Russia and China’s developing alliance was in the news last week as Vladimir Putin signed two agreements while visiting Shanghai. The first brings $450 billion worth of Russian natural gas to China over 30 years, in a demonstration to the West that Russia still has friends in the midst of growing political isolation. Experts caution that this move is largely symbolic. For the moment, Russia still needs Europe to buy its gas. China, welcomes any natural resources it can access.
The minimal American media coverage focused on whether this deal threatens the United States, with US officials responding that not much should be made of this deal since there is nothing special about Russia and China having bilateral relations with each other. Perhaps there is nothing special about a deal that is largely symbolic for now anyway.
The same cannot be said about the second agreement however. Russia and China also agreed to bypass the US dollar in bilateral trade. America’s financial hegemony partly comes from the American currency being the reserve currency in international trade. This allows the US to spend beyond its means and have a significant influence abroad. As the world becomes more multi-polar, there is a strong desire among the BRICS nations to change the status quo. Russia and China agreeing to do just that is a first step, especially if more BRICS follow suit.
Russia is pushing this relationship as a show of power in the face of Western condemnation, but China can be described as a benevolent opportunist. Its leaders appreciate the access to raw materials and a chance to challenge the US while at the same time not going beyond certain limits. Russia-China’s combined strength is already felt in international diplomacy, as both countries use their veto power on the United Nations Security Council to stop resolutions proposed by other members of the P5.
Whether American leaders are willing to admit it or not, Russia-China’s new friendship is one to watch. No it is not an ideological friendship but a marriage of mutual interests, which might be more effective than a union of affection. The closer these countries become, the more they will resist US actions in the East and elsewhere, and be invulnerable to American retaliation. Russian and Chinese leaders have come together for one common goal: to change the world order as it currently exists.