One of the relatively new facts of geopolitics is the close alliance of Russia and China. Since the Soviets fell at the end of 1991 they haven’t exactly been on the outs. But since Putin took over at the end of 1999 they’ve been coordinating now to the point of a virtual mutual defense pact.
Of course, the Russians have signed virtual mutual defence pacts before. I can recall one in August 1939 that didn’t work out so well for them in the medium term. If we push hard enough, we can sink this one too.
But how? Economic sanctions will have some effect, however not enough to cause a rift. We could start really dropping the economic hammer on China per trade. But Biden would never do that, as he wouldn’t pay the domestic price of more expensive consumer goods. We could offer the Chinese a carrot rather than the stick and try to buy them out of the relationship with Russia. But they are not only after money in the Russian relationship one way or another. They seek to use Moscow as a pawn in their steady quest to replace the United States as the world’s leading economic and military power.
So, how to break them up? There’s a way. It lies in their national pride and culture. The Russians are a highly racist people. So are the Chinese. The Russian man on the street has a Fu Manchu view of the Chinese as a throng of dark threatening Asians not up to Russian cultural standards. The Chinese think anyone not Chinese are basically barbarians. Their culture is ancient and highly sophisticated. They view the Russians as little better than children. Which is also the way they view the rest of the world.
Thus, if the United States were to start emphasizing Moscow’s subservience to Beijing your average Russian, including Putin, is going to get very upset. The Chinese will be amused and brush it off. But, when the inevitable Russian backlash happens and the Russians proclaim their superiority to the supposedly inscrutable alien Asians, the Chinese will not be amused and their arrogance will cause them to respond in kind. Hence, a rift we can exploit.
It wasn’t that long ago, March 1969, that the Russians and Chinese had a seven month miniwar on the Ussuri River near the Manchurian border. Both sides took casualties and it ended with a ceasefire. But both sides also have long memories, especially the Chinese.
It is sadly unlikely this diplomatic strategy will be followed. The Biden administration has neither the imagination, expertise, or knowledge of Russian and Chinese culture to implement it. They will do exactly what the Russians and Chinese expect and will be met with the expected response. And gradually, over decades, the Chinese dragon will gain power while the Russian bear takes the hit in Ukraine and slips into geopolitical control by Beijing.