Contemporary Sino-Russian Relations: A change in the strategic balance of power

History illustrates that the recurring themes of a world with a fading hegemon are wars and instability. From Eastern Ukraine, to the South China Sea, current events signal a shift in the global strategic balance. Russia and China have become increasingly antagonistic towards the perceived interference from the West into their spheres of influence. These developments suggest an emerging power bloc, much to the detriment of the West and the US military hegemony.

Firstly, the economic bond between the two states has strengthened publically over the last few months. Both states are founding members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Furthermore, the recent $400 billion gas deal has guaranteed that Russia has customers for its energy exports, while the Chinese have uninterrupted gas supplies to avert socio-economic growing pains. Moreover, they have both been instrumental in the creation of an alternative to the IMF – the ‘New Development Bank’.

Diplomatically, there has been a clear polarisation between China/Russia and the US/Japan in Pacific Asia.  The exclusion of the US and Japan from full member status of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) clearly demonstrates this splitting. Additionally, China has not been critical of Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, while Russia has not raised objections against the assertiveness of China in the South China Sea.

From a military point of view, the alliance is starting to hurt the once supreme United States. It is well documented that China has developed and produced the Dong-Feng 21, an anti-ship ballistic missile that has an alleged range of an excess of 1500km. Such Chinese weaponry is evidently designed as an anti-access facilitator or put simply a ‘Carrier Killer’.  Although the application of this weapon is not wholly intended for American targets, it causes headaches for American naval strategists. The significance of such a weapon is its application as an anti-access weapon, which could produce an asymmetric threat to US carrier groups and therefore defang the central agent of US power projection.

Russia is also progressively resurgent. Using the revenues generated by the vast oil and gas reserves, the Russian Navy and missile systems have seen unprecedented investment. Such capabilities are offensive weapons with possibility for power projection. The numbers are staggering; over $140 billion has been earmarked for the creation of 51 modern surface ships and 24 new submarines (8 of which would carry ballistic missiles) by 2020. This includes the three French made Mistral Class amphibious landing ships. Similarly to the Chinese missile ambitions, the Russians have developed their new R-500 cruise missile.  Moreover, the joint naval training operations that the two states have been conducting are a blatant statement of growing capabilities to the US and its regional allies. Indeed, this new found confidence of Russia has the Eastern NATO member states worried enough to increase military spending (Poland spending an unprecedented $10.4 Billion in 2014) and encourage the stationing of NATO assets in the Baltic States and Poland.

Although a direct war between the West and a Sino-Russian axis seems unlikely for now, it is naive to suggest that the strategic balance is not in the process of moving away from the univocal global economic and military dominance of the US and the strategic umbrella extended to its close allies. Although there is currently no formal alliance between Russia and China, if the benefits of closer Sino-Russian relations continue to bare fruit, a formal military alliance may not be unimaginable.

By Thomas Hall 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Asia, Europe

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