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The East Wind Rises: China and Russia's Lawfare and Its Threat to Global Security

Xi and Putin's Beijing summit in May deepened China-Russia ties, integrating their soft and hard powers and blurring the line between wartime and peacetime.



Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet in Beijing, China May 16, 2024. (Inside image by ©Sputnik/Pool via Reuters)

When Xi Jinping welcomed his old friend Vladimir Putin to Beijing in May 2024, the strategic messaging was far deeper. Putin has met Xi more than 40 times since 2012. His latest state visit to China aimed at providing a major fillip to the 21st-century Sino-Russian axis. 

While celebrating 75 years since the then Soviet Union (USSR) recognized the People's Republic of China, Xi and Putin would not have forgotten the chequered history of their ties. The bitter Sino-Soviet split almost led to war in late 1960. It brought the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) at loggerheads with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The split shattered the idea of monolithic international communism.

The East Wind Blows

Notwithstanding the above, the Sino-Russian equation in the contemporary context is seemingly crystallizing into an East Wind power equation more quickly than expected. While addressing the Representatives of 64 Communist and Workers' Parties in November 1957, Mao Zedong foretold far ahead of time that "the east wind is prevailing over the west wind." 

At the Great Hall of the People in the latest Beijing summit, Xi accorded Putin a red-carpet inspection of officials and an honor guard welcome. These are the highest levels of welcome for a head-of-state visiting China. This was in addition to the PLA honor guards present at the airport to greet the Russian President upon his arrival. 

On his part, Putin too, chose China as his first state destination since being sworn in as President of the Russian Federation for a record fifth term.

Notably, weeks before the Kremlin launched its military offensive in Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Beijing formally announced their "no limits" partnership. Disturbingly, this included critical assistance from Beijing in reconstituting Russia's defense industrial base. There was intense international pressure on China to control the flow of dual-use equipment. At such a time, Beijing's alleged support for Russia and its defense industry against sanctions remains concerning.

During the 2024 Beijing summit, Xi and Putin issued a joint statement that declared a "new era" of Sino-Russian ties. This new era appears principally positioned in contradicting the United States and its allies on issues ranging from Taiwan and North Korea to Ukraine. Moscow and Beijing's collective military and economic strength is increasingly being juxtaposed with that of America and its allies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend an official welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China May 16, 2024. (©Sputnik/Pool via Reuters)

Rise of Non-Military Tactics

What aids the China-Russia objective apart from global geopolitical factors is the declining influence of the US and West-influenced global order. This is especially seen in the Joe Biden administration's abject failure in dealing with China, despite identifying the latter as Washington's biggest competitor, and Russia as its biggest nation-state threat. 

Moscow and Beijing are looking to drive changes by positioning themselves as a viable challenger duo in the emerging geopolitical grand slam. However, their own prevailing challenges, including a slowing Chinese economy, could well play spoiler.

Pressure from issues of sovereignty and territorial expansion is peaking in Asia. At this juncture, the pace at which China and Russia are fusing their hard and soft powers across many domains transcends boundaries between peacetime and wartime.

For instance, China defines lawfare as one of the main pillars underlying its military strategy. Similarly, Russia uses its own take on the law to substantiate actions under the Gerasimov Doctrine, its current military strategy

The Gerasimov Doctrine is Russia's new chaos theory of political warfare. In it, the role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown. It declares that non-military tactics are not auxiliary to the use of force but the preferred way to win

Chaos is the strategy that the Kremlin is pursuing. Meanwhile, concealment in making tactical dispositions remains the Chinese way, influenced by Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

Global Implications

The increased use of lawfare amplifies the theory that law is a non-lethal but potent weapon. It impacts the battlefield in a far greater strategic sense. Comparatively speaking, nations including the US, Japan, and India have not developed full-fledged lawfare strategies. Furthermore, they have not intently focused on lawfare. This has resulted in loosened control of the narratives critical to their strategic and military objectives, especially on territorial issues.

In the escalating contest between the West and the Russia-China combination, the East Wind power equation is establishing itself affirmatively, enduring many international pressures. Moscow and Beijing are gradually beginning to score global political and diplomatic gains. In the contemporary graph of diplomatic heft, the global power balance suggests that the China-Russia equation is emerging as the principal East Wind challenger to the US-led West like never before.


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

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about Dr Chansoria and follow her column "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter). The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which she is affiliated.