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China and Russia Blame America for a ‘New Cold War’
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China and Russia Blame America for a ‘New Cold War’

The two countries continue to bolster each other’s hand against the U.S. and its allies. 

The competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continued to heat up over the past several weeks. The most worrisome developments center on Taiwan. Earlier this month, according to Taiwan’s ministry of defense, the CCP sent a record number of military aircraft into the island nation’s airspace. This deliberate provocation was intended to intimidate not only Taipei, but also Washington. 

The U.S. has been supplying Taiwan with billions of dollars in arms and training as part of an effort to ward off Beijing. But there is growing alarm that this might not be possible. 

While Taiwan may be the most important flashpoint between the two rivals, it isn’t the only source of tension. Let’s take a look at some of the recent developments between the two sides, including how China and Russia continue to bolster each other’s hand against the U.S. and its allies. 

The CCP refuses to say it is competing with the U.S.

On October 6, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with the CCP’s Yang Jiechi in Zurich, Switzerland. Yang is a member of the Politburo of the CCP’s Central Committee and the director of its foreign affairs office. The Central Committee sits at the top of Beijing’s hierarchical pyramid. To put it into perspective, keep in mind that the CCP has more than 95 million members. But the Central Committee consists of just 370 or so CCP leaders, a tiny fraction of the party’s overall membership. This same body is empowered to select the 25 members of the CCP’s Politburo, including Yang. Seven members of the Politburo belong to its powerful standing committee. And only Xi Jinping sits on top of the standing committee, the Politburo, and the Central Committee.

There is much more to the CCP’s organizational model, but the bottom line is this: Yang is a big deal in the CCP’s autocracy. 

Washington and Beijing each released their own readouts from Sullivan’s encounter with Yang. And there is a noteworthy difference. The White House reported that the meeting was a follow-up to President Biden’s call with Xi on September 9, during which the two world leaders “discussed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition.” Sullivan also made it clear that the Biden administration would “continue to engage with the” CCP “at a senior level to ensure responsible competition.” 

Note that the White House used the word “competition” twice in a statement totaling just 175 words. 

Yang disagreed. In its own readout from the meeting, the CCP’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs bluntly stated: “China opposes defining China-U.S. relations as ‘competitive.’” 

Yang emphasized “the mutually beneficial nature of China-U.S. relations,” claiming that when “China and the United States cooperate, the two countries and the world will benefit,” but when they “are in confrontation, the two countries and the world will suffer severely.” Yang also repeated the CCP’s common talking points concerning the importance of “win-win results” and the necessity of avoiding a “new Cold War.”

Why won’t the CCP publicly admit that China and the U.S. are indeed competing in a variety of ways? 

It could just be a rhetorical ploy, as the CCP is keen to coopt the language of Western internationalists. Yang and other senior Chinese officials portray themselves as the keepers of the international order and are eager to make the U.S. out to be the aggressor on the world stage. That is, the CCP is trying to claim the moral and legal high ground for itself, so much so that Yang can’t even admit that Beijing has deliberately positioned itself as a competitor to Washington. 

The U.S. government isn’t buying this routine. But the Chinese aren’t the only ones pretending that America is the party trying to stoke conflict. So are the Russians. 

Beijing and Moscow reject Biden’s “Summit for Democracy”

Yang’s counterpart in the Kremlin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, also claims that the U.S. is trying to provoke a “new Cold War.”

President Biden has repeatedly explained that his foreign policy is organized on the idea that the world is now embroiled in a competition between autocracies and democracies. In December, the president plans to host a virtual “Summit for Democracy.” The purpose of the event is to “galvanize” the world’s democracies into “defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.” 

Naturally, the world’s two leading autocracies – China and Russia – disapprove of the summit. When addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, Lavrov claimed that the summit “in the spirit of a Cold War, as it declares a new ideological crusade against all dissenters.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry couldn’t have said it better. In fact, during a press conference on September 27, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked about Lavrov’s comment. “I fully agree with Foreign Minister Lavrov,” Hua replied. She went on to echo Lavrov, claiming that the “Summit for Democracy” draws an “ideological line for bloc politics” and “will only lead to division and confrontation, which will find no support as it runs against the trend of the times.” 

Hua said the U.S. should “do some soul-searching.” She cited a litany of front-page news items, including the murder of George Floyd, as reasons to doubt the superiority of American-style democracy.   

Russia and China take aim at the Quad and AUKUS

The Biden administration has moved forward with two partnerships that are intended to check China’s agenda: the Quad and AUKUS. 

On September 24, President Biden hosted the first-ever in-person meeting of the leaders of the Quad. Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan all met with Biden at the White House. The Biden administration emphasized that the four leaders were working together on many issues, ranging from the best way to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, to the “climate crisis,” to “partnering on emerging technologies, space, and cybersecurity.” 

While the White House’s statement said nothing about China, everyone knows the Quad nations have the CCP in mind. Everyone includes the Kremlin, which also sees the Quad as an attempt to undermine Russia’s historical ties to India.

AUKUS is the new partnership formed by Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. One of its earliest initiatives, a deal in which the U.K. will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, caused immediate waves. The French are upset because Australia canceled a pre-existing deal for other submarines. And China is angry because the nuclear submarines are part of an effort to counter the CCP’s aggressive agenda for expanding its power on the high seas.

Lavrov has consistently blasted the Quad and, in recent weeks, he’s slammed AUKUS as well. In late September, Lavrov portrayed the AUKUS deal as a nuclear proliferation threat, saying that Russia will likely have to request oversight from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if Australia acquires the nuclear-powered submarines. 

The CCP quickly endorsed Lavrov’s message. “We believe that the cooperation between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia on nuclear submarines poses a serious risk of nuclear proliferation and violates the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),” Hua said during the press conference on September 27. “The concerns expressed by the Russian side are completely legitimate and reasonable.”   

China defends Russia against the “Global Magnitsky Act”

On September 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes provisions calling for the U.S. government to consider sanctioning 35 senior Russian officials and businessmen under the “Global Magnitsky Act.” That act, which was signed into law in 2012, is named after Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption activist who died in a Russian prison in 2009.

The Kremlin immediately rejected the 2022 NDAA’s Magnitsky-related language. The Chinese foreign ministry did as well. 

“We noted relevant reports and strong response on the Russian side,” Hua said on September 27. “China firmly rejects the US pointing fingers at other countries and imposing unilateral sanctions under the pretext of human rights.” She continued by claiming that the “Global Magnitsky Act” somehow violates “international law” and “basic norms governing international relations.” 

“Such hegemonic and bullying practices are just unpopular,” Hua claimed. “They have been opposed by Russia and China, and will meet rejection and opposition from more and more countries.”

As the examples above show, President Biden has a point when he argues that the world is currently enthralled in a contest between autocracies and democracies. 

The autocrats in China and Russia share much more in common with each other than either of them does with the U.S. 

Tom Joscelyn is a senior fellow at Just Security.