Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Can Russia get used to being China’s little brother?

By Philipp Ivanov

21 Mar 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

The war in Ukraine has been the "single-most powerful accelerator" of strategic and economic ties between Russia and China. But China clearly has the upper hand, according to this FP analysis.

In 1949, a new tune hit Soviet airwaves in honor of Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s first visit to Moscow. “Moscow-Beijing” was a hearty military march sung by an all-male choir, with a catchy opening line—“Russians and Chinese are brothers forever”—capturing the spirit of socialist solidarity. The Soviet Union was cast as a big brother to the newly emerged People’s Republic of China, weakened by the devastating Japanese invasion and the civil war. And while Beijing was happy to take Soviet aid, resentment at being cast as the younger sibling would be one of the factors that eventually led the relationship to curdle.

This week, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow, the power dynamics are reversed. Today, China is the big brother—and Russia is increasingly, if not completely, playing the role of supplicant.

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