Stable China-Russia relations won’t budge after Biden takes office
Published: Dec 30, 2020 06:19 PM

China-Russia relations Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Four years ago when US President Donald Trump took office, no one had imagined that complex triangular tensions would emerge among Washington, Beijing and Moscow. Both China-US and Russia-US relations have gone downhill while China and Russia have actually improved their ties. Yet this is what Trump is leaving as a legacy to Joe Biden. 

During the election campaign, Biden and his team signaled their understanding and policy orientation in respect to China and Russia. Biden told US media that Russia is the biggest threat to US security, and dubbed China as a "serious competitor." It seems that during the Biden era, the US will focus on pressuring Russia, and China will have a chance to breathe. 

Going in an opposite direction of the Trump administration, Biden and his Democratic Party will want to infiltrate traditional areas that Russia sees as its sphere of influence. 

Biden will step away from the isolationism of "America First" and embrace "America is Back" - as some people see it. This means his administration will possibly make use of the protests in Belarus, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the presidential election in Kyrgyzstan in January 2021 to sow discord in the region.

Nonetheless, this does not necessarily mean the US will reduce pressure on China. The contradiction between China and the US is a structural one between an emerging power and a hegemonic force. No matter who sits in the Oval Office, policies will be adopted to suppress the emerging power. 

A Democrat-led US government is also likely to contain China with cards such as human rights, and Tibet and Taiwan questions. Therefore, there is little likelihood that China-US relations will totally improve during the Biden era. 

Over the years, China and Russia have gradually formed a mutual trust beyond that between allies, providing an endogenous driving force for the stable and sustainable development of their relations. Faced with the gradual decline of its political influence in the surrounding regions, Russia is focusing more on the neighborhood and also relying more on the important role of China-Russia relations. 

In a July interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia regards relations with China as the top foreign policy priority and that the future could see even closer military ties between them. This was a response to Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng's statement in November 2019 that there is no limit for the development of China-Russia relations.

In fact, China and Russia have formed a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination that has reached new levels of interaction and trust beyond a simple alliance. 

The mutual help between China and Russia during the COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the resounding resilience of their comprehensive cooperation. The two countries have worked closely on material assistance, expert exchanges, and vaccine development. Russia clearly opposes the politicization of the pandemic and the stigmatization of China. 

As the pandemic is becoming a new normal, China and Russia are expected to set a fine example of mutual trust and cooperation between major countries in healthcare and disease prevention and control. 

Even though the trade volume has slightly declined by 2 percent year-on-year in the first three quarters of 2020, China's share in Russia's total foreign trade rose from 16 percent to nearly 20 percent during this period. The structural stability and enhanced potential of China-Russia trade are expected to continue.

Even with a severe contraction in the world economy, the pace of bilateral cooperation has not slowed down. New progress has been made in many areas. 

The two countries' agricultural cooperation and cross-border e-commerce are booming while energy projects are making steady progress. China and Russia are complementary in science and technology with huge potential for collaboration. All these provide new impetus for the sustainable development of China-Russia practical cooperation.

The overall status of China-Russia relations during the Biden era is relatively clear - the long-term trend of stable development since the beginning of the 21st century will go on. 

In addition, it is worth observing the possibility of Russia creating a new Non-Aligned Movement to establish a relatively balanced trilateral relationship with China and the US.

The author is a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Russian Studies of East China Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn