This past week, Russia and China simultaneously escalated their separate military activities and threats to the sovereignty of Ukraine and Taiwan respectively — countries whose vibrant independence is an affront to Moscow and Beijing but lies at the heart of U.S. and allies’ interests in their regions. Even if Moscow’s and Beijing’s actions do not result in a military invasion of either country, and most experts still believe that is unlikely, the scale and intensity of the military moves demand immediate attention. U.S. and allied officials dare not dismiss the certainty that Russia and China are sharing intelligence or the growing likelihood that they increasingly are coordinating actions and strategies.
On China, the annual U.S. Threat Assessment of the intelligence community said: “China is attempting to exploit doubts about U.S. commitment to the region, undermine Taiwan’s democracy, and extend Beijing’s influence.” Lost in media coverage of the report was a warning about “Russia’s growing strategic cooperation with China — to achieve its objectives.” Seen independently, the Chinese and Russia challenges would be a handful for any U.S. president. Should China and Russia act more cohesively and coherently, and you’ve got a narrative more consequential than any Tom Clancy novel’s plot. It’s a scenario for which the U.S. and its allies lack a strategy or even a common understanding.