In the West, especially in the European Union, the perception that Russia and China have an insurmountable conflict of geopolitical interests has emerged and has become quite popular with some experts and politicians in recent years. Accordingly, Russia could become an ally of the West and even a shield against Chinese expansion. Proponents of the concept have actively urged Western countries to choose between China and Russia, offering one country as a strategic deterrent partner for the other. This view neglected the close political, economic and military ties between these countries, as well as the ideological affinity between authoritarian models of state capitalism introduced in both countries, and the aggressive anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism used by Russia and China.
The international crisis triggered by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated coordinated Sino-Russian engagement in using this crisis to change the global geopolitical landscape, weaken the United States, the European Union, and NATO, to enhance their own international influence. This finally proved the fallacy of the concept of using Russia as a partner against China.
Over the past month, China and Russia have not only used the same narratives synchronously but also logistically supported each other’s influence operations not only through official state propaganda channels but also through the use in the West of covert tools controlled by the special services of these countries: media, opinion leaders, NGOs, trade unions, think tanks and political establishment representatives.
Reflexive control, which is used for such operations, also creates a large amount of organic support to these narratives by so-called useful idiots, including officials of different countries (persons who are not direct agents of the Sino-Russian influence, but the host and distribute messages, developed by special propaganda of these countries).
A significant part of the information interventions carried out within the framework of the special influence of the two countries is directed to the formation and support of the state of mass hysteria (for example, the active dissemination by official Chinese propaganda the information about the emergence of a new hantavirus). This condition significantly weakens the ability of the population to critically perceive information, simplifies the imposition of patterns of behavior and creates preconditions for raising anti-government sentiment.
One of the main elements of the Sino-Russian soft-power campaign is the proposal for a new, not only safer, but fairer world, which can come at the expense of China’s global hegemony (in support of this strategic narrative through channels of influence, controlled by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China; information on the advantages of authoritarian countries over democracies in dealing with challenges such as mass disease is disseminated).
In the current situation, such a proposal may seem particularly attractive to those countries, ethnic, religious and other social groups that feel oppressed (to some extent, this is an adaptation of Woodrow Wilson’s strategic narrative of World War I about “the war to end all wars”). As part of this, a campaign to lift all sanctions is being carried out, which also involves forgiveness of financial obligations, which attracts the population of countries that have problems servicing their national debt.
In the public domain, China and Russia use the classic tactics of “good cop/bad cop,” where the role of the bad one is assigned to the Russian Federation. For example, it is the Russian officials who are used to support narratives about the collapse of the EU and NATO, the lack of internal solidarity in these organisations, to spread other negative messages. Chinese official speakers are mostly used to promote the message of China as the country that defeated the coronavirus and is now the only one able to save humanity from it. Along with Chinese medical protocols, which are actively translated and distributed worldwide, the protocols of Chinese authoritarianism are also being actively disseminated.
In the context of economic sabotage against the West, trade unions are actively used to stop the maximum number of productions in those countries under the pretext of protecting workers from the virus. Although the vast majority of international trade union organisations have historically close ties with the Soviet bloc, none of them require stopping production in China or Russia.
Such processes also support the effects on the stock markets to encourage investors to invest in the Chinese economy, such as the one that has already passed the coronavirus crisis and is more stable. At the same time, information operations are being conducted to undermine investor confidence in Western economies (for example, China has been organising press conferences of its own doctors in Europe, where they have predicted the West’s inability to fight the pandemic even for several years).
The combination of these indicators demonstrates the Sino-Russian attempt to use the coronavirus pandemic for hybrid decisive battle with the West, especially the United States. At the same time, the nature of China-Russia cooperation is reminiscent of similar interaction between Great Britain and the United States during the Second World War and after the Suez Crisis.
As the main theater of this decisive battle is human space, the West must, in the shortest possible time, secure mass immunity of its population from such influences. The most effective method of counteracting hostile operations of influence should be to disclose their tools: the media, opinion leaders, think tanks and politicians, who are covertly associated with anti-Western forces, explaining the synchronization of their public positions with statements of official propaganda of the Russian Federation and the PRC.
In order to maintain the position of leader of the free world, the United States also needs to be more actively involved in coordinating international cooperation, both to counteract the pandemic and to eliminate its catastrophic economic consequences. For example, the New Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe could be a worthy alternative to China’s attempts to establish control in the region.
However, the key to winning this hybrid confrontation is to have the tools to manage it. For a long-term stable strategy of the U.S. in the region, there is a strong need for its own media, opinion leaders, think tanks and, above all, political partners, capable of creating and implementing mutually beneficial bilateral relations.
To remain the leader of the free world, the U.S. must become the leader of the free world again.