Australia's strategic blind spot: China's newfound intimacy with once-rival Russia

theconversation.com
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fairly difficult
We have become very China-centric in our strategic thinking — and this could be to our detriment. We need to pay more attention to Beijing's deepening defence ties with Russia.
China didn't feature prominently in Prime Minister Scott Morrison's speech last month to announce Australia's $270 billion defence update, but it was clear this was the country on everyone's minds.

We have become very China-centric in our strategic thinking in Australia — and this could be to our detriment. Beijing's deepening defence ties with Russia remain a blind spot in our public debate that we need to start paying attention to.

China and Russia, once unlikely partners, have grown much closer in recent years, especially when it comes to security and defence. The two countries are closer now than at any point since late 1940s-early '50s.

Still, instead of taking a serious look at this publicly described "comprehensive strategic partnership" between Russia and China, we largely play down what unites these two major nuclear powers and the world's most potent militaries outside the Unites States.

Troubled relations in the past

China and the Soviet Union (now Russia) didn't used to be so close. In 1969, ideological and political tensions between the countries led to limited but violent border clashes.

Though both run by communist governments, China and the Soviet Union continued to view one another with mistrust and hostility until the mid-1980s, when they engaged in a gradual deescalation of tensions.

Following the downfall of the USSR in the 1990s, the two former rivals began to look for ways to partner in a common strategic agenda — namely to challenge US dominance in international affairs.

Read more: Russia not so much a (re)rising superpower as a skilled strategic spoiler

Not a renewed love affair but a closeness of convenience

Relations today are remarkably different from the 1960s-70s, largely because of the converging agendas of presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Last June, Putin and Xi declared a "new starting point" in bilateral relations during a state visit by the Chinese leader to Moscow.

According to the Chinese state media, the…
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