Xi's visit to Russia to navigate bilateral ties and increase global autocratic power. How to stop the rise of totalitarianism? With realism, like the one proposed by some American conservatives
Focus on Eurasia
G e N Iuvinale
Chinese President Xi Jinping's upcoming state visit to Russia, his first foreign trip since being re-elected as Chinese president, will be a trip of friendship, cooperation and peace, Chinese diplomats say.
The visit, scheduled for March 20-22, is set to map out the blueprint for the development of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. It will also push ahead with the practical cooperation between the two countries, and inject strong impetus into the endeavor to maintain peace and prosperity so as to jointly build a community with a shared future for mankind, said Chinese Xinhua writer Shi Hao.
However, the truth is different. Xi's visit to Russia will serve to talk about bilateral ties and increase their global autocratic power in a new strategy announced in June 2019.
During that visit, the two leaders signed and issued a joint statement raising bilateral ties to the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era, opening up a new chapter in China-Russia relations featuring higher level and greater development.
As we wrote, it was not understood that the demolition of Zbigniew Brzezinski's geopolitical pillars has already taken place and whoever dominates Eurasia dominates the world. The "limitless" friendship between Xi and Putin, officially declared to the world on February 24, 2022, marks the beginning of a new era - Western decline.
China and Russia have blazed a trail in the growth of major-country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighborliness.
Now Xi is about to set foot on Russian soil for the ninth time as Chinese president. Over the past decade, the two heads of state have met with each other on some 40 occasions. Their frequent and high-quality exchanges have always been guiding the development of China-Russia relations.
The past years have witnessed the steady growth of China-Russia ties with the inking of a host of important documents such as a joint statement on win-win cooperation and deepening their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in 2013, the China-Russia Joint Statement on a New Stage of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2014, a 2015 joint statement on deepening comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination and advocating win-win cooperation, and the China-Russia Joint Statement on Further Deepening the China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2017.
In 2021, the two presidents commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation Between China and Russia and made the decision to extend the pact.
As an ancient Chinese saying goes, "True partnership defies geographical distance." China and Russia have blazed a trail in the growth of major-country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighborliness.
In June last year, the Heihe-Blagoveshchensk cross-border highway bridge over Heilongjiang River opened to traffic. The new channel has connected China's northeast and Russia's far east amid booming economic and trade cooperation between the neighbors.
Two-way trade has been growing over the past decade, surging from less than 90 billion U.S. dollars in 2013 to more than 190 billion dollars last year and approaching the target of 200 billion dollars set by the two heads of state.
Exports of automobiles and spare parts from China to Russia have increased rapidly in recent years. By the end of last year, the number of automobile dealers of Chinese brands in Russia had climbed to 1,041.
The Russian Export Center, the country's state institution for export support, has announced an increase in the number of online shops in a bid to let Chinese customers have easier access to quality Russian products.
Russia and China have carried out cooperation actively under the guidance of the two heads of state in the past 10 years, said Yuri Tavrovsky, a professor of the Russian University of Peoples' Friendship, who expects that the leaders of the two countries will open up more new areas for bilateral cooperation in the future.
Back in 2013, Xi chose Russia as the destination of his first overseas trip after becoming president. In his speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations during that visit, Xi called for building a new type of international relations with win-win cooperation at the core, stressing the mankind "has increasingly emerged as a community of shared future in which everyone has in himself a little bit of others."
Since it was proposed, the notion has been enshrined repeatedly in important documents of the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other multilateral mechanisms.
"Ten years have passed, and we understand that the notion's relevance has not decreased but is becoming more and more important," said Anatoly Torkunov, president of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, who applauded Xi's speech at the scene in 2013.
Xi said "the world today is undergoing profound changes not seen in a century" and Putin also made a similar assessment at the Valdai Discussion Club.
"The more turbulent the world, the more stable China-Russia relations should be," said Shi Hao. "As founding countries of the SCO, both sides promoted multilateral cooperation and extended the organization's focus from security to politics, economics, as well as people-to-people and cultural exchanges. They have jointly contributed to a better world order, global and regional development, as well as the security of SCO members," added Hao on Global Time.
"Under the BRICS mechanism, Beijing and Moscow, along with other members, have played an active role in pushing forward global economic governance reforms and jointly created a stronger voice on key international and regional issues," Hao said. "These efforts have allowed emerging economies and developing countries to have a greater say on the global stage. And developing economies, represented by the BRICS countries, have become the new engine of economic globalization in today's world plagued by growing populism and protectionism." "China and Russia, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, as well as important parts of the Group of 20, APEC and other major global and regional groups, have also worked closely on issues related to the situation in the peninsula Korean, Afghanistan, as well as the Iranian nuclear issue. They have played a leading role in promoting multipolarity and greater democracy in international relations and safeguarding global strategic balance and stability." "Ten years later, China will continue to work together with Russia to follow the trend of the times, lead global unity and cooperation, and curb division and confrontation so as to make new and greater contributions to the peace and development of the humanity."
The Global Security Initiative, a security framework proposed by General Secretary Xi at the Boao Forum for Asia’s annual conference in April 2022, is increasingly a key part of China’s foreign engagements. This initiative endorses the concept of “indivisible security,” which Russia has cited in its negotiations over Ukraine. The concept of “indivisible security” and the Global Security Initiative are broader than the Ukraine crisis and appear to be attempts by China and Russia to coopt portions of concepts from agreements inked in the 1970s to establish, influence, or distort contemporary international norms in the security realm.
Last month, China’s top diplomat and CCP Politburo member Wang Yi meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders. Wang describes China-Russia relations as “rock-solid.” In a press conference later that day, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin says that the two sides agreed to “firmly oppose hegemonism and bloc confrontation,” and “jointly uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter,” among other core concepts outlined in the Global Security Initiative, which the Russian government has not formally endorsed.
Has the world reached another historic crossroads?
A year ago, Xi Jinping and Putin vowed that their friendship "knew no bounds."
This year, Moscow says they will sign documents declaring their relationship is entering a "new era," reports France-Presse.
China recently released a 12-point "peace plan" in Ukraine.
However, that plan deliberately makes no mention of Ukraine's sovereignty or Russia's withdrawal from the occupied territories. From the United States' perspective, a ceasefire now brokered by China would be "effectively a ratification of the Russian takeover," John Kirby of the White House National Security Council said Friday in a call with reporters.
The aggressive and genocidal war launched in February 2022 by Russia against Ukraine has awakened us to the stark reality that the expectations, of the United States and the European Union, at the end of the Cold War in 1991 were wishful thinking.
It is clear that the universal fascination of the democratic idea did not spontaneously take shape in the "New World Order", born at the end of the Second World War, which was supposed to guarantee a global and lasting pax.
Today we face China with a determined adversary, intent on creating an empire that will ultimately be grateful to him and recognizes Xi as the great architect of the "Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the nation" and of "a global community from common destiny for humanity”.
President Xi Jinping is well on his way towards this goal, with his self-proclaimed "Maoist presidency" sine die. In Moscow, after two wars, Russia restored control over the Chechen Republic, then occupied part of Georgia (August 2008), then annexed the Crimea peninsula to Ukraine (March 2014). Vladimir Putin has made it clear that, after subduing eastern and southern Ukraine, he intends to deal with Transnistria and possibly all of Moldova, before launching a campaign to restore control over one or more Baltic states. What are the similarities and differences in how these two regimes pursue their autocratic ambitions?
Although both China and Russia have strengthened their nuclear arsenals in recent years, they have also planned and implemented their strategies through a "Liminal Warfare".
The conduct of the war, or rather its strategic conception on the American side, is expressed through the evolution of the technological dominance and the inter-force integration of the land, naval and air components. Starting from this assumption, David Kilcullen demonstrates that the evolution of the American conception of war and of its allies triggers a "survival instinct" and the consequent "counter-evolution" of strategies and tactics of the adversaries, whether they are state actors (Russia and China on all) or non-state (terrorist groups such as the "Islamic State" and organized crime); the "Liminal Warfare" of which Kilcullen speaks would be placed in this counter-evolution.
Kilcullen's “Liminal Warfare” involves the integration of economic, legal, military, intelligence and cyber policies into one seamless mix of operations and maneuvers focused on shaping operations with the opponent before the launch of a military operation.
As we have repeatedly written, China is pursuing a more ambitious and deeper strategy in its quest for empire building. It began by targeting emerging markets across Africa and Latin America, but also in the United States and Europe with its Belt and Road, including maritime and digital. It focused on developing countries, adopting a soft power policy. He has made seemingly benign offers to build various infrastructure projects such as ports, pipelines, and power plants, and has even offered seemingly generous loans. The objectives in these contexts are to gain control of key raw materials (for example, cobalt in the Congo, lithium in Chile), strategic lands such as maritime nodes (Gibuti at the southern end of the Red Sea and Suez in the north) to secure access to the two largest markets in the world (the United States and Western Europe) and to the ports scattered throughout these countries. China now owns well over one hundred ports located in every maritime country in the world. There have been huge trade deficits with China since its awakening in 1980, at a staggering $500 billion a year. China has literally trillions of dollars to use for buying American and European companies.
In this global rise of violent Sino-Russian authoritarianism, China, however, has been identified as the number one "threat" to the United States in the National Defense Strategy 2022 (NDS), drafted by the Pentagon and sent to the US Congress.
The demolition of Zbigniew Brzezinski's geopolitical pillars
In the late 1990s, at the height of US global hegemony, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, issued a stark warning about the three pillars of power needed to preserve Washington's global control.
The first, Europe: the United States should have avoided the loss of its "perch on the Western periphery" of Eurasia. The second, Central Asia: there they were supposed to block the rise of "a single assertive entity", in the huge "space between". And finally the third pillar, the Pacific coast: it was supposed to prevent "the expulsion of America from its offshore bases" on that ocean.
Those pillars, however, have now fallen in Europe.
Indeed, China has achieved its most astonishing success so far right there, long a key bastion of American global power. As part of a chain of 40 commercial ports it is building or rebuilding around Eurasia and Africa, Beijing has bought major port facilities in Europe.
The Eurasian monster was born.
In fact, Beijing and Moscow have become ever closer, also through energy joint ventures, military maneuvers and periodic summits; Putin and Xi resumed the Stalin-Mao alliance, signed a "Pact of Steel" revealing it to the world during the Beijing Olympics and created a strategic partnership in the heart of Eurasia. In Beijing's grand strategy to break Washington's geopolitical grip on Eurasia is the plan to reconquer the disputed waters between the Chinese coast and the Pacific coast, which the Chinese call "the first island chain". Building dozens of island bases in the South China Sea since 2014, flying over Taiwan and the East China Sea in repeated raids and staging joint maneuvers with the Russian Navy, Beijing has waged a relentless campaign to try to initiate "the expulsion of 'America from its offshore bases' along that Pacific coast, trying to bring down the last slab of Brzezinski.
Realism is the right way
Per Elbridge Colby, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development in the Trump administration, co-founder of the Marathon Initiative, and author of the book The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict published by Yale University Press in September 2021, “The Biden administration, in its 2022 National Defense Strategy, made it clear that the United States lacks the capability to fight both an exceptionally stressful war with China and another significant conflict, such as in Europe against Russia or in the Middle East against Iran, on even approximately parallel timelines. This military shortage facing the United States is not so much felt in overall troop numbers or total expenditures, but rather in the critical platforms, weapons and enablers that are the primary sources of advantage in modern warfare: heavy bombers, attack submarines, air transport, logistics and precision munitions [..]. Bridging this gap will be difficult, costly and time consuming. Just look at the challenges the US defense industry is facing in supplying the weapons donated to Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is a growing chorus of credible warnings that China may try to move against Taiwan and precipitate a major conflict with the United States, possibly in the next few years. These warnings don't just come from military and conservative members of Congress. Rather, senior political appointees in the Biden administration, such as Tony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and Bill Burns, have issued warnings in the previous months that together seem to point to an assessment like this: Beijing is determined to settle the Taiwan question in its favor; shifted his timeline like this; consider the most reliable way to do this through the use of overwhelming force; and an invasion of Taiwan in the next few years is a clear threat.
As Francis P. Sempa writes in “Elbridge Colby Has It Right on Taiwan and Ukraine - Without a realistic division of labor between the U.S. and its NATO allies, Taiwan will go undefended,” “Elbridge Colby belongs to the new generation of defense/security intellectuals model of Andrew Marshall and Edward Luttwak and, before them, of Herman
Kahn and Albert Wohlstetter". With the Trunp Administration “he paved the way for the
US strategy shift to focus on renewed bigotry rivalry powers after two decades of fighting 'small' wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global war on terrorism. His most recent book, The Strategy of Denial-American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict, is a must-read to understand today's global security environment. Colby predicts that China can move against Taiwan in the coming years and laments that the Biden administration has left us
dangerously unprepared for war in the Western Pacific. China, Colby observes,
it has the advantages over the United States of proximity and force structure in the Strait
of Taiwan. If China moves against Taiwan in the near future, the United States
(assuming they will try to defend Taiwan) they should draw on their own resources
military in Europe and the Middle East, thus leaving its allies in those regions alone a
cope with the continuing threats posed by Russia and Iran. And probably the US will have to rely on waging economic warfare against China, but, to be effective, such economic warfare would require the support of European allies right in the as the United States is shifting resources from Europe to the Western Pacific. Colby doubts that European allies would be willing to break away from China and takes note of the recent statement by the German Chancellor [visit to Xi Jinping in November 2022] that Europe's largest economy will not separate from China. And the war in Ukraine, he writes Colby, has already caused economic problems among the European allies, which will make them even more
less likely to join the US in economic warfare against China. That would put
straining the NATO alliance. Because the Biden administration has failed to pour
sufficient military resources in the Western Pacific, while sending significant aid
financial and material to Ukraine, the outbreak of war in the Western Pacific could
lead to the worst of all worlds: a Chinese victory over the United States (and the loss of Taiwan), a fractured Western alliance due to fewer US resources for Europe and the
Europe's reluctance to help the US economically against China. Colby argues
a more reasonable division of labour. America, writes [Colby], should focus
lasering its armed forces over Asia, reducing its force level and spending in Europe…
Meanwhile, Europe should focus on taking the lead from Ukraine and, further on
general, assuming the primary role in its conventional defense. This division
of labor would allow the United States to rely less on economic warfare
against China, thus reducing the pressure on the Atlantic alliance. Here Colby demonstrates a geopolitical realism that Biden's national security team currently lacks, which
seems to have prioritized Ukraine over Taiwan and, more generally, Europe
compared to the western Pacific. China, Colby acknowledges, poses a very threat
higher for the United States than for Russia or Iran. The United States is not without
limits and our European allies have sufficient resources to provide aid to Ukraine
and strengthen their conventional defenses. If we fail to defend Taiwan for lack
of resources and will, our allies in Europe and Asia will take note and act accordingly
A Republican "civil war" against Ukraine breaks out as Reagan's example fades, Colby said a few days ago.
GOP leaders and voters are increasingly skeptical of an expanded engagement, part of a broader shift away from conservative support for foreign interventions.
"The real sweet spot for the Republican coalition is a kind of conservative realism," Colby said. “This would avoid the hyper-interventionism of the old guard that was previously disastrous, but it would be catastrophic in the face of the prevailing threat posed by China that Republican voters viscerally understand. I think it will ultimately be a natural balance for the GOP.
Effectively, Republican voters are increasingly adopting those same skeptical views, with surveys showing them becoming colder to continued U.S. aid as the conflict drags into its second year. Likely and declared GOP presidential candidates, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former president Donald Trump, as well as a growing faction of Republican lawmakers in the House, are promoting that skepticism as well, with potentially seismic consequences for the conflict and the party itself.
The Heritage Foundation, once styled asReagan’s think tank, has come out against approving additional aid to Ukraine and even started advocating cuts to defense spending positions that Heritage president Kevin Roberts said were driven by a combination of fiscal concerns and fatigue from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How to face the future?
The future must be faced with realism.
The United States will have to deal with containing China in the Indo-Pacific by concentrating the greatest presence of military forces there.
The European Union, on the other hand, should deal with the military containment of Russia and Beijing on the eastern front with NATO.
A division of tasks, in short.
The "new era" of Putin, Xi Jinping and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is already here.