By Don Ritter
The relationship between China and Russia poses the greatest danger faced by America and the West since the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939 initiated WWII. If alarm bells are not ringing all across Washington, DC, they should be. China was already a global power based on its expanding economy, modernizing military and diplomatic reach, but the burgeoning relations with Moscow provide Beijing with renewed energy, literally and figuratively.
What does that mean for the rest of the world?
The China-Russia symbiosis is easy to understand. Russia provides the oil, gas and raw materials at discount prices, while China trades its high technology and endless amounts of manufactured products. It’s a win-win.
Russia is fueling China’s technology-based economy and its military. Not to mention Russian agricultural production, which helps feed China’s 1.5 billion people. The relationship fulfills the long-term basic needs of the respective partners. It’s no wonder China’s President Xi Jinping gloats that “this hasn’t happened in 100 years.”
For the foreseeable future, China’s vast purchases of Russian natural resources perpetuates the war in Ukraine, making China wholly complicit in the ongoing death and destruction. Because of the China lifeline, Russian President Vladimir Putin can conceivably keep fighting until Western electorates lose patience and quit.
Since the Russians went on the warpath, the resulting global sanctions have so far not seriously wounded its economy, while fossil fuel sales at high prices have buoyed it. That’s thanks mostly to China – but also India, and to Europe itself! Russia’s GDP fell by only 2% in 2022, well below predictions, thanks to fossil fuel sales keeping it afloat.
Conversely, America’s economy is struggling with high inflation and bank failures, and experiencing a pressing need to mobilize its defense industries to keep up with its critical role in the war in Ukraine – producing ammunition, in particular. Perhaps worse, Biden administration climate change policies and priorities mean there’s been no mobilization of America’s vast fossil fuels capacity to push back on the current Russian and Saudi energy dominance.
Outside of America (add Canada, Western Europe and Australia), the rest of the world, including Eastern Europe, see Western democracies denuding themselves of the very fossil fuels that still-developing countries need to grow their economies and feed their people. These nations are committed to using fossil fuels and may only be giving lip service to climate change because they want friendly and financial relations with the West.
At the same time, the West will not help developing nations harness their own fossil fuel capacities. This is true for institutions like the USAID, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, among others.
Developing nations like India and Brazil are on the sidelines over the war in Ukraine largely because they see the West fossil fuel-energy disarming in the present while over-focusing on the risks of climate change for the future. These countries need oil, gas, coal and fossil fuel-derived fertilizers and petrochemicals to survive and prosper. Unfortunately for the West but fortunately for developing nations, these resources are readily available from Russia and the Middle East, along with manufactured products from China. This further marginalizes the U.S. and Europe.
America’s leadership is no longer the guiding North Star in the Global South, as the investments, products and markets of China and the fossil fuels and related products of Russia and the Middle East begin to supersede the advantages of tying their futures to Europe and the United States.
Adding to the West’s self-induced dilemma, most of these countries have traditional populations and governance that are not ready for the revolutionary social policies sweeping over the West – while Putin lays claim to “protecting traditional values” and such social policies have no traction in China.
The West faces a serious predicament: How to weigh the value of guarding against what many view as the potentially serious long-term effects of climate change versus the current phasing out of fossil fuels despite the risk of geopolitical failure. Unfortunately, the West is not even actually considering its options; it is denouncing and repressing fossil fuel production, thus inadvertently strengthening the China-Russia axis. Iran is already in the China-Russia bag and Turkey is more and more leaning that way.
Recently, oil and gas giant Saudi Arabia has made stunning moves in the China-Russia direction, in some large part because fossil fuels are their lifeblood, now and into the future – and the Saudis see America downgrading that life blood while at the same time seeking to cut back its presence in the Middle East.
Adding to the dilemma, China totally dominates the world in green energy raw materials, technologies and production. In that regard, “going green” means greater U.S. energy dependence on China for the foreseeable future – gravely affecting its ability to control its own foreign, domestic and defense policies.
The fact is, fossil fuels are by far the most indispensable component of all the world’s economies and the dominant weapon of war as militaries are built and run on fossil fuels. In fact, 85% of the world’s energy consumption comes from fossil fuels and we see China, ostensibly our main adversary, going full steam ahead on an “all-of-the-above” approach – which focuses on oil, gas and coal, plus some renewable wind, solar and hydropower. They are also actively engaged in nuclear power: 43 plants have been built, 13 are under construction and 45 are planned, while the West’s nuclear power atrophies.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently reported that, while the Biden administration is pushing for net-zero “carbon” emissions by 2050, a policy with potentially enormous negative impacts on the economy and military preparedness, the U.S. will still derive some 65% of its energy from fossil fuels as compared with some 79% today. But what will the geopolitical cost be for even a 14% reduction?
A long-term China-Russia axis is dangerous for a fossil-fuel-disarming America and West. France and the European Union recently urged Xi to hold back on supporting Russia, but begging or delaying is not enough to make us safer. Add a still developing, natural-resources-dependent Global South going along (by energy necessity) with this fossil-fuel-strong new world power structure, and the situation becomes even more precarious. It may soon give rise to a civilizational shift or true existential threat.
The “alarm bells” only ring for those willing to listen. It’s high time the West re-evaluates its energy and climate change approach – before it is too late.
- Don Ritter holds a Science Doctorate from MIT and served fourteen years on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce and Science and Technology Committees.
- He was a National Academy of Sciences Fellow in the USSR, speaks fluent Russian, and was Ranking Member on the Congressional Helsinki Commission and founding Co-Chair of the Baltic States-Ukraine Caucus.
- After leaving Congress he created and led the National Environmental Policy Institute.
- He is a founder and President & CEO Emeritus of the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce, and a Trustee of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), where he co-chairs the Museum Capital Campaign.