Visiting Moscow during his first international trip as China's new president in March, Xi Jinping told his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that Beijing and Moscow should "resolutely support each other in efforts to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests." He also promised to "closely coordinate in international regional affairs." Putin reciprocated by saying that "the strategic partnership between us is of great importance on both a bilateral and global scale." While the two leaders' summit rhetoric may have outpaced reality in some areas, Americans should carefully assess the Chinese-Russian relationship, its implications for the United States and our options in responding.
The Putin-Xi summit received little attention in official Washington circles or the media, and this oversight could be costly. Today Moscow and Beijing have room for maneuver and a foundation for mutual cooperation that could damage American interests.
Specifically, the two nations could opt for one of two possible new courses. One would be to pursue an informal alliance to counter U.S. power, which they see as threatening their vital interests. This path might prove difficult, given competing interests that have burdened relations between Russia and China in the past.