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Russia and China alliance a seismic change to world order


When former US president Donald Trump left office, it was hoped that without his disruptive and confrontational approach to global diplomacy a more stable and conciliatory environment would emerge. If the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan did not torpedo that expectation, then the rapidly escalating tensions between Russia and China and the Western alliance should extinguish any belief we are entering a new era of peaceful relations.

Those divisions were cemented this week when China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin used the Beijing Winter Olympics – who says politics and sport don’t mix – as a backdrop to unveil a sweeping long-term agreement that US expert Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, said could be the beginnings of a new Cold War.

Past relations between the two communist regimes have been chequered but, as the proverb goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. China and Russia now find themselves with much in common. As Mr Xi continues to escalate pressure on Taiwan as part of his One-China policy, Mr Putin’s build-up of forces on the Ukraine border is a stern effort to push back on NATO’s expanding ties with former Soviet nations.

The joint statement makes clear they have each other’s back, declaring that the “Russian side … confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China”, while also opposing “further enlargement of NATO” and calls on the “North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologised Cold War approaches”.

But it’s not just territorial expansion the two strongman leaders have on their minds. The international order was shaped after the Second World War largely by liberal democracies committed to universal human rights, free markets and limited state intervention in people’s lives. The application of those principles has, of course, been imperfect, but they are now under direct assault from China and Russia, who jointly yield enormous sway not just within their own borders but across the growing number of nations that rely on their economic and political support.

Through their authoritarian regimes they are committed to the primacy of the state in controlling the laws, markets and individual freedoms of its citizens. And for all the statement’s pledge “that democracy is a universal human value, and that its promotion and protection is a common responsibility”, it comes with the convenient proviso that “it is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their state is a democratic one”. But the intent is clear: Russia and China have had enough of being lectured to and criticised by the West.

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The joint statement takes aim at the new security partnership between Australia, America and Britain (AUKUS), claiming it increases the “danger of an arms race in the [Asia Pacific] region” and poses “serious risks of nuclear proliferation”.

Historians are sure to find much to scrutinise about these moments in time. Europe is on the brink of conflict on a scale not seen in decades and Australia’s regional neighbourhood is now home to the first nation to credibly challenge the military and economic might of America since the end of the last Cold War.

The tectonic plates of the international order are moving and Australia finds itself very much in the earthquake zone. How much nations are now forced to take sides in this realignment will very much determine whether this truly is the start of a new Cold War, or whether a newfound, smart and savvy effort to find common ground can waylay such a dire outcome.



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