The Sino-Russian relationship will continue to strengthen due to the continuation of U.S. policies towards those two nations, and that “aggregate Chinese and Russian power” will “continue to approach, but not exceed” U.S power through 2022, according to a new Rand Corp. report.

The report’s authors describe the growing relationship between Beijing and Moscow as one of pragmatism and based on “balancing” against “U.S. hard and soft power.” Additionally, China and Russia share a desire to counter a perceived U.S. ideology “of militarism, interventionism and the forcible imposition of U.S. values on other countries.”

The relationship between China and Russia has gradually developed and grown closer over two decades, according to the report. When Bejing and Moscow launched their first joint “field exercise” in 2003, it signaled that the two countries had moved from a relationship based on “calculation” to one of “cooperation.”

Between 2012-2017 China and Russia strengthened their relationship from “cooperation” to “collaboration” in large part due to “Western sanctions.” In particular, following sanctions placed on Russia in 2014 due to the annexation of Crimea, Moscow pursued “much closer ties” to Beijing.

Key to this upgrade in relations was the “15-year Military Cooperation Plan” signed by the two parties in 2002, which “expanded the provision of military equipment, technology licenses, and joint research and development.” While the total amount of equipment wasn’t noted in the report, during this timeframe, China was granted access to “high-end” Russian systems such as the Su-27 and Su-30 aircraft, guided-missile destroyers, and technical assistance that included Russian scientists working in Chinese defense plants.

The authors expect this collaboration to continue and suggest that Beijing and Moscow only increase interoperability between their armed forces through joint training and equipment exchanges. Hands-on collaboration” between the Chinese and Russian militaries has become routine, while the depth and scope of joint exercises have gradually become more complex since the first exercise in 2003.

As the U.S. scrambled to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, this August, Moscow, and Beijing held large-scale joint exercises for the first time inside China. These exercises “reflected a ‘new level’ of military cooperation” between the two nations, according to the Associated Press.

Authors of the report suggest that one way to dial back the relationship between the U.S.’ two chief global competitors would be to reduce Western sanctions on the two nations. If done, “Russia might seek stronger relations with Europe and the United States,” which could cause the Sino-Russian relationship to “weaken or decline.”

However, this kind of policy change is described as “likely undesirable” and not probable. Absent these policy changes in Washington, the authors of the report state that, in particular, the military relationship between Moscow and Beijing will continue to develop, presenting an ever-increasing challenge to the U.S. on the global stage.

“With little, outside a significant policy shift, that the U.S. government can do to disrupt China and Russia’s growing relationship, the report’s authors suggested that the U.S. military prepare for greater cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

“The U.S. military can prepare for the results of greater Sino-Russian cooperation, including by expecting further diffusion of Chinese and Russian military equipment, additional joint planning and exercises, potential joint basing, and eventually the possibility of joint military operations,” the report concludes.”

James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.

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