A Perfect Match, Or Convenient Friend: Sino-Russian Energy Partnerships
Photo from Gazprom
By Madison Ianniello
By 2024, Russia is poised to be China’s largest supplier of natural gas. This follows Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inauguration of the Power of Siberia Pipeline in December 2019, amidst the U.S.-China Trade War. Seemingly, this symbolized a blossoming relationship between two United States adversaries.
This relationship is not grounds for panic: China’s energy partnership with Russia is unsustainably balanced and held together by convenience. The U.S. should not waste political or economic capital on derailing a relationship that is not sustainable from the outset.
In March of 2020, China set a new record, purchasing 1.6 billion tons of oil from Russia. Some experts theorized that this partnership was a match made in heaven—the world’s largest energy importer and exporter strengthening political and economic ties to meet energy security goals.
Despite this, China’s sheer economic size—which is eight times that of Russia—and political dominance create a power imbalance that Russia is unlikely to continue long-term. Additionally, China’s net-zero by 2060 carbon emission goals are a looming dark cloud over an infrastructure plan that will not become profitable for Russia until 2030.
The U.S. has made European energy independence from Russia a strategic priority. This goal has driven Russia to seek diversification of its customer base, ultimately encouraging the development of Sino-Russian energy partnerships. This strategic initiative is not one that the U.S. can afford to backtrack on.
In fact, energy security in many former Soviet states must remain a priority for the U.S. if it wishes to curtail Russian influence in the region. Given that the driving force for Russia to partner with China is a byproduct of U.S. strategy in the region, the U.S. must decide if offsetting Sino-Russian relationships is worth derailing its current posture.
Simply stated, it isn’t. Not only has China pledged to be carbon net-zero by 2060, but its Belt and Road Initiative could be completely fueled by clean energy as early as 2030. While it is possible that the current Sino-Russian relationship could derail these goals in favor of political power, a partnership with Russia is yet again not sustainable for China.
Because European dependence on Russian oil carries more long-term ramifications than the convenience-based Sino-Russian energy partnership, the US needs to continue its current posture and accept that short-term anxiety. Sino-Russian energy relations cannot derail decades of defense posture toward promoting independence in former Soviet states.
A relationship of convenience is not sustainable, and the U.S. should direct its attention elsewhere; perhaps on mitigating more pressing trades between the two countries such as China’s agreement to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system.