Given China’s rise and the threat that this poses to Russia, we would expect the two states to be at best friendly rivals. Yet the relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping is warmer than ever. What accounts for the positive change in their relationship? Based on social identity theory, I argue that China and Russia are cooperating to establish a common identity due to their rejection by the West as outsiders. In terms of “ontological security theory,” they have doubled down on their outsider status. While Russian elites fear being treated as a “junior partner” by the stronger and wealthier China, the PRC has managed to assuage such concerns by deferring to Russia in its near abroad, including Central Asia, on security issues. The sanctions and tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have driven two non-liberal powers closer together.
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