China Calls Russia's Talk of Possible Military Alliance 'Positive,' with 'No Limit' to Their Ties

China has reacted warmly to Russian President Vladimir Putin's suggestion that the two nations could one day upgrade their strategic partnership to an official military alliance, thus uniting two of the United States' top global competitors.

"You can imagine everything," Putin responded when asked during his discussion Thursday at the Valdai Discussion Club whether a military alliance could be imagined between China and Russia.

The Russian leader explained that the reason such a pact had not already been forged had nothing to do with reservations on either side, but a lack of necessity.

"We have always assumed that our relations have reached such a degree of interaction and trust that we do not need it, but theoretically it is quite possible to imagine such a thing," Putin said.

He said no such project was currently in the works, "but, in principle, we are not going to exclude this, so let's see."

The following day, the proposal was brought to Beijing, where a reporter put forth the hypothetical during Friday's daily press conference with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

"China noted President Putin's positive remarks on China-Russia relations at the annual meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club in recent years, which demonstrates the high level and specialty of our bilateral ties," Zhao said.

He said that anything was possible, given the rapport that Beijing and Moscow have developed.

"There is no limit to China-Russia traditional friendship and no restricted area for expanding our cooperation," Zhao said. "Under the strategic guidance of President Xi and President Putin, mutual political trust and strategic coordination between the two countries has been enhanced."

russia, china, caucasus, joint, military, exercise
Chinese and Russian personnel participate in planning for a command and control exercise as part of the Caucasus-2020 drills in Kapustin Yar, Astrakhan province in September. China and Russia have participated in more joint exercises than ever before, uniting two of the United States' top global competitors. Russian Ministry of Defense

China and Russia have a complicated post-imperial past, once constituting a massive communist bloc in the earliest days of the Cold War and later turning on one another until the collapse of the Soviet Union brought new opportunities toward the end of the century. Ties tightened rapidly with Putin's rise to power two decades ago and accelerated since Chinese President Xi Jinping's tenure in 2013.

While vast differences remain, the two are finding more in common today than ever before.

Economically, Xi and Putin have sought to link China's global Belt and Road Initiative to Russia's regional Eurasian Economic Union to help swing the balance of international financial power to the East. Russia's far smaller economy poses challenges to their trade, but its vast natural resources make it an attractive trading partner.

China and Russia launched a new joint Siberian pipeline in December. The two nations announced last year that they are seeking to double the trade between them, with a goal of reaching $200 billion a year by 2024.

Russia has also stepped in to fill the gaps in China's military experience, inviting the People's Liberation Army to more joint exercises than ever before. Already a customer of Russia's advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system, Beijing contracted Moscow's help in developing a new missile early warning system, demonstrating deep trust in two powers traditionally suspicious of one another's intentions.

"We have reached a high level of interaction in the field of military-technical cooperation, and this is probably the most important thing," Putin said Thursday. "It is not only about the exchange of products or the purchase and sale of military products, but about the exchange of technologies."

He hinted that there is more to come.

"There are very sensitive things here," Putin said. "I will not speak about it publicly now, but our Chinese friends know about it."

The implications for the United States, a country that has branded the two countries as revisionist, revanchist powers bent on subverting an international rules-based order, could be daunting.

Countering China and Russia was the theme of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper's address earlier this week to the Atlantic Council think talk, where he discussed a new "era of great power competition."

"Our primary competitors—China and Russia—are rapidly modernizing their armed forces, and using their growing strength to ignore international law, violate the sovereignty of smaller states, and shift the balance of power in their favor," Esper said.

He called for more investment in foreign partnerships to maintain the Pentagon's upper hand.

vladimir, putin, xi, jinping, russia, china
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during their bilateral meeting on November 13, 2019 in Brasilia, Brazil. In addition to growing economic and military relations, Putin and Xi—two men whose have defied presidential term limits—have praised their warm personal relationship, Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

While the U.S. leads the 30-member NATO Western military alliance, it has, particularly under President Donald Trump, shored up ties in the East with Australia, India and Japan as part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Both groupings have raised insecurities for Moscow and Beijing, who share concerns about the potential deployment of mid-range missile systems, made possible by the U.S. exit last year from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

"The intention and statement of our American partners about the possibility of deploying medium and shorter-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region, of course, cannot but alert us, and, without any doubt, we will have to do something in response," Putin said Thursday.

Zhao on Friday also appeared hopeful that the two could rise to the occasion to jointly tackle such challenges.

"Our relationship has withstood the test of the changing international landscape and set a fine example of developing a new type of relations between major countries," he told reporters.

And despite anxieties in the U.S. and across much of the West as to this duo's growing power, he argued the two would be a force for good in the world.

"China is ready to work with Russia to comprehensively implement our leaders' consensus, enrich the strategic essence of bilateral relations, contribute to common development and revitalization, conduct closer strategic communication and coordination, and inject more positive energy into world peace and stability," Zhao said.