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An uneasy friendship

May 08 , 2015

THE celebrations in Moscow on May 9th to commemorate the capitulation of Nazi Germany 70 years ago will speak volumes about today’s geopolitics. While Western leaders are staying away in protest against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine (and the first annexation of sovereign territory in Europe since the second world war), China’s president, Xi Jinping, will be the guest of honour of his friend, Vladimir Putin. Western sanctions over Ukraine, and what looks set to be a long-term chilling of relations with America and Europe, has given Russia no option other than to embrace China as tightly as it can.

Next week, in a further symbol of the growing strategic partnership between the two countries, three or four Chinese and six Russian naval vessels will meet up to conduct live-fire drills in the eastern Mediterranean. The exercise, which follows several similar ones in the Pacific since 2013, aims to send a clear message to America and its allies. For Russia the manoeuvres signal that it has a powerful friend and a military relationship with a growing geographic reach. For China even a small-scale exercise of this kind (its ships are coming from anti-piracy duty in the Gulf of Aden) speaks of increasing global ambition in line with Mr Xi’s slogan about a “Chinese dream”, which he says includes a “dream of a strong armed-forces”.

At a more practical level, the exercise provides a shop-window for China’s Type 054A guided-missile frigate, which it would like to sell to the Russians. It also offers operational experience in an unstable region in which it has an expanding economic presence. In 2011 China organised the evacuation of more than 38,000 Chinese from Libya during that country’s upheaval. Last month its navy pulled several hundred of its citizens out of Yemen, which is being torn apart by civil war. There are thought to be at least 40,000 Chinese working in Algeria and more than 1m across Africa.

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