8 The New China-Russia Alignment obstacles to its great power ambitions. Its economic model relies on high rates of growth driven by large state-directed corporations supported by massive public subsidies, loans from state-owned banks, and access to global markets now focused inward due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of a free media, an independent judiciary, and popular elections all encourage official corrup- tion and abuses of power. The government continues to deny Chinese citizens basic civil and political rights, making integration with the mainland unat- tractive to countless people in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Rising prosperity could lead more PRC citizens to demand political rights to correspond with their new economic power, which would challenge the political monopoly of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A DEVELOPING ALIGNMENT Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev’s landmark visit to Beijing in 1989 signified the dissipation of Cold War–era animosity between Moscow and Bei- jing. Since then, Russian-Chinese relations have been on an upward trajec- tory. Following the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, Russia again became an important source of defense products and technology for China as well as an important economic and diplomatic partner. The PRC’s growing need for raw materials and energy due to its expanding economic activity has aligned with Russian export priorities and need for foreign investment. Putin has accu- rately described the relationship as both “comprehensive”—involving diverse political, economic, and military ties—and “strategic” in that Beijing and Mos- cow consider their partnership fundamentally important.18 In 2017, President Xi argued that, in an era of global complexity and uncertainty, good Sino- Russian relations promote revitalization of both nations as well as interna- tional peace and stability.19 Developments between Russia and China since the Cold War are at odds with earlier periods of world history. Moscow and Beijing have often been rivals, not partners. Their relationship has most often been characterized by bloody wars, imperial conquests, and mutual denuncia- tions. Sino-Russian ties have been particularly uneasy for the past few centu- ries. Although China was the strongest power in the 17th and 18th centuries, during the 19th century, Tsarist Russia surpassed China in terms of economic and military power. The growing power imbalance between a rising Russia and a weakening China enabled the Russian empire to annex territories claimed by China. These “unequal treaties” resembled how the divided Chinese were also suffering humiliating treatment at the hands of the Europeans, Japanese, and eventually Americans. Later in the 20th century, the Soviet Union and Mao- ist China were initially close allies due to their shared Marxist-Leninist out- look. Following a decade of close partnership after World War II, however, diverging ideological interpretations and personality issues turned into fierce
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