China has no plans to forge a military alliance with Russia, the defence ministry said on Monday, responding to speculation that Beijing and Moscow could develop a united front against Nato.
“China-Russia military relations are ... an important supporting force in strategic cooperation between the two countries,” the ministry said.
“The two sides adhere to the principle of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third countries, which differs completely from the military alliance between some countries.”
The statement comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October that Moscow would not “rule out” a possible alliance with China.
It was the first time a Russian leader had made such a suggestion since the pact between the two countries collapsed in acrimony in the 1960s, and prompted suggestions that Russia might try to establish a military alliance with China to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato).
Chinese defence experts said the ministry’s message was clearly meant to stress Beijing’s desire to prevent tensions with Washington turning into “a hot war”, and to avoid inviting further scepticism in Europe via an alliance with Russia.
Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said it was “taboo” for China to even suggest forming a military alliance with Russia.
“Today, only countries that intend to wage war announce plans for military alliances,” Ni said.
“You push yourself into a corner when you do that, cutting out any room for negotiation. It’s not in China’s interests.”
Cheng Yijun, a specialist in China-Russia relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed, saying military alliances were legacies of the cold war and there was no legitimate need for China to be part of one.
“Nato was established to target the former Soviet Union, not China,” Cheng said.
“The organisation hasn’t done anything to harm the core interests of China so far.”
A Sino-Russia military alliance would drag Beijing into the disputes between Russia and Europe, where China did not have any interests, Cheng said.
Ni said China and Russia had many common interests, but history told China that Beijing would have to pay a huge price for a military alliance.
“Ties between China and the Soviet Union broke ... due to the territorial dispute over Zhenbao Island in 1969,” he said, referring to an island in the Wusili River on the border between the two countries.
“Today the relationship between China and Russia is a semi-military alliance, meaning they are allies but do not bind each other to any military obligations. It’s similar to the relationship of the Quad formed by the US, Japan, Australia and India.”
The Quad is often described as a “mini-Nato” and was revived in recent years to counter China’s growing power in the Asia-Pacific.
A Beijing-based military expert, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, said Chinese President Xi Jinping would have clear memories of the split in Sino-Soviet ties during his youth.
“Both Xi and Putin have called each other ‘best friend’,” the expert said. “Xi has had personal contact with Putin, but he also has ties with US President Joe Biden. He doesn’t want to be pushed around by either side.”
Cheng said military alliances were an outdated concept as all countries realised the importance and value of using peaceful means to tackle disputes and defend their national interests.
“There are conflicts and contradictions between each country’s national interests. Forming a military alliance means you prefer to use force to solve a problem, which is the worst option,” he said.
FROM THE ARCHIVES