“Possible emergence of a new Cold War could result from the strengthening alliance between China and Russia.”

“The openly backed use of China’s economic power by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine marks the initial geopolitical outcome of the reestablished Russia-China alliance.”

During a recent meeting in Moscow, the heirs to two of the most violent revolutions in modern history, Chinese Communist Party chairman Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, solidified their “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era”.

While many in the West have been perplexed by this alliance, some have hoped that Xi would remain neutral in Putin’s Ukrainian conflict or even act as a mediator.

However, instead of viewing this partnership as a sudden and alarming development in the age of globalisation, we must examine the longer history of Russia and China’s shared opposition to the world.

The invasion of Ukraine by Putin, with China’s economic support, represents only the first geopolitical manifestation of a renewed Russia-China axis, as both states continue to pursue ambitions that were never fully satisfied in the post-Cold War era. Once again, the world’s democracies are challenged to defend against these two dictatorships in both Europe and Asia.

The renewed alliance between Russia and China has resulted in Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, with China’s economic support being a major factor. These two states have long held unfulfilled ambitions and their aggressive actions pose a challenge to democratic nations across both Europe and Asia.

This situation recalls the words of Paul Nitze, a US state department official who wrote in 1950 about the upheavals that shaped his generation’s understanding of international affairs. In that time, the world had already experienced two devastating global wars, two major revolutions in Russia and China, and the collapse of multiple empires, including the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German, Italian, British, and French.

Nitze, who played a crucial role in drafting the primary strategy document of the Cold War era, NSC-68, observed a fundamental shift in the global balance of power, attributed in part to the Russian and Chinese revolutions. These revolutions, whose ongoing effects should be recognized, continue to shape the modern-day political landscape.

The current leaders of Russia and China, Putin and Xi, respectively, are both products of these revolutions, inheriting their predecessors’ anti-Western ideologies and confrontational strategies.

Putin’s experiences in East Germany shaped his career, and he has lamented the collapse of the Soviet empire as a major geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Meanwhile, Xi’s tenure as the head of the Chinese Communist Party is driven by the party’s goal of national revival, a project that dates back to Mao’s “New China” and has continued to evolve since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Xi’s China seeks to challenge the US and establish a new world order where China occupies a central role, with Putin’s Russia serving as a strategic partner and chief collaborator in this endeavor.

Russia and China, both totalitarian communist states in the 20th century, aimed to establish their own order and challenge the world’s democracies. The Sino-Soviet alliance, which lasted for a decade, posed a strategic challenge for the US and its allies across both Asia and Europe, covering the Korean War and various Taiwan crises.

Nevertheless, the US was able to manage this two-theatre strategic contest, thanks to its experience of fighting World War II on both the Atlantic and Pacific fronts.

Containing the ambitions of both communist China and the Soviet Union simultaneously served as a check against their expansionist tendencies.

Eventually, the Sino-Soviet alliance disintegrated, primarily because Mao sought to restore China to a position of power and centrality in global affairs and would not accept a subordinate role to Moscow.

Presently, both nations are pursuing aggressive, militaristic nationalism to achieve their ambitions, not under the banner of communist ideology.

In 2022, Xi and Putin declared their partnership at the Beijing Olympics, signaling the depth and contours of their relationship. However, this strategic partnership had been building for years, with both countries working to expand their military, economic, and diplomatic ties throughout the 2010s.

In their joint statement at the Beijing Olympics, China and Russia pledged mutual support for each other’s “core interests.” Moscow pledged support for Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, which it regards as “an inalienable part of China,” while Beijing called on NATO to abandon its ideologically-driven cold war approaches and opposed any further enlargement of the alliance.

The aftermath of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has brought about various developments, including joint nuclear-capable bomber exercises, land and naval exercises, increased trade in energy and technology, China’s propaganda support for Moscow, and reports of Chinese assault rifles and body armour for Russia.

All of these elements contribute to the growing division of Europe and Asia between China and Russia, reminiscent of the original geography of the Sino-Soviet Alliance.

As Stalin once said to his communist counterparts in China, there should be a division of labor between the two countries, with China taking on more responsibility in the East and Russia taking on more in the West. However, Putin’s war in Ukraine is not the only potential conflict that may arise from this alliance.

China’s economic engagement with democracies after the Cold War has propelled its rise as a global superpower, allowing it to compete with the world’s democracies in critical technologies and strategic industries. Additionally, China has built an unmatched military in Asia that aims to settle scores in the Pacific.

These developments signify the resurgence of 20th-century antagonists whose ambitions never truly faded away.

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