The Chinese-Russian Threat to America

The New York Analysis of Policy & Government has examined the latest reports on China’s rapidly growing armed threat to the U.S. In today’s article, we examine Beijing’s military ties to Russia.

A crucial element of China’s jump to military superpower status has been its alliance with Russia.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report on Beijing’s military ties to Moscow (E&SRC) notes that

“Since the normalization of relations between China and the Soviet Union in 1989, Beijing and Moscow have prioritized defense and security ties, which are now among the most important components of the overall relationship. This emphasis is reflected in their 1996 “strategic partnership of coordination,” which remains the foundation for high-level cooperation…China steadily increased arms imports from Russia, eventually becoming Russia’s leading destination for arms exports. …Since 2012… closer defense ties have been a key driver of warming China-Russia relations. Indeed, China and Russia appear to be moving toward a higher level of defense cooperation. The three main areas of the bilateral defense relationship—military exercises, military-technical cooperation, and high-level military-to-military contacts—show increases in the level and quality of engagement, collectively reflecting closer defense ties.

“…recent developments in China-Russia military-to-military relations have important implications for U.S. security interests and the Asia Pacific.

  • Russia’s sale of Su-35 fighter jets to China (deliveries of which began in December 2016) will help the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contest U.S. air superiority, provide China with technology that could help accelerate the development of its own advanced fighters, and serve as a valuable training and learning platform before China fields its next-generation aircraft.
  • The Russian sale of the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) defense system to China (with deliveries starting in 2018) should help China improve capital air defense and could assist the PLA in achieving increased air superiority over Taiwan if deployed to the Eastern Theater Command (bordering the Taiwan Strait). This SAM system would pose a challenge for Taiwan’s air assets in a potential cross-Strait conflict, the air assets of U.S. allies or partners in a South China Sea or East China Sea contingency, and U.S. aircraft, should the United States decide to become involved in such potential conflicts. The S-400 also could be used to help enforce China’s East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
  • The increased complexity and focus on joint operations of military exercises between the PLA and Russian Armed Forces help provide both sides with valuable experience in pursuing their defense objectives. The exercises are particularly useful for the PLA—which lacks recent combat experience—because they provide much-needed insights and knowledge that help China pursue its military modernization goals.
  • The recently expanded geographic scope of Sino-Russian military exercises, along with a new focus on missile defense, reflects increasingly aligned security interests and suggests the two countries are both signaling their respective support for the other’s security priorities. Greater alignment between the two countries in the security realm could pose challenges to the United States, its allies, and partners.

In an astute review of the relationship between Moscow and Beijing, Douglas Schoen and Melik Kaylan, in their book “The Russia China Axis,” state:

“While [the United States during the Obama Administration was] hobbled, Russia and China are resurgent on the international stage.  Thinking on the challenges each Axis nation presents, we can reach some broad conclusions: First, America’s influence around the world is receding: our military and diplomatic power; our political influence; economic might, and, perhaps most dangerously, the power and appeal of our ideas.  Second, in these same areas, the influence of Russia and China is increasing…

“Russia and China are increasingly expansionist…Both…have incfrased their military budgets substantially while the United States [under the Obama Administration] dramatically [scaled] back…Russia and China have become increasingly nationalistic and aggressive…while America [became]…inner directed, even isolationist. Russia and China are pursuing systematic plans to upgrade their their militaries and expand their conventional forces; the United States [under Obama slashed] its defense budget and reduced the size of its conventional [and nuclear] forces…”

The Report concludes on Monday.