China, Russia, and the UN


Member countries of the United Nations recently gathered in New York City to discuss the most pressing world problems. The American media squarely focused on President Biden’s address at the gathering, calling for other member states to formally and publicly oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine. 

The appeal has openly exposed the increasingly acrimonious relationship between the United States and Russia at the highest diplomatic levels. 

Most United Nations members sidestepped pressure to publicly oppose Russia. Any formal opposition to Russia’s behavior in Ukraine may not result in a favorable outcome because Russia, unlike most United Nations members, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto authority. 

Russia and the United States are not talking publicly with each other directly, but both nations remain in contact in narrow, private, and consequential ways. 

Russian President Putin has balked at comments made by Mr. Biden and has suggested that the use of low-level nuclear weapons in Ukraine is being contemplated. There are no public reports, however, that Mr. Putin is currently preparing to launch a tactical nuclear strike against Ukraine. A nuclear weapon could be launched by Russia via high-altitude detonation, direct missile strike, or through land-based artillery fires. 

If a nuclear weapon was launched, Russia would experience the wrath of an American-led counterattack that would be to no one’s advantage. The presumption is the counterattack would be both kinetic (non-nuclear) and non-kinetic (economic, trade, and financial sanctions). Ongoing sanctions imposed and led by the West have created the conditions that have depressed oil prices, which have in turn, have hurt Russia’s ability to generate export-related revenues. Thousands of Russians of fighting age who are worried about being drafted are bolting for the border. The United States is deeply engaged in gaming a host of possible responses should Russia launch a nuclear weapon. 

Tag teaming: Russia and China
Russian and Chinese leaders have maintained mutual respect for each other despite the tensions emanating over the Ukrainian debacle. Russian President Putin met with Chinese President Xi Xinping recently in Central Asia to discuss a host of issues. The Chinese are not publicly opposed to what Russia is doing in Ukraine and the Russians are not opposed to China’s desire to retake Taiwan. Yet if the rest of the world continues to apply diplomatic pressures for the cessation of war, and the war continues over the long term, this may weaken the Sino-Russian relationship. 

On the flip side, Sino-Russian relations may strengthen. If this happens, we may expect to see more targeted and aggressive air and naval surface and subsurface patrols throughout the region, including the Western Pacific. We may expect to see more high-level meetings between Putin and Xi Jinping. We may also expect to see greater amounts of arms and technology-based sales and transfers. All these portend an even more dangerous future for America, and by extension, for the Mariana Islands, which is relatively close to the Russian Far East Fleet. 

Formally, the United States supports a one-China policy. As we have collectively seen, this policy remains as clear as mud when it comes to how to deal with Taiwan. 

The nightmare for the United States
One nightmare scenario from the American point of view is that the Chinese and Russians in fact grow cooperative ties that translate into regularly held naval and air exercises with the Republic of the Philippines, in the Western Pacific region. This could trigger a host of human errors and miscalculations made by the American, Russian, and Chinese militaries, that in turn could lead to escalatory situations producing hot war. 

The likelihood of this happening is real. Military spending is on the rise as the United States consumes over $800 billion a year on defense spending. The Chinese and Russians are currently spending roughly $300 billion and $70 billion on defense, respectively.

America needs a more robust engagement with confidence, humility and clarity
Our Mariana Islands region of the world is of highest importance to the United States and certainly to China. American leaders continue to transit throughout the region. Vice President Kamala Harris was recently in the area, attending the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe.

Ms. Harris had to navigate divergent domestic Japanese views on the presence of the American military in Japan. She also had to manage the anger from South Korea over tax credit legislation that recently passed the Congress, which will hurt South Korean exports of electric vehicles into the United States. 

Vice President Harris had to also maneuver the diplomatic unrest in Japan generated from Mr. Biden’s recent comments that the United States would come to the military aid of Taiwan should China assault the island.  

Yet, many Asian leaders are concerned about ongoing American strategic ambiguity, despite the presence of Kamala Harris. Our American imperial nation stands to further lose credibility in the Asia Pacific region if it does not continue to closely engage all key stakeholders throughout the region to further develop clarity of American intentions, especially over Taiwan. 

The consequences for the United States in Asia are not forgiving
If we upset the South Koreans enough, there is always the risk that South Korea would consider pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. South Korea remains more industrious and economically astute than the United States and can leverage their geographical location and power to push harder for their key agenda items. Militarily, our nation needs full cooperation from the South Koreans. 

Meanwhile China continues to fortify the South China Sea and build relationships with Pacific Island nations. China and Russia have the common incentive to directly and indirectly challenge the American presence in the region through closer bilateral partnerships that demonstrate military prowess and political will throughout the Philippine Sea. Russia and China recently completed major military exercises in the Sea of Japan that included close to 150 aircraft, 50,000 military personnel and over 50 naval ships. Folks this is no joke. 

American blundering has caused Russia and China to find new ways to work together. The country of Ukraine is not a matter of core American strategic interest, but it is a core interest of Russia. The expenditures for war-related resources going to Ukraine and the focus on this particular situation was a result of NATO expansionism over the past two decades, not Russian aggression.

American core interests are fundamentally more closely aligned with what happens in the Pacific Asiatic region, which is home to most of the world’s population and largest aggregate concentration of wealth on Planet Earth. America needs to rework how we have engaged Russia and China because if we don’t course correct, we will put a variety of American interests and colonial possessions at greater risk, including our entire Mariana Islands chain, from possible hot war.

Rick Arriola Perez | Author
Rick Arriola Perez is a U.S. military veteran who has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Bank of Hawaii, and the government of Guam. He holds several degrees including ones from UCLA and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Rick is passionate about national security and foreign affairs in the Pacific Asia region and runs a blogsite called Guam Affairs at For more information, contact Perez at

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