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Beijing and Moscow towards a ‘near’ military alliance

The new relationship is a response to the “dual containment” by the United States and its allies. China and Russia are expected to conduct more strategic exercises and joint patrols in the Asia-Pacific region. For expert Alexey Muraviev, this is not a “de facto alliance”. Joint operations in the South China Sea are not yet on the cards, and the Kremlin is not ready to sell its submarines to Beijing.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – China and Russia will expand their military cooperation with strategic exercises and joint patrols in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. To this end, the two countries signed an agreement recently.

According to several analysts, the pact turns relations between the two countries into a “de facto alliance”. For China, this is remarkable step since Beijing has always pursued a diplomatic policy of “non-alliance”.

Recently, both Beijing and Moscow have intensified their political, economic and military cooperation in order to counter pressure from the United States and its allies. One example is the recent agreement to jointly develop coal deposits in Russia.

Long gone are the days of the Soviet Union; the Sino-Russian relationship is now skewed in favour of China. A nuclear superpower with a third-world economic structure, Russia now seems resigned to playing a subordinate role as an exporter of raw materials to Xi Jinping’s China.

Alexey Muraviev, Associate Professor of National Security and Strategic Studies at Perth’s Curtin University (Australia), does not go so far as to refer to the Moscow-Beijing relationship as a de facto alliance; instead, he prefers to describe the current state of political-military relations between Russia and China as a “near alliance”.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Muraviev said that the strengthening of the Sino-Russian partnership could become “a major factor shaping the Indo-Pacific’s geopolitical and geostrategic landscape in the coming decades.”

For the expert, the status of “near allies” of Russia and China stems from the convergence of geopolitical and strategic-military interests. The two authoritarian governments have in fact interest in countering Washington’s “dual containment”.

Muraviev does not believe, however, that the Russians and Chinese will commit to joint air and naval patrols in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing claims almost 90 percent of that body of water.

“For now, Russia-China joint activities will be limited to areas of the Western Pacific. But joint aerial and naval deployments would be regularised,” Muraviev said.

Still, the scholar does not rule out the possibility that these operations could move further south, near Guam (where the United States has military installations), and go perhaps as far as the Indian Ocean.

“The Russians exercise caution in showing support of China’s activities in the South China Sea,” Muraviev explained, noting that the two countries have not conducted naval exercises in the region since 2016.

“Should Moscow and Beijing decide to challenge the AUKUS pact, the South China Sea may become an area of geostrategic competition,” added the Curtin University professor.

AUKUS is a three-party agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia that will allow Canberra to build nuclear-powered submarines for its fleet using US technology and know-how.

For many observers, this is seen as a new tool to contain China’s geopolitical rise and could lay bare the limits of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.

Unlike the United States with Australia, the Kremlin is reluctant to sell its best (nuclear) submarines to the Chinese, who can deploy noisier and less advanced subs than their Russian and US counterparts.

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