A New Sino-Russian Alliance?

CAMBRIDGE – Some analysts believe that 2014 ushered in a new era of Cold War-style geopolitics. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea was met with heavy economic sanctions from Europe and the United States, weakening Russia’s ties with the West and leaving the Kremlin eager to strengthen ties with China. The question is whether Russia will manage to build a real alliance with the People’s Republic.

At first glance, it seems plausible. Indeed, traditional balance-of-power theory suggests that US primacy in power resources should be offset by a Sino-Russian partnership.

Perhaps more convincing, there seems to be historical precedent for such a partnership. In the 1950s, China and the Soviet Union were allied against the US. After US President Richard Nixon’s opening to China in l972, the balance shifted, with the US and China cooperating to limit what they viewed as a dangerous rise in the Soviet Union’s power.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that de facto US-China alliance ended, and a China-Russia rapprochement began. In 1992, the two countries declared that they were pursuing a “constructive partnership”; in 1996, they progressed toward a “strategic partnership”; and in 2001, they signed a treaty of “friendship and cooperation.”