Western assessments of the China-Russia relationship generally reach one of two conclusions: hyperventilation about a Beijing-Moscow alliance that aims to upend the existing international order or a blithe dismissal of a temporary meeting of minds and interests. Neither position accurately characterizes the current relationship, which is best understood as a genuine convergence of national interests despite powerful centrifugal forces. From a Chinese perspective, at least, a third option – alignment without alliance – can endure, especially if both sides agree to align themselves while maintaining a safe distance from each other, so that the competitive elements of their relationship can play themselves out without derailing their partnership.
China-Russia relations have been on a very positive trajectory since Xi Jinping assumed the supreme leadership in Beijing in 2013. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet frequently – 12 times in two and half years – in bilateral settings and in the expanding number of multilateral venues in which the two countries have membership, such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
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