It’s Better to Deal with China and Russia in Tandem

“We think that would be a mistake. Divorcing policy toward one country from policy toward the other not only distorts policy toward each country, it also leaves neglected, or perhaps unrecognized, the overarching challenge of the escalating strategic rivalry between the United States and the world’s two other most formidable military powers, whose polices are increasingly aligned.”

” As is increasingly true, Russia and China coordinate key elements of their policies toward the United States. This they do when, for example, they both support third countries hostile to the United States, conduct military exercises designed to deal with U.S. contingencies, and oppose norms undergirding the U.S.-backed liberal international order. Their cooperation complicates the U.S. response to either of them separately. Similarly, continued tensions with Russia and growing tensions with China fuel greater collaboration between the two. As they draw closer economically, technologically, militarily and diplomatically, and their cooperation in each of these spheres crosses new thresholds, their combined weight in East Asia and across Central Eurasia swells the challenge far beyond that posed by either alone.”

“Success requires subtlety and patience. A crude U.S. strategy designed to pull Russia away from China or drive wedges between them has no chance of success and would almost surely have the opposite effect. The two countries’ political systems, the character of their leaders, the complementarities between their economies, and the parallels in their foreign policy agendas create a natural basis for what they describe as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.” But there are reasons—including historical grievances and strategic calculations—for the two to think twice about a wholesale alignment, and a nuanced U.S. policy designed to exploit this reality would minimize the risk that a “strategic partnership” will congeal into a hostile anti-U.S. alliance. Restored diplomatic engagement with Russia and a recalibrated sanctions regime crafted to resolve conflicts and not merely punish are first steps in creating strategic options for Russia beyond China.”

“the United States should eschew policies that could transform current tensions with China into a full-blown cold war. Here U.S.-Chinese interactions will obviously prove decisive. But improved relations with Russia could help reduce the risks. While Russia benefits from a certain degree of tension in U.S.-Chinese relations, in a cold war it would be under pressure to choose sides and thus sacrifice its strategic autonomy, a core element of national identity. Russian leaders will be loath to do so. Russia might have little direct influence over Chinese conduct, but improving U.S.-Russian ties and removing the incentives for Russian-Chinese strategic alignment would complicate Beijing’s calculus and could lead to less aggressive Chinese policies.”

“The approach to trilateralism should be diverse. Some issues may be better addressed through coordinated parallel bilateral discussions, such as areas of economic friction or some aspects of military competition. Some in trilateral formats, such as the threat of terrorism or the challenge of managing Afghanistan-like regional disorder. Others in multilateral forums, such as the six-party effort to deal with a nuclear North Korea or the P-5’s attention to nuclear risk reduction.”

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