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Their relationship is often described as “transactional”, especially since China’s decades-long embrace of capitalism and the Soviet collapse of 1991 left them without a common Marxist ideology. But their deals are important to both countries.

Thanks to Western sanctions, Russia is now more commercially dependent on China. In particular, China “is a growing importer of Russian oil, gas and LNG,” says Eurasia Group analyst Alex Brideau. In turn, China is counting on Russia to support its foreign policy goals and supply energy through onshore pipelines that “are not vulnerable to interdiction by the United States or its allies”, says Neil Thomas, a Chinese expert from the Eurasia group.

Any Chinese decision to sharply increase its purchases from Russia will take time and a lot of investment in new infrastructure, but it is an increasingly attractive prospect in a world where US financial pressure and European fear of too deep a reliance on Russia and China drives both sides to look for future business opportunities elsewhere.

More broadly, China and Russia say they intend to work together to advance a “trend of redistribution of power in the world”. Both are fed up with American conferences on democracy and human rights, and neither wants to be told how they should treat their own citizens or neighbors.

This change of power is not a chimera. Yes, only America can project its traditional military power in all regions of the world. But in today’s world, “power” depends more on economic weight, access to valuable goods and the sophistication of cyber-weapons than aircraft carriers. In this sense, the size of China’s economy, Russia’s wealth of natural resources, and the capabilities both countries have demonstrated in cyberspace remind us that the Cold War ended three decades ago.

China and Russia also know that the allies of the United States, the source of another of America’s great strengths, also understand the shifting balance of power. Europe, Japan and other traditional American friends may share many values ​​with the United States, but they need decent relations with China and Russia for trade opportunities and energy security respectively.

China and Russia can also make arguments about America’s relationship with democracy that are not easily dismissed. How can Americans lecture the world about the value of democracy, they ask, when a third of Americans refuse to accept Joe Biden as the rightful President of the United States? If Washington cares so much about democracy and human rights, why is Egypt considered a “major non-NATO US ally”? Why does the United States treat the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a vital partner?

And by what right does Washington define democracy for the world? Most Americans regard the Russian elections and China’s assertions as outlandish democracy, but many countries are unhappy with US demands for fundamental reforms to their political and economic systems.

The nascent Sino-Russian partnership will always remain limited. The defining feature of their relationship is the reality that Russia is largely the junior partner. China has the world’s second largest economy. Russia’s GDP, meanwhile, is less than Canada’s and half that of California.

Moreover, the size of the Chinese economy makes it much more dependent on the health of its trade with the United States than Russia will ever be. In this sense, China is still primarily a status quo power that sees war as bad for business, while Putin likes to unbalance his opponents (see Russian troops on the Ukrainian border). China and Russia are also natural contenders for influence in Central Asia, the Arctic and elsewhere.

But China and Russia share a common aspiration (a greater share of global power) and a common obstacle (Washington). Today we are talking about the possibility of China and Russia making common cause on NATO’s role in Eastern Europe. Tomorrow, it may be Russian support for the Chinese approach to Taiwan.

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