The new unholy alliance: Xi’s China and Putin’s Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing, on February 4, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. | Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/Alexei Druzhinin

Ominous news greeted freedom-loving people across the globe as the Beijing Olympiad began. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed in their 38th personal meeting between the two heads of state that “a trend has emerged towards redistribution of power in the world.”

The two presidents jointly released a 5,300-word document making it clear that the redistribution was to them and away from the post-Cold War order forged by America and its democratic allies.

This document, “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development,” announced to the world a new partnership between the two nations that is even more comprehensive than the one forged between the Stalinist Soviet Union and Mao’s China.

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And the reality is that while Mao’s China was decidedly the junior partner in the previous alliance, there is no doubt that Communist China is the senior partner in this ominous new threat to freedom and national sovereignty anywhere it currently exists.

This new “axis of totalitarianism” is the greatest threat to human freedom and dignity to arise since the end of the Cold War symbolized by the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

As William Galston so aptly put it in The Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The New Axis of Autocracy,” America and her allies around the world are now confronted by a hostile “axis of autocracy stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific.”

Walter Russell Mead, WSJ's columnist and foreign policy expert, explained the new situation in even more ominous terms:

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be remembered for geopolitics, not sports. It’s where Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin declared war on the post-Cold War world order and the American primacy that sustained it. Issuing a joint statement that criticized the U.S. by name six times and outlined an ambitious program of anti-Western collaboration from Ukraine to the South China sea, the two leaders left no doubt that the world’s holiday from history has come to an end.

Emboldened by American fecklessness and grotesque incompetence in its shameful withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden’s perennial weakness has turned out to be more temptation than either the Russians or President Xi could withstand. 

Let’s remember that the closest to an actual nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Why did that happen? After President Kennedy’s perceived weakness in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Premier Khrushchev and the Soviet government did not believe JFK would use military force to stop the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba until it was almost too late to avoid warfare that would have inevitably involved at least a partial release of nuclear weapons by each side.

The greatest danger of nuclear war is MISCALCULATION — when at least one side, maybe both, underestimates what would drive the other side to cross the nuclear threshold.

I believe we are in greater danger than we know of just such a miscalculation escalating into a war over Ukraine or Taiwan that would involve the three nations possessing the largest nuclear arsenals to be involved in a real, live shooting war. I am reminded of one diplomat asking another, as Europe slaughtered the cream of a whole generation of its men in World War I, “How did all this start?” to which the other replied, “If we only knew!”

America’s perceived weakness in the Afghanistan debacle has caused the Russians and the Chinese to underestimate (I hope and pray) President Biden. The Chinese are waiting with bated breath to see how the American-led NATO alliance responds.

If NATO caves and Ukraine is invaded, China will begin preparations to move against Taiwan unilaterally, and both Russia and China will say to our allies around the world, “You think America is going to keep its commitments to defend you? Don’t you believe it! Did they keep their word to the Afghans? Did they keep their word to the Ukrainians?”

When the old Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, for one brief moment Ukraine became the third-largest nuclear power in the world. I wrote first about this in The Christian Post on March 31, 2014.

The Clinton administration, rightly concerned about these nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists or aggressor nations, urged the Ukrainians to give up their nuclear weapons in return for “ironclad” security guarantees. The “Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances” involved Ukraine surrendering all of its “nukes” and signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty whereby Britain, Russia, and the U.S. pledged to protect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.”

We gave our solemn pledge to defend Ukraine and we did nothing when the Russians seized the Crimea and chunks of eastern Ukraine in 2014.  Are we going to repeat our shame by going back on our word again? And if and when we do, will anyone believe us ever again when giving solemn security guarantees? What about Taiwan? What about the Philippines? What about Japan? What about the Baltic States? What about Poland?

If we fail to keep our word, there will also be major nuclear proliferation. Does anyone believe that Russia would be threatening to invade Ukraine if the Ukrainians still had their nuclear weapons? Of course not.

If we allow the Russians to further abuse the Ukrainians’ national integrity, then countries like Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan in the Pacific and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the Baltics will pursue nuclear deterrents for themselves. And the world will rapidly become a far more dangerous place.

When Ukraine agreed to surrender its newfound nuclear arsenal, they were hailed as “model citizens.” At the time, however, there were those inside and outside Ukraine who were opposed to giving up what could be the only effective deterrent to Russian aggression, including Andriy Zahorodniuk, a former defense minister who now says, “every time somebody offers us to sign a strip of paper, the response is, ‘Thank you very much. We already had one of those some time ago,’” according to The New York Times.   

As I warned in a recent Christian Post opinion piece, if we allow Russia to successfully invade Ukraine, it will signal to the dictators of the world that the strong can impose their will on weaker nations.

This joint declaration by China and Russia has raised the stakes in Ukraine immeasurably. The “holiday from history” is over. America faces a stark choice. After World War I, we retreated to our continent smugly assuming that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans insulated us from the Old World and its troubles and turmoil, thus sowing the seeds for the worldwide catastrophe that was World War II.

After World War II, America resisted the siren song of isolationism. Instead, under President Truman’s sterling leadership, America constructed a series of alliances and a policy of containment which eventually led to the demise of the Soviet menace.

Now, for the third time in a little over a century, America must choose engagement with, or isolation from, the world. This time we face a more mortal threat than either the Axis Powers or the Soviet “evil empire.”

China has the potential to become the most serious existential threat to American democracy that we have ever encountered. China’s economy is far stronger than any the Soviets ever created. They have the potential to seize the worldwide leadership in technology and research from us and they have used new technologies to make their country the most invasive and monolithic surveillance state mankind has yet seen.

If we withdraw they will gradually dominate the world economy and human freedom will atrophy beyond the borders of the United States.

Also, if China becomes the world’s dominant economic and military power, the U.S. dollar will cease to be the world’s reserve currency. If and when that happens, we will no longer be able to fund our welfare state on credit and massive budget deficits. In other words, we will have to live within our means, and that would severely curtail Social Security and the entire federal welfare state.

Make no mistake! The future of America as we have known it is at stake. The true “evil empire” of Communist China, and her junior partner, Russia, are on the march.

I fear that China is playing three-dimensional chess and the Biden administration is playing “Tic-tac-toe.” The Biden foreign policy team reminds me of “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” sailing “on a river of crystal light, into a sea of dew."

Not only is Communist China more powerful than the Soviet Union ever was, but America is also far more divided about its identity and purpose than it was during the Cold War. Our current fixation on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” will not prepare us to win an all-out competition with Red China.

We need to do everything we can to get the best scientists and researchers working to beat the Chinese on the frontiers of research, whatever race the “best” is.   

We are doomed to lose that competition if we hobble ourselves by insisting on “equity” if it means sacrificing excellence.

As the NASA administrator said in my favorite movie, "The Right Stuff," about the original Mercury astronaut program, “The best shall be first.” America must do its best to make certain that our “best and brightest” are competing with China, regardless of ethnicity.

To do less would be equivalent to making sure all team members get to play before you have actually won the game. Make no mistake, somebody is going to win this game, just like the Cold War. Winning and losing both have consequences, and winning has much better consequences for the future of humanity. There are no certificates for “participation” in this contest.

The Chinese and Russian “Joint Declaration” just raised the stakes in Ukraine to a whole new level. I pray we rise to the challenge. The stakes are existential and enormous.

And if we fail this test, the next one will be even more difficult. And we must always remember that the greatest danger of a nuclear exchange is miscalculation.

I pray to God that we get our act together and no one miscalculates. May God bless America and may we be a country once again that He is willing to bless.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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