Alliance formation among great powers

Russia and China Joint Statement, February 4, 2022

Following a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday, February 4, ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympic Games, the Kremlin published the English text of a joint statement agreed by both sides, calling for dialogue in an effort to reduce tensions.

Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development, February 4, 2022, Beijing, China

In this article, there is a wrap-up study and analysis of the present status regarding China – Russia cooperative relations, both in theoretical and practical framework.

Theoretical introduction

Three great powers of today are: the United States of America (the US), the People’s Republic of China (China) and Russian Federation (Russia).

There are ways to define different cooperative formations in international relations and a large number of researchers have presented their assessments like Stephen Walt, Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer etc. In the scientific literature, “the Origins of Alliances” by Stephen M. Walt (1987) is a classic master piece of the discipline. In general, main forms of governmental engagement and association are strategic partnership, entente and alliance.

The primary purpose of most alliances is to combine the members’ capabilities in a way that furthers their respective interests, especially their security goals. The present literature sees alliances primarily as a response to an external threat. Threats, in turn, are a function of power, proximity, specific offensive capabilities and aggressive intentions.

Theoretical papers of alliance formation have been made mainly in the age of Cold War and the first decade thereafter concentrated on the emerging US unipolarity and its features and impacts in international relations. However, coming to the new millennium, things began to change. Pace of various transformation processes has been accelerating, when coming to the second decade of the new millennium. It seems that international alliance formation processes and morphologies are turning into more and more multidimensional and multifaceted direction.

Alliance is a formal or informal relationship of security cooperation between two or more sovereign states. An alliance is a relationship among states that have joined together for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose. Members of an alliance are called allies. Alliances are a necessary function of the balance of power / balance of threat, operating in international system of sovereign states.

After collapse of Soviet Union 1989-1990, the international system turned into unipolarity, with the US as the dominant power. The advent of unipolarity has had profound effects on the nature of contemporary alliances. The unipole has greater leeway to opt for its preferences. When coming to years of 2014-2016, major changes took place and polarity of international system began to transform in 2015 towards a new position, which is more “polycentric”.

The key driving force behind the transformation process, starting in 2014, seems to be the strengthening political-military cooperation between China and Russia. But not only the size of fiscal military expenditure can alone explain the parity in the military might between the “US unipole” and the “twinpole of China & Russia”. There are other qualitative/quantitative development factors or technologic innovations as game-changers. More info here , here and here.

Structurally, the new setting, the US versus China & Russia partnership, resembles bipolarity and therefore alliance ties will be more structurally determined than in unipolarity, where structural imperatives are either absent or greatly diminished. On the other hand, the new setting comprising more “polycentric” features, resembles more multipolarity and structural imperatives are more multidimensional.

The present great powers have a number of long-endurance relations or networks, which partly overlap each other’s networks and contain apparent contradictory and ambivalent elements. As stated above, “The alliance formation of great powers is transforming into direction, which is characterized by multidimensionality, multifacetedness, ad hoc-type / short-duration solutions besides certain long-endurance relations.”

The Sino-Russian partnership after the Cold War

Since the establishment of Sino-Russian diplomatic relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, the two countries have officially established the following types of partnerships:

  • the transition period, 1990-1993, from the collapse of Soviet Union to “reborn” Russia
  • the 1994 simple partnership, when “constructive partnership” was set up,
  • the 1996 the security partnership, when China and Russia established a strategic partnership after Primakov became the Foreign Minister of Russia
  • the 2001–2004 economic partnership, when the Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation were signed
  • the 2010 full partnership, when China and Russia upgraded their partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership
  • the 2014 upgraded full partnership, when the New Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement was signed by Putin and Xi
  • the 2019, decision to upgrade their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era
  • the 2022, a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era and global sustainable development, further upgraded by Joint Statement in Beijing

Chinese leaders have formulated the partnership concepts as follows:

By “partnership”, it means that the cooperation should be equal-footed, mutually beneficial and win-win. The two sides should base themselves on mutual respect and mutual trust, endeavour to expand converging interests and seek common ground on the major issues while shelving differences on the minor ones.

By “strategic”, it means that the cooperation should be long-term and stable, bearing on the larger picture of relations. It transcends the differences in ideology and social system and is not subjected to the impacts of individual events that occur from time to time.

By “comprehensive”, it means that the cooperation should be all-dimensional, wide-ranging and multi-layered. It covers many fields, contains both bilateral and multilateral levels and is conducted by both governments and non-governmental groups.

Putin offers insight into Russia-China ties, February 3, 2022

A signed article by President Vladimir Putin titled “Russia and China: A Future-Oriented Strategic Partnership” was published by Xinhua News Agency on Thursday, Feb 3, 2022. Putin calls Beijing a strategic partner in trade and on the international stage.

Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, entering a new era, has reached an unprecedented level and become a model of efficiency, responsibility, and aspiration for the future. Putin noticed celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, in 2021.

He underlined the strong development of business ties saying that a number of important initiatives are being implemented in the investment, manufacturing, industrial, hi-tech and agricultural sectors. The energy partnership consists of long-term oil and gas supplies to China and the implementation of a number of large-scale joint projects. The two countries are consistently expanding settlements in national currencies and creating mechanisms to offset the negative impact of unilateral sanctions, based on the signing of an agreement of payments and settlements in 2019. One of Russia’s strategic objectives is to accelerate the social and economic development of Siberia and the Russian Far East, which are located in the immediate neighborhood of China. All this should further enhance the complementarity of the Russian and Chinese economies.

Certainly, an important part of the visit will be a discussion of relevant international topics. Foreign policy coordination between Russia and China is based on close and coinciding approaches to solving global and regional issues. Russia and China are actively cooperating on the broadest agenda within BRICS, the Russia-India-China framework, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as other multilateral frameworks.

From western viewpoint and China’s

Western researchers and analysts have been, for years, suspicious on China-Russia partnership downplaying its significance, especially in strategic context. Russia has been named as a junior-partner, totally led by major China. This illusion is also at the root of the present crisis between the US and Russia. American pundits have reckoned that China at the very core prioritized the relationship with the US over Russia and therefore, its partnership with Moscow was a mere marriage of convenience devoid of strategic intent. This resulted in the delusional thinking that China will be “neutral” in the US’ current standoff with Russia.

It explains the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s odd call with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on January 27 to solicit Beijing’s help. The firmness of Wang’s response would have been a rude awakening for Blinken. Wang reminded Blinken: “The US should stop interfering with the Olympic Games Beijing 2022, stop playing with fire on the Taiwan issue and stop creating various anti-China cliques. Wang then underscored that Beijing endorses the principles underlying the Russian position, the earnest implementation of the Minsk Agreement, the indivisibility of security, the futility of “strengthening or even expanding military blocs” for security, and the imperative need to address “Russia’s legitimate security concerns.” 

China has since confirmed its pro-Russia position in the statement made by its permanent representative to the UN Ambassador Zhang Jun at the Security Council Open Meeting on Ukraine on Monday. Beijing stood shoulder to shoulder with Moscow. 

It is important to recall the heavy comment by President Xi during his virtual meeting with Putin on December 15 (the same day, coincidentally, that Moscow delivered its draft bilateral treaty on security matters to the US.) Xi said, “this relationship even exceeds an alliance in its closeness and effectiveness.” This is the crux of the matter. 

Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development, February 4, 2022, Beijing, China

This joint statement can be regarded as an important, even historical strategic document because it deals with the common vision of the future shared between Russia and China. Obviously, the target audience of this statement is primarily aimed at the domestic political and military decision makers and secondarily foreign decision makers and researchers. Here below, I make some key excerpts from the document.

Parties state that:

“Some actors representing but the minority on the international scale continue to advocate unilateral approaches to addressing international issues and resort to force; they interfere in the internal affairs of other states, infringing their legitimate rights and interests, and incite contradictions, differences and confrontation, thus hampering the development and progress of mankind, against the opposition from the international community.” This is direct critic on the US and its allies.

Parties state that:

“There is no one-size-fits-all template to guide countries in establishing democracy. A nation can choose such forms and methods of implementing democracy that would best suit its particular state, based on its social and political system, its historical background, traditions and unique cultural characteristics. It is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their State is a democratic one”. Firm reference to the Westphalian principles (Non-interference into the inner affairs of the other states)

Parties state that:

“The sides reaffirm their focus on building the Greater Eurasian Partnership in parallel and in coordination with the Belt and Road construction to foster the development of regional associations as well as bilateral and multilateral integration processes for the benefit of the peoples on the Eurasian continent. The sides agreed to continue consistently intensifying practical cooperation for the sustainable development of the Arctic.” This will boost cooperation between Russia’s EAEU and China’s BRI, as well as cooperation in the Arctic.

Parties state that:

“The sides are gravely concerned about serious international security challenges and believe that the fates of all nations are interconnected. No State can or should ensure its own security separately from the security of the rest of the world and at the expense of the security of other States.” Directly refers to the ongoing Ukraine crisis and Russia’s two proposals of December.

Parties state that:

“The sides reaffirm their strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests, state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and oppose interference by external forces in their internal affairs.” Referring to Westphalian principles, Russia’s two proposals as well as confirming collective security alliance of the parties.

Parties state that:

“The Russian side reaffirms its support for the One-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan.” Russia firmly supports the Chinese efforts to reintegrate Taiwan (mutual political-military support). 

Parties state that:

“Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions, intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose colour revolutions, and will increase cooperation in the aforementioned areas.” China firmly supports Russia in her efforts to prevent the US/NATO/EU to turn the Ukraine into an anti-Russia block or to overthrow governments friendly to Russia (mutual political-military support). 

Parties state that:

“The sides believe that certain States, military and political alliances and coalitions seek to obtain, directly or indirectly, unilateral military advantages to the detriment of the security of others, including by employing unfair competition practices, intensify geopolitical rivalry, fuel antagonism and confrontation, and seriously undermine the international security order and global strategic stability. The sides oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other States.”Very strong negative statement vs. the US and NATO.

Parties state that:

“The sides are seriously concerned about the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (AUKUS), which provides for deeper cooperation between its members in areas involving strategic stability, in particular their decision to initiate cooperation in the field of nuclear-powered submarines. Russia and China believe that such actions are contrary to the objectives of security and sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific region, increase the danger of an arms race in the region, and pose serious risks of nuclear proliferation.” Parties strongly oppose AUKUS format.

Parties state that:

“The sides call on the United States to respond positively to the Russian initiative and abandon its plans to deploy intermediate-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. The sides will continue to maintain contacts and strengthen coordination on this issue. The Chinese side is sympathetic to and supports the proposals put forward by the Russian Federation to create long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe.”Parties strongly support Russia’s proposals regarding European security and confirm joint coordination.

Parties state that:

“The sides note that the denunciation by the United States of a number of important international arms control agreements has an extremely negative impact on international and regional security and stability. The sides express concern over the advancement of U.S. plans to develop global missile defense and deploy its elements in various regions of the world, combined with capacity building of high-precision non-nuclear weapons for disarming strikes and other strategic objectives.” Parties intransigently oppose the US global missile defense system, which mean military encirclement of China and Russia. Parties will stand back-to-back and support each other.

Parties state that:

The sides emphasize that domestic and foreign bioweapons activities by the United States and its allies raise serious concerns and questions for the international community regarding their compliance with the BWC. The sides share the view that such activities pose a serious threat to the national security of the Russian Federation and China and are detrimental to the security of the respective regions. USA clearly has an active biowarfare program.  Russia and China feel threatened by this and they will act together to stop the USA from developing illegal and dangerous bioweapons. The US has numerous military-bacteriological laboratories in ex-Soviet countries and has an active biowarfare program. Parties will act together to stop the US from developing illegal and dangerous bioweapons.

Parties state that:

“The sides attach great importance to the issues of governance in the field of artificial intelligence. The sides reiterate their readiness to deepen cooperation in the field of international information security and to contribute to building an open, secure, sustainable and accessible ICT-environment. The sides support the internationalization of Internet governance, believe that any attempts to limit their sovereign right to regulate national segments of the Internet and ensure their security are unacceptable.” Parties intend to deepen bilateral cooperation in AI, ICT and international information security.

Parties state that:

“Russia and China strongly advocate the international system with the central coordinating role of the United Nations in international affairs, defend the world order based on international law, including the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, advance multipolarity and promote the democratization of international relations.” Key words in this context are the UN and multipolarity.

Parties state that:

“They reaffirm that the new inter-State relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era. Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no “forbidden” areas of cooperation, strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the changing international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries.” Parties reaffirm the irreversible character of their mutual partnership.

Parties state that:

“The sides reaffirmed their intention to strengthen foreign policy coordination, pursue true multilateralism, strengthen cooperation on multilateral platforms, defend common interests, support the international and regional balance of power, and improve global governance.” Parties strongly refer to features of alliance-type cooperation.

Parties state that:

The sides support the deepened strategic partnership within BRICS, promote the expanded cooperation in three main areas: politics and security, economy and finance, and humanitarian exchanges. Russia and China aim to comprehensively strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and further enhance its role in shaping a polycentric world order based on the universally recognized principles of international law, multilateralism, equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security. The sides will continue to work to strengthen the role of APEC as the leading platform for multilateral dialogue on economic issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Parties firmly promote the significance and functioning of three key associations, BRICS, SCO and APEC.


The threat-interest model of partnership is an analytical tool to simplify the complicated bilateral relationship between China and Russia. It can serve this purpose by noticing the dynamics of change in the bilateral relationship originating from threat and changing interests.

When looking at the China-Russia relations, the cooperation formula has moved from partnership to comprehensive strategic partnership under the high perceptions of external threats. The driving force has been the perception of mutual interests of both parties, which are changing from converging towards congruence. This trend has been particular prominent both in economic and political spheres.

The China-Russia military cooperation formula has moved from strategic partnership to comprehensive strategic partnership under the present perceptions of external threats, when more and more converging factors can be found for perceptions of mutual military interests.

The present Moscow-Beijing relationship, while not an alliance, is today more than the strategic partnership as it is still called such. It is may also be described as an entente, a basic agreement-like state of affairs about the fundamentals of world order supported by a strong position of common interest. The entente embodies best the recent rise of a more politically and militarily assertive Russia and an economically and institutionally ascendant China as the two principal forces challenging the United States in global policymaking on the world stage.

When the threat perceptions still increase, as they highly likely will do, the China-Russia military relations move from comprehensive strategic partnership towards formal alliance. This is exactly right now the situation, where the cooperation formula is located today. The external threat perceptions of China and Russia crossed the pain threshold, which caused the joint action of partners, to become de facto military allies.

Clearly, the Russian-Chinese partnership is not for wartime contingencies only, rather it is built on commonality of interests and is far from a time-serving alliance of limited objectives. It is built on the principles of equality, mutual respect and on the complementarity between their political economies. Unsurprisingly, an exceptional “closeness” developed in course of time between the two countries. The mutual trust and confidence grew as it was a pragmatic and flexible arrangement of good-neighbourliness.

Then, something radically changed in the external environment when the West staged a coup in Kiev to install an anti-Russian regime. Since 2014, China and Russia have strengthened their relationship, increasing political, military, and economic cooperation. Arguably, the perceived threat from the Obama and thereafter administration to both China and Russia hastened this process. The aggressive US intentions toward Russia and China have become a cementing factor in their partnership.

In the military sphere, the diffusion of military equipment and technology, additional joint planning and intensive exercises have brought the relationship to a stone’s throw from potential joint basing and/or the possibility of joint military operations. Today, the US has reason to worry that Chinese-Russian cooperation is a reasonable possibility in many security issues globally. Besides, Sergey Lavrov recently emphasized that Russia viewed Iran as a “part of team”.

Beijing strongly supported Russia’s efforts to quell the “colour revolution” in Kazakhstan. Although it may seem far-fetched that China and Russia may make coordinated moves on Ukraine and Taiwan, the fact remains that the Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang chose the present moment to say in a rare interview with the US media that, if the Taiwan island authority, emboldened by the US, keeps going down the road for independence, it would most likely involve China and the US “in a military conflict.” No doubt, it is direct warning to the US and a clear signal to the US administration of potential Sino-Russian joint measures.

China is a stakeholder in the denouement of the US-Russia standoff. With Washington continuously increasing pressure in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, China and Russia are pushed into a “back-to-back” position in Eurasia. China is going to be an indispensable partner in Russia’s ongoing crisis with the US, while on its part, China cannot remain indifferent if Russia gets crushed by the US, lest it loses “strategic depth”. 

To be sure, the meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping on Friday will be hugely consequential for world politics. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that “significant time will be spent on exchange of opinions on the international agenda this time. This will include strategic stability in Europe, guarantees of security for Russia, Russia-US and Russia-NATO dialogue, as well as regional problems.” 

On December 28, a senior Chinese politician Xia Baolong, was saying that “an important political document will be approved” during Putin’s visit in Beijing. Ambassador Andrey Denisov, Russia’s veteran envoy in Beijing since 2013, has said that Putin’s visit will be “crucially important for us (Russia), is crucially important for China, and I would say, for the entire world. The leaders of two major countries that have a great impact on global politics are meeting, and they are meeting during rather contradictory times.”