Maintenance window scheduled to begin at February 14th 2200 est. until 0400 est. February 15th


Forgot Password?

    Defense Visual Information Distribution Service Logo

    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-27 – Dr. Zenel Garcia and Dr. Kevin D. Modlin – “Sino-Russian Relations and the War in Ukraine”

    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-27 – Dr. Zenel Garcia and Dr. Kevin D. Modlin – “Sino-Russian Relations and the War in Ukraine”

    Advanced Embed Example

    Add the following CSS to the header block of your HTML document.

    Then add the mark-up below to the body block of the same document.



    Audio by Kristen Taylor 

    U.S. Army War College Public Affairs

    Claims that China has taken “Russia’s side” in the Ukrainian War oversimplify Sino-Russian relations. Garcia and Modlin contend Sino-Russian relations are a narrow partnership centered on accelerating the emergence of a multipolar order to reduce American hegemony and illustrate this point by tracing the discursive and empirical foundations of the relationship using primary and secondary materials. Furthermore, they highlight how the war has created challenges and opportunities for China’s other strategic interests, some at the expense of the United States or Russia.

    Read the article:

    Episode Transcript

    Stephanie Crider (Host)

    Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.

    The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the podcast guest and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, the US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.

    Decisive Point welcomes Dr. Zenel Garcia and Dr. Kevin D. Modlin, authors of “Sino-Russian Relations and the War in Ukraine,” which was featured in the autumn 2022 demi-issue of Parameters.

    Garcia is an associate professor of security studies in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the US Army War College. His research focuses on the intersection of international relations theory, security, and geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia.

    Modlin is an instructor at Western Kentucky University, where his research interests focus on security studies and international political economy. He holds a PhD in international relations from Florida International University and a master’s degree in economics from Western Kentucky University. He also served as a senior legislative aid for retired congressman Ron Lewis.

    Welcome to Decisive Point, Zenel and Kevin. I’m really glad you’re here. “Sino-Russian Relations and the War in Ukraine”—please give us some background on this. Where does China weigh in so far?

    (Zenel Garcia)

    Thank you, Stephanie, for having us.

    There’s a couple of things in the background that are important to know. Right now, China’s position towards the conflict in Ukraine, the war in Ukraine is complicated by the fact that it simultaneously wants to maintain a stable relation with the Russian Federation. It sees the Russian Federation as a key partner in a possible, emerging, multipolar order. And at the same time, it kind of needs Russia to continue to play a security guarantor role in Central Asia in particular.

    This is very important for China because, historically, having negative relations with Russia would usually undermine stability along China’s frontiers. So, on that side, right, it has every incentive in the world for the moment to not place itself diametrically opposed to Russia. At the same time, China’s trying to portray an image of being a responsible stakeholder in the international system, being a champion of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the international system, and it’s basically avoiding having to call Russia’s actions an act of aggression. So you can see that this connect there kind of places China in a very difficult position.


    Thank you, Zenel. Kevin?

    (Kevin D. Modlin)

    As part of this emphasis on the multipolar order, what we’re seeing is that it includes elements of agreement and disagreement throughout all that. That’s not uncommon in any state relation dynamic. But it seems that their articulation of multipolar orders emphasizes their autonomy in operations, that there’s not as much coordination behind that.


    Your article talks about Sino-Russian relations and promoting a multipolar order, as you just mentioned. Can you expand on that piece for us a bit?


    Sure. China and Russia have had a pretty rough relationship throughout the twentieth century. They went from the Russian Empire having been one of the countries that the Chinese government . . . the Republic of China before the (People’s Republic of China or) PRC was founded had identified the Russian Empire as one of the culprits of unequal treaties that had basically carved up Chinese territory during the nineteenth century. You fast forward and the Russian Revolution, you know, creates a (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or) USSR.

    But the Republic of China then begins to try to negotiate some of these treaties over time. Most of this goes into the sidelines as China’s kind of falling apart through civil war. But once you have the PRC formed, one of the things that was supposed to be a very positive development for the PRC was that it had established a close relationship with Russia, the Soviet Union, and that this actually translated into one of the largest technological transfers of the twenty-first century from the Soviet Union to China. And it doesn’t even last a decade before the two countries end up in a Sino-Soviet split, fighting skirmishes along the borders. All of this results in thousands of incursions, according to Chinese sources, by Russian-backed militias into Chinese western frontiers. And so, they don’t have a very positive relationship.

    Most of this gets settled, however, through a rapprochement of sort during the late 1980s. And by the 1990s, they were able to solve the majority of their territorial disputes. And it is here . . . that relatively positive process of settling the border, where you have the Chinese and the Russian leaders articulate that their aims are to play a role in the emergence of a new, multipolar order.

    Why do they want this? Because from their perspective, the unipolar moment is inherently detrimental to their interests. In other words, the United States can act as it wishes without necessarily having to take their interest into account. And if you’re sitting in Beijing and Moscow, of course, this is not a positive development.


    Going forward from that point, these relations continue. So they’re articulating a similar sense of an order. In contesting that sense, they’ve built somewhat of a foundation. We see this through the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and their interactions. So it has some substance to it at this point—that this is both the path they’re choosing and accepting with each other. But it involves this flexibility as well. So it’s a very different framework from us in the US when we think about relations and agreements—that they seem to usually embed some type of obligations to each other, and these are much more restrained. So there are agreements, but they usually entail less commitments to each other.


    What challenges and opportunities does the Russian-Ukrainian war pose for China?


    I think the biggest problem that China’s facing right now is that the Russians committed themselves to a conflict, and nobody expected them to perform this poorly.

    My guess is that if the Russians have been successful in all of their original aims, even if the Chinese would have had some trepidations about the spillover second- and third-order effects across the world, at bare minimum, the Russians can at least be seen as having played a key role in demonstrating their capability as a capable pole in the international order. Their poor performance here kind of makes it difficult for the Chinese because they can’t see Russia unilaterally fail because, if it fails, then who else is left to play this other role in a multipolar order?

    India could potentially fill that role. But the Chinese and Indians don’t necessarily get along. They have their own territorial disputes to deal with. The EU is certainly a big actor for the Chinese, mainly as a trade partner, but they’re dedicating a lot of resources to try to make sure that the EU is autonomous from American foreign policy because it . . . fundamentally, they don’t think it is, in a sense that the United States and its NATO allies, they don’t necessarily see everything eye to eye. But when push comes to shove, in this case of Ukraine, there’s a sense of greater unity.

    And so if Russia’s not playing this role of a pole, then that’s a significant challenge. They cannot see Russia inherently lose everything in this conflict. That’s probably the number-one challenge that they have along with, of course, that this conflict is a very clear act of aggression. There’s no way that you could paint this in any other way. And the Chinese are refusing to make the argument that this is in fact an act of aggression. They’re basically calling on all sides to kind of play a constructive role in settling the disputes. We clearly know who started this conflict. And so that kind of undermines China’s long-standing position of being a champion of sovereignty and territorial integrity. That’s not a good look because this is something they’ve tried to promote. As far back as Mao (Zedong), this is one of the key foreign policy principles.


    Conclusions and implications. What do we need to know?


    Building from this point, I think it presents an opportunity for us to think about a framework of relations among states that have some interactions, but not the degree of interactions that we anticipate. And by “interactions,” I’m emphasizing the aspect of commitments. Some countries are willing to incur cost to help other countries in the system, and this is a mutually beneficial aspect to an agreement. But they also involve costs, and we have not seen that element in the relations between Russia and China, so they’re avoiding long-standing commitments to each other, especially when it entails security risks. So how does that look conceptually? I think it’s going to be a really important way to organize our thinking going forward in Russia-China relations. Because again, we come to the table making assumptions of relations that are a little more different than what we’re seeing here. So they could still articulate this idea and rally other followers in this concept. And from our experience watching the relations among NATO, we would say, “Oh, well, there’s commitments that are following here. And it’s possible that that could evolve at some point, but, as history suggests and as Zenel outlined, there is not a pattern of that at this point. Again, it’s coming back to these concepts that I think will help us organize in a slightly different way so that both we’re realistic in what’s going on between Russia and China and we’re not overly pessimistic or optimistic. So it’s both the lens of realism and constructivism.


    I wanted to add on to Kevin because I think that nuance is very important. We hope that the article brings that out. This notion that, well, what we’re hearing China say sounds very pro-Moscow. Therefore, they basically have already thrown their lot entirely with Moscow.

    But when you actually begin to unpack “What is it that they’re doing,” it doesn’t look that way. Because the Chinese have other interests. In other words, they’re navigating a very different strategic environment than we are, right? Our expectation is “Look, this is a clear act of aggression. These are the things that we are trying to do to compel the Russians to change their behavior. So, get onboard or you’re clearly not onboard. Clearly, you’re on the opposite side.” And I’m not entirely sure that that kind of approach really works in an international order that is becoming more multipolar—meaning if you were still in the Cold War, where there’s two clear camps, so to speak, foreign policy can definitely look a bit more binary—very black and white I meant in regards. I’m not saying that’s also positive, but that’s what it looked like. It’s a little bit more different now, and you definitely see this play out in the global south.

    And I think this is one of the important takeaways, in my view, for American policymakers, which is: Number one, we already have other kinds of interests and conflicts with China as it is. And so, we actually need to understand how the Chinese are viewing these particular problems, even if we don’t necessarily like how they respond to them. Because that helps us design policy towards China and elsewhere more effectively if we’re actually able to see the problem more clearly.

    And so, if we can obviously see that there’s a lot of discursive agreement between Moscow and Beijing, but that, in practice, they’re both trying to avoid serious commitments to each other—especially security commitments, as Kevin was outlining—then that means that there’s always room there to negotiate. There’s always room there to kind of shape behavior. That’s one of the things that we concluded with.

    We actually do have a relatively successful history of shaping Chinese behavior. The problem is that we assume that if they don’t entirely take up our preferred position on an issue automatically, that’s a loss. And I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If you’re able to kind of keep moving the needle forward over time, then I would call that a successful approach to shaping another country’s behavior, especially if they’re becoming more relevant in the international system. The fact that you still have that kind of influence to shape Chinese behavior means quite a lot. So it’s not necessarily doomsday, so to speak. There’s room there for us to improve things.


    Do you have any final thoughts or anything that you would like to address before we go?


    One additional aspect that I think is going to mold this dynamic between Russia and China, that’s just as consequential as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is the shifting economic outlook for China.

    So this is going to have them less outwardly focused. They seem to be much more inward in consumption production and policy focus. And so, this is gonna make a big deal for China’s economic growth and how this projects influence. So we may have a situation where both China and Russia are articulating this idea of multipolarity in this decade, but maybe not in as strong a position relative to last decade. I think an outstanding question that we do not know the answer to is “Will that mean that they will coordinate more, or will they coordinate less in that type of a scenario?” This is, of course, speculative.


    And to kind of back Kevin on this, too, all foreign policy starts domestically. And if you’re looking at what’s going on in China right now, you have the 22nd party congress (20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party), which should be coming up in October. We know for a fact Xi Jinping’s gonna go up for a third term. But China is having significant economic issues that it needs to deal with. So it’s not entirely falling apart, as some people will try to assess. But China does have a lot of economic issues. It has a banking issue, it has a real estate issue, it has a regulatory problem that it’s slowly trying to mature. And so all of these are major policy things that are gonna cause significant domestic pain for the party. And they really haven’t encountered this level of discomfort economically since the late 1990s, when they were trying to reform the state-owned enterprise system that produced about 50 million unemployed people in China—all of this so they could accede to the (World Trade Organization or) WTO.

    They’re definitely trying to grapple with a lot of domestic pain from the economic spillover of the conflict of their own policies domestically and, of course, the global supply chain issues that are affecting the global economy today. So all of that to say, “That actually allows us to have a greater role in shaping Chinese behavior.” Why? Because their corporations are not exposed to the Russian economy the same way.

    The Sino-Russian trade is minimal. But their companies are extremely exposed to American and European markets, and they want that access. That’s what keeps the machine going, so to speak. That’s an area where you could definitely negotiate, and you could definitely try to establish a better working relationship. I highly doubt that we’re gonna skip into the sunset and kumbaya, so to speak. But you can’t ignore that China exists and that it is a great power. Therefore, you’re gonna have to figure out a working relationship with them in the twenty-first century.


    And we may be seeing elements of that right now with the Biden administration revisiting tariffs and sanctions on China. And we’re expecting discussions between Xi and Biden. This is in the context of China not committing as much to Russia as we had anticipated. So maybe there is this opening as a result of that arrangement. I don’t know if anyone would have expected that these trade negotiations may be accelerated as fast if there hadn’t been the context of the war in Ukraine.


    What a pleasure. Thank you, gentlemen, for your time and your insight. Also, thank you for your contribution to Parameters.


    Thank you, Stephanie.


    Thank you very much.


    Listeners, if you’d like to learn more about the war in Ukraine and China’s role or lack of it, check out the article. You can find it at Look for volume 52, issue three.

    If you enjoyed this episode of Decisive Point and would like to hear more, look for us on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and any other major podcast platform.



    Date Taken: 08.18.2022
    Date Posted: 06.20.2023 15:09
    Category: Newscasts
    Audio ID: 74941
    Filename: 2306/DOD_109717779.mp3
    Length: 00:15:06
    Artist US Army War College Press
    Album Decisive Point – Season 3
    Track # 27
    Year 2022
    Genre Podcast
    Location: US

    Web Views: 10
    Downloads: 0
    High-Res. Downloads: 0