Russia and China maintain a strategic partnership consisting of comprehensive cooperation in the areas of diplomacy, defence and security, as well as energy. However, whereas Russia until recently took the lead in the relationship between Beijing and Moscow, this has now turned around: China has become stronger than Russia.
During the course of the last decade, more and more signals have appeared that the Sino–Russian teamwork is crumbling. The importance of energy and arms deals is steadily decreasing, because China has found alternative energy suppliers and because China nowadays is manufacturing weapon systems itself. Furthermore, whereas earlier joint war games were a united demonstration to show the West their command in the Asia–Pacific region, more recent unilateral exercises include scenarios in which the other is considered the potential adversary. Beijing’s increasing intrusion in ‘Moscow’s Central Asia’ and in its Far East province, as well as China’s rapid military build-up, have raised awareness in Moscow of a threat from China.
The West should follow a double-track policy by recognizing China’s rising power but also by maintaining its cooperation with Russia. NATO should establish a NATO–China Council with Beijing. The EU should strengthen its ties with the Asia–Pacific region and keep track of the Russo–Chinese relationship through enhanced cooperation with ASEAN. The Dutch government should also strengthen its ties with ASEAN, by making use of its outstanding relations with Indonesia. All of the Western actors should avoid taking sides between Moscow and Beijing.