Trilateral Troubles: Is America Ready for China’s Latest Geopolitical Tricks?

Trilateral Troubles: Is America Ready for China’s Latest Geopolitical Tricks?

Lyle J. Goldstein

Security, Asia

A new trilateral exercise with South Africa may be a sign of coming attractions, but the United States should not overreact.

These are heady days for strategists tracking the development of Russia-China relations. Nearly every day brings a new surprise. Some are inclined to see the relationship as a mere “marriage of convenience”—fleeting in time and lacking in substance. More and more, however, this “quasi-alliance” seems quite durable and also to have legs. 

Rather concrete developments in the relationship may range from the seemingly mundane, but actually ultra-critical completion of the first-ever bridge across the Amur, finally connecting the twin cities of Blagoveshensk and Heihe in the interior of Northeast Asia. But almost a thousand kilometers to the north, a Chinese-made super ice-hardened LNG tanker plies Russia’s Northern Sea Route (NSR), even in the wintertime—an unprecedented feat of engineering and navigation.

Strategists focusing on the military domain also find a rather full plate. Back in the fall, the South Korean Air Force sortied en masse and warning shots were even fired to indicate displeasure with the first-ever joint aerial patrol by Russian and Chinese strategic aviation. Tokyo was also not amused by this stunt, of course. Then, at Valdai, Russian president Vladimir Putin made the interesting announcement that Beijing and Moscow would cooperate in the critical sphere of early warning systems—a rather important tool for advanced military establishments. Now, the Russian and Chinese navies are carrying out the first-ever naval exercise with a third country: South Africa. One could dismiss the exercise as another ploy to gain attention without significant strategic meaning, but that might also be a mistake when viewed in a larger context.

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