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Foreign Policy

Who’s Afraid of China and Russia?

Feb 25, 2019
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

On January 31, Singapore-based newspaper Lianhe Zaobao reported that American intelligence agencies believed that expanding cooperation between China and Russia would pose a threat to the United States. I have the following questions.

First, does Sino-Russian cooperation pose a threat to the United States?

Senior US intelligence officials say that China and Russia are expanding cooperation and their relations are much closer than in the past few decades, and they are trying to use the Internet to steal information and launch a new round of more complex attacks and interventions on the US presidential election in 2020. They also allege that China and Russia will undermine US relations with its partners and influence US policies.

We still remember that the Russia investigation is being conducted by American intelligence agencies. It has been two years since it started, but the case is still ongoing. Now there is a "prediction" that the two countries will intervene in the next US presidential election. Does that mean that there will be a China scandal too?

It is too far-fetched to attribute the deterioration of the relations between the United States and its allies to the enhancement of cooperation between China and Russia. Indeed, some allies of the United States are moving away from Washington and seeking more independence because of changes in the latter’s security and trade policies. Common sense tells that it is the result of US policies towards its allies, and it has nothing to do with the cooperation between China and Russia. The United States has been criticized by its allies because of its provoking trade wars that hurt its allies.

Second, why do American intelligence agencies always put Sino-Russian cooperation in opposition to US interests? The cooperation between China and Russia has indeed been steadily strengthened, which is the prerogative of the two countries. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, China and Russia announced publicly that the principle of establishing and developing bilateral relations is "non-alignment, non-confrontation, and non-targeting at a third country." The third country, of course, can refer to the US. When the US treated Russia as an equal partner and when the cooperation between the US and China was relatively smooth, the American authorities did not feel that China-Russia cooperation would impose a threat.  When the US keeps exerting pressure on Russia and China, the two countries’ relations become closer, and the US feels uneasy. This only shows that the US behavior of "hitting others with two fists" has become a catalyst for enhancing Sino-Russian cooperation. In this sense, there is a certain American factor. But the situation has not been caused by China or Russia.

China’s strengthening cooperation with Russia is just like China seeking cooperation with the US. The merit of China-Russia cooperation lies in the fact that they pursue the principles that are fair, reasonable, and trustworthy. Over the years, China has advocated the establishment of a new mode of major country relations with the US on the basis of "non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation." After Vladimir Putin became the leader of Russia, he visited the United States in 2001, and the next year President George W. Bush visited Russia. They agreed on the intimate "new strategic relations" of "entering a new era." People can't help asking whether the US would make things difficult for Putin if his domestic and foreign policies had followed those of the US.

Why do American intelligence agencies often make mistakes?          

In 2003, the United States launched a war against Iraq. The intelligence agencies provided two reasons for the war. One was that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks, the other was that he had weapons of mass destruction. Later, President George W. Bush had to admit that it was an intelligence failure.

According to a story from the website of Russia Today on February 1, the US intelligence agency released a new Worldwide Threat Assessment on January 29. One chapter shows that Russia has the ability to cut off heat and power supplies throughout the US at any time. The next day, a host from MSNBC supported this claim. However, Russia Today made it clear that there is no reason to believe that Russia would turn off the heat and electricity supplies for Americans and let them freeze to death.

The United States is undoubtedly advanced in its intelligence capabilities, but political needs and subjective bias often affect its judgment and accuracy. For a period of time, the American media and academia have been talking about the "New Cold War." Whether the mistakes of American intelligence agencies are related to the Cold War mentality is worth pondering.

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