It wants to be treated like this because of its sensitive inner dynamics. However, China could engage in a proxy war, using the Taliban in Afghanistan to counter the United States.

Afghanistan could be the first front of proxy wars between the US and China. It seems that the USA also sees Afghanistan as a tool to exulcerate China. Afghanistan is part of the Washington administration’s strategy to trap Beijing. Russia, on the other hand, sees this game of the USA. With the effect of this, the interests of China and Russia in Afghanistan coincide in principle. Both countries aim to prevent the spread of terrorism in Central Asia and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. However, Russia is uncomfortable with the increasing military-security activities of China on the Central Asia-South Asia line.

Similarly, India is another lightning rod used by the US to draw China into the war. The reason why New Delhi acts as a “lightning rod” is that it draws all the anger of Beijing. Likewise, Moscow sees that India is being dragged into the war against China by the USA. In this respect, Russia sees China’s military-security policies, especially towards Afghanistan, India and Myanmar, as a threat to its sphere of influence. Hence, if a Sino-Indian war breaks out in Kashmir, it will become more difficult for Russia to control Central Asia and Afghanistan. For this reason, Russia keeps its relations with the USA and the West at the level of “controlled crisis” because it does not trust China. For this reason, Russia keeps its relations with the USA and the West at the level of “controlled crisis” because it does not trust China. Considering Russia’s deteriorating relations with the USA and the West recently, China is in the “best of bad” position for Moscow. Moscow can cooperate with Beijing against Washington; however, it is very careful about the military-security policies of China, especially in the Post-Soviet area, and Russia’s close environment.

Finally, to draw attention to one point, Russia has remained silent as much as possible against China’s behavior on Taiwan. In fact, Moscow fears to find itself in the middle of a future US-China conflict. Beijing, on the other hand, has never recognized the annexation of Crimea by Russia. For this reason, it is unclear whether the Russians will support the Chinese if China intervenes in Taiwan.

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.