Chinese President Xi Jinping is facing one of the biggest geopolitical setbacks of his life, Russia and the US held “professional and substantive talks” on strategic stability in Switzerland on July 28.
China, on its own part, is able to read into the broad purpose of US-Russia talks. It understands that the Biden administration in the US understands how a wedge can be driven between Moscow and Beijing, as a part of its larger strategy to completely isolate China and also to focus its energies purely on China.
Global Times, a Chinese State-media publication that functions as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), published a report about the US-Russia talks on July 28. Generally, Global Times represents the Chinese foreign policy community’s wolf-warrior diplomacy and slanders or abuses China’s rivals. However, this time around, Global Times seemed rather passive.
Global Times reported that as per US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, the American delegation discussed “policy priorities and the current security environment, national perceptions of threats to strategic stability, prospects for new nuclear arms control, and the format for future Strategic Stability Dialogue sessions.”
The uncharacteristic Global Times report didn’t use a dramatic title either. It simply stated, “US-Russia strategic stability talks unlikely to yield tangible results.” The report itself is of a very factual character, with Global Times failing to explain why the strategic stability talks were ‘unlikely’ to give good results.
The July 28 talks between the US and Russia follow the Geneva meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in June. At that time, Putin and Biden had issued a US-Russia Presidential Joint Statement on Strategic Stability.
Now, the US-Russia talks are picking up pace and this is getting Beijing worried. Global Times reported, “The two sides agreed to hold another Strategic Stability Dialogue in September. Before that, Washington and Moscow will, through informal negotiations, determine the agenda to be discussed.”
For China, any attempt by the US and Russia to stabilize their bilateral ties is going to have far-reaching implications.
Firstly, it will allow the Biden administration to focus freely on China. Presently, its focus is divided between Moscow and Beijing, which gives China some respite. Secondly, if Russia gets rid of American and European sanctions, it will have no qualms in abandoning China and the Sino-Russian relationship would lose its very foundation. And thirdly, there are a number of common grievances against China on which Moscow and Washington could start cooperating.
Biden has been already pushing Russia to cooperate in the cybersecurity sector. Both Russia and the US have been facing frequent attempts from Chinese hackers to target their systems. Then, there is also an inherent danger posed by China’s growing nuclear arsenal. Biden would have a natural inclination to undermine China’s nuclear programme by getting Russia involved.
In fact, Global Times too reported, “when promoting US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, the Biden administration has been sensationalizing, with groundless excuses, so-called China’s expansion of nuclear power. This is obviously being done in a bid to pile pressure on China’s arms control. It further aims to sow discord in the strategic partnership or coordination efforts being conducted between Beijing and Moscow.”
To be fair, China’s fears are quite legitimate. Russia and the US may have already developed a tacit understanding in order to achieve their common objectives against China. Take the example of the Arctic, a fast-melting region in which the US and Russia are the two most powerful countries involved. Meanwhile, China is also trying to stake a geographically unjust claim over the region.
However, Russia and the US have shown a tendency to cooperate in the Arctic. Recently, China was allowed to get involved in a major intergovernmental setup that would deliberate and work out the various fishing quotas for countries interested in the Arctic.
According to Nikkei Asia, the US, China, Japan and Russia are among the countries planning to conduct joint research on fishing in the Arctic Ocean in a step toward setting forth international rules. The joint research aims to track the types of fish in the Arctic and their current catch levels. If a fish stock is deemed sufficient, a rule will be issued to allow commercial fishing within set quotas.
Make no mistake, Russia and the US are the biggest powers in the Arctic, and China couldn’t have been included in an intergovernmental set up for the region without their assent.
Now, by including China, they have forced the Communist country to do what it hates to do- follow international maritime rules. China would hate to acknowledge this, but the Xi administration too seems to understand that Moscow and Washington might just start ganging up on China as their bilateral ties get stabilised.
China can continue arguing that US-Russia talks won’t result in substantive results. However, there are clear signs of expanding cooperation between the US and Russia, and China can only watch and writhe on the sidelines.