Russia and China have more than just communism and a dislike for the present rule-based global order in common. They have a shared past that goes back to 1715 when Russia became the first country to set up an embassy in China.
It was a Russian orthodox mission in Beijing that paved the way for closer engagement between the two nations. The mission turned into a de facto embassy – the only one in China for almost a century. The proselytizing mission became a precursor to Russia’s acquisition of China’s outer regions, namely, Manchuria and Mongolia.
As an imperial power, Russia had the upper hand since China, by the 1860s, had declined considerably. During this period, China had also sought Russian help to ward off threats from other imperial powers which had sought access to the former’s lucrative trading ports. In return, Russia extracted its pound of flesh and acquired over 350,000 square miles of Chinese territory. This included the strategically located Pacific port city of Vladivostok which is the entry point into the Sea of Japan.
Modern-day China wants to avenge the pain of its ‘century of humiliation’ and wishes to ‘reclaim’ historical territory from its neighbours. But this aspiration is not applicable to Russia, and most certainly not by using its template of intimidation and aggression. This is because Moscow’s relevance in Beijing’s strategy was different and much more important than a specific piece of territory.
As China identified new partners and lured American allies, it found the ‘X-factor’ to make its alternative axis of power more disruptive and effective. China decided to collaborate with one of America’s oldest enemies, Moscow. Present-day Russia may be a pale shadow of its former stronger past but continues to be a technological and military powerhouse with strategic capabilities and deep inroads in key geographies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Moscow’s insatiable hunger to join forces to form an anti-America front was an added bonus.
As global realignment began to take shape, both in Asia and in the Middle East, causing the world to become increasingly bipolar, it was perfect timing for fellow comrades Jinping and Putin to come together.