Beijing and Moscow: Accidental Allies

Dmitri Trenin writes in Foreign Policy about how developments in the Middle East and North Africa, from the Arab Spring to the ongoing unrest in Syria, have brought China and Russia together as a calculated counterbalance to Western policies in the region:

Like China, Russia rejects Western military interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, whether in the name of humanity or democracy. But this is about much more than Beijing’s or Moscow’s concern for their own security. Libya has demonstrated to both powers that the West, acting essentially under pressure from domestic human rights constituencies (absent of course in Russia and China), can stumble into foreign civil wars even when its leaders should know better.


China and Russia’s policies on Syria differ from the United States’ and Europe’s for two basic reasons. One, Moscow and Beijing do not believe that becoming actively involved in other people’s civil conflicts is wise or useful. Two, they have no pressing interest in the elimination of the Assad regime as part of an anti-Iranian strategy. In any case, the Chinese and the Russians don’t see much of a strategy at all; they think that, surprised early this year by the Arab revolt, the Americans and their allies are now being guided more by short-term politics than by long-term strategic calculus.

All or part of these concerns may be valid. Yet Moscow and Beijing have to admit that critique is not the same as leadership, which Russia covets,  and which China cannot forever escape from. Modern international leadership calls for coming up with realistic alternatives, reaching out to others, and building consensus. Saying no is not enough.

Beijing and Moscow drew the ire of the United States when they banded together in October to veto a United Nations resolution calling for a halt to the crackdown in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. Today, as a threat of sanctions from the Arab League looms, China, Russia and their fellow BRIC nations urged Syria to engage in peaceful talks with the opposition and warned against any foreign intervention without United Nations backing.

See also CDT coverage of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Beijing and the optimism and obstacles surrounding the future of China-Russia relations.


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