Fickle Friends: The History of Russia-US-China Relations

Writing in the Moscow Times today Yevgeny Bazhanov offers a succinct historical overview of the shifting alliances between Russia, China and the US. He concludes that, just as the attempted China-US alliance against Russia fizzled in the 1980s, so any Russia-China or Russia-US alliance is doomed to fail in the long term:

China learned its lesson in the early 1980s when, after cozying up to the United States to oppose the Soviet Union, it quickly realized the downside of this alliance — that it had a negative impact on China’s reputation in the Third World, which was China’s traditional basis of support and which shared Beijing’s opposition to U.S. hegemony.

Thus, Washington must come up with another way to preserve its dominant position in global affairs. If China doesn’t want to play ball, it could mean that it is intent on decreasing U.S. political and economic influence when and where it can. This is why many U.S. policy makers view China as the country’s largest threat.

How can the United States counter this threat? In part, with Russia’s help. And so, once again, Washington has courted Moscow to help the United States counterbalance China’s growing global influence. But the United States doesn’t realize that Russia has no interest in alienating China. Moscow is more interested in cooperating with Beijing than counterbalancing it, particularly when Russia’s primary goal is modernization.