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U.S.-Russia-China relations and impacts on regional security

International security and political stability are mostly dependent on the relations among major powers, of which the U.S.-Russia-China relations play an important role. What the nature of these relations is and how they affect international security and politics are matters of great concern in the world.

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To affirm its superpower status and role as "leader of the world," the U.S. takes initiative in adjusting its National Security Strategy and Military Strategy, pursuing unilateral policies, provoking rivalry among major powers, increasing its defence budget, and strengthening all-round capabilities in the realms of nuclear weapons, space, the Internet, navy, and missile defence with the aim of shifting global strategy in its interest. As a sign of robust renaissance in post-Soviet era, Russia is augmenting strategic deterrence by means of its nuclear arsenal and high-tech weapons and redoubling efforts to preserve its strategic space and national interest while demonstrating its status and roles in international issues. China is taking a series of steps to alter domestic situations and global order and no longer adopts the guiding philosophy of "hiding your strength, biding your time" so as to achieve the "China Dream." To attain this goal, China seeks to step up the "Belt and Road Initiative" and "Made in China 2025", especially rapidly rebuilding the military along the line of loyalty, combat readiness, and being ready to fight and win wars. Currently, China is able to fire submarine-launched nuclear missiles and strives to upgrade its outposts in the East Sea, challenging U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and complicating security situation in the region in general and in the East Sea in particular.

U.S.-Chinese relations are fairly complex and capture the attention of the world. According to strategic analysts, these relations in the coming time are mostly characterised by both cooperation and competition in which the latter tends to be a more prominent feature and is likely to result in confrontation. If this is the case, the confrontation will last relatively long and cover every area, not excluding small scale conflicts in some issues such as freedom of navigation in the East Sea, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan issue, and so forth.

Given their roles as the first and second biggest economies in the world and nuclear states, both U.S. and China take precautions to prevent and manage crises and avoid conflicts. However, this does not mean two sides consider each other as enemies because, according to U.S., "rivals do not mean enemies". These relations are characterised by rivalry and cooperation, which are reflected in the two countries' desire to maintain a "relative stability" in politics, foreign affairs, security, and so on. A stable strategic context benefits both sides. Meanwhile, military conflict will cause great losses to both of them, which may exceed what is taking place in the trade war.

Today, U.S. China policies centre on economy, trade, diplomacy, politics and military strategy. The U.S. wants China to develop a market economy without the government's control of enterprises, U.S. economy not to be exploited, and to uphold its leadership in high technologies. While there are no signs of cooling down in the trade war, U.S. proactively upgrades its relations with Taiwan with a view to using this territory as a strategic "card" to contain China. In addition, the realisation of "pivot" to Asia-Pacific was directly demonstrated in the adjustment of military forces between Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. U.S. military presence in Japan and South Korea, particularly its conduct of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the East Sea, clearly show its resolve to maintain its leading role in Asia-Pacific. U.S. activities are seen as moves to impose direct pressure by China, reflecting U.S. military build-up in the region. In order to respond to those developments, China also takes appropriate measures.

Russia draws closer to China

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea, causing security and political instability in Ukraine and keeping the West on tenterhooks, Russia-U.S. relations and those between Russia and the European Union (EU) as well as security, political situation in the world have become increasingly tense. U.S. and EU's tough policies on Russia have indirectly made Moscow edge closer to Beijing. Both Russia and China publicly oppose U.S. strategic dominance and global influence. While Russia repeatedly criticises the so-called European democracy, China is determined to pursue its strategic aim to become number one superpower by 2049 (2049 will be the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic of China).

The closer relations between Russia and China are shown in diplomatic area, particularly within the framework of the United Nations Security Council, and in military aspect such as joint military exercises and weapon acquisition. According to analysts, basically, this relationship becomes increasingly asymmetric. Thus, it cannot be considered as equal partnership.

Russia-U.S. relations

Since the end of the Cold War, despite certain cooperation, Russia-U.S. relations continue to witness competition for influence, especially when Russia gradually restores its superpower status under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin. Over the past five years, Russia-U.S. cooperative relations have not only made no progress but also been narrowed. Many international researchers and politicians of the two countries believe that Russia-U.S. relations are at the lowest point since the Cold War. The most visible manifestation of the decline in bilateral cooperation is the two countries' reduced scope of their representative offices and diplomatic agents in each other as well as the reduced number of their representatives in international organisations where they play the leading roles. Both Russia and the U.S. regard each other as rivals rather than partners in almost every area. This country's expanded influence is the other's narrowed interest and vice versa. Direct military confrontation is not likely to occur since both of them understand clearly the consequences. Currently, both U.S. and Russia have withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which may trigger a new arms race between the two major powers.

Impacts of the trilateral relations on regional security

In response to the evolving international environment, all major powers adjust their strategies to pursue their own interest and that of their allies. Consequently, according to experts, it is not easy to speculate the trend of the U.S.-Russia-China relations, especially the bilateral ones of the three players. The reason for this lies in the fact that these relations potentially entail both opportunities and challenges to the world in general and the region in particular. As a result of these opportunities and challenges that are intertwined, countries should strive to take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges so as to generate new positions and capabilities for development.

Southeast Asia is situated in the centre of Asia-Pacific. It serves as a gateway of business and economic interactions, particularly the major ones in the region. Therefore, when the major powers adjust their strategies, they all attach importance to the Asia-Pacific region, especially Southeast Asia with Viet Nam being the centre of gravity. This is a good chance for member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in general and Viet Nam in particular to choose objects of cooperation for the sake of their national interest. Accordingly, Viet Nam has broadened its relations with major powers, enhanced international integration, and taken advantage of other countries' support and assistance with a view to attaining socio-economic development goals and defending its national interest, independence, sovereignty, and security.

As far as the East Sea is concerned, the U.S. firms up freedom of navigation and overflight, maintenance of rules-based order, and watching every move of China without hesitation. Besides, Russia, Japan, India, and some other countries may become more involved in this issue through rendering assistance, funds, and capability building to several parties relating to sovereignty disputes over seas and islands. China keeps augmenting security, military capabilities in the East Sea by means of militarising artificial islands while proactively embroiling and courting countries concerned, complicating regional security.

Moreover, the region witnesses developments of populism, political instability in Europe, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and tensions from U.S.-China trade war. Strategic analysts claim that these are complex issues affecting all regional nations. Thus, regional countries need to promptly select a "card" to protect their national interest when the U.S.-Russia-China relations reverse.

As for Viet Nam, its geostrategic position, status of a dynamic growing country and a responsible member of ASEAN and the international community as well as its experience in international relations over the past 30 years of reform are bringing about great opportunities for Viet Nam to continue to implement the foreign policy of independence, self-mastery, multilateralisation, diversification, and international integration with both depth and width in order to bring into play the overall national power in association with epoch power, successfully achieve industrialisation and modernisation of the country, and firmly safeguard the Homeland in any situations. However, during the implementation process, Viet Nam must exercise vigilance to avoid being embroiled in major powers' competition for influence, and be prepared for collusion between major powers.

The U.S.-Russia-China relations have been exerting direct impacts on security, peace, and stability in the world and the region. Viet Nam and other regional countries will be influenced by greater push and pull forces. Therefore, countries having traditional relations with Russia, China, or the U.S. will find it difficult to choose objects of cooperation, compelling them to make sensible decisions in their national interest.

By Colonel, Doctor Dam Trong Tung, Military Technical Academy

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