China v Russia

Let’s assume that Russia faces an ignominious defeat in Ukraine, leading to the downfall of the current President, Vladimir Putin. At this moment, the military of the nation will be spent, the government will be between leaders, and the general feeling of the public would be for trying to move past all of this and reset with the rest of the world.

From China’s vantage, this is a perfect time to try and reclaim Outer Manchuria (Eastern Russia). Really, the only defense that Russia has is nukes. Putin would, if attacked and sensing that he might lose a large chunk of his territory to a significant rival power, launch the missiles. A new leader, hired mostly for his willingness to bargain with the West and perform a reset, is liable to accept the loss and view it as an expected outcome of Putin’s poorly chosen adventure and not retaliate.

But, that person might not make that choice. They may choose to do what they need to do with what they have left over from the Ukraine war.

I haven’t been particularly worried about any large unfortunate events occurring if, for example, Ukraine skirmished into Russian territory a bit. But, if Putin leaves power - which is quite possible - then it is not entirely unlikely that China will take advantage of the moment.

I would recommend that the US government begin to issue some words of support for Russian territorial integrity against all possible invaders - West OR East - in advance of any significant changes in the makeup of the Russian government.

Such a statement will be seen as an insult by Russians.
And besides Russian integrity is also for Crimea? or not?
And we will be out of Himars and César to lend to Russia.

  1. I think “quite possible” is a bit of a stretch. While there is a chance he could lose power, it’s not clear how that would happen unless he stepped down or committed actual or political suicide. The oligarchs aren’t about to overthrow the government, and the military will remain loyal to him as long as he’s alive.

  2. China won’t try to take Outer Manchuria (Eastern Russia) as long as Moscow has nukes pointed at Beijing. China is in it for the long haul, and if an opportunity were to arise, it would be happy to take back the land taken from them in the 1800s… but they are in no great hurry.

There’s either rule of law or rule of might. Russia choose the latter and all that can be said for it is that everyone has lost.

Under the law, Crimea is part of Ukraine. That’s not ambiguous. The USSR constitution allowed regions to break off. They voted - along with the rest of Ukraine - to separate. This was accepted by Russia, at the time, and there’s no legal justification for take-backsies.

If the people in Crimea really don’t want to be a part of their nation then there should be some sort of legal process for divorce but that needs to be in a position of having had full and honest knowledge of the situation in their own country and devoid of foreign influence. Being washed over with pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian propaganda from external sources and then pushed to vote with helicopters flying overhead with guns hanging out the window, doesn’t seem like a reasonable way to get the true lay of the land.

But, likewise, pro-Ukrainian propaganda should also not win the day.

Ideally, the Crimean people would nominate some truth-seekers to go out into the world, try to figure out what’s what, of everything they’ve ever been told about anything, and come back to tell everyone so that they can rationally choose their own future.

I’d rather they be insulted than that they get into a nuke flinging contest with China.

Not in a billion years would any Russian leader accept this, nor should they. Nuclear war would ensue.

If Putin dies of a heart attack or a “heart attack”, the person who replaces him will be an inner-circle member cut from very similar cloth. Not somebody on a mission to “reset Russia to normalcy (read as “hat in hand supplication”) with the West”.

If there is a full-blown clean sweep revolution in Russia, akin to the ousting of the Shah in Iran and the rise of Khomeini, then I agree the new regime could be of almost any character. Including the one the OP posits.

But given how hard Putin has worked to eliminate any organized power centers other than his own, it’s hard to imagine who/what would rally the populace to replace them.

I’ll quit fighting the hypothetical now, but overall I suggest it’s a very, very long-shot hypothetical.

Taking the OP at face value:

The Chinese aren’t nearly as excited about Outer Manchuria as they are about Taiwan. The economic value of Taiwan is huge; the economic value of OM is minimal. So I doubt they move on it until / unless Russia degenerates into a failed state.

As long as Russia has a functioning government at all, it will defend its territory using the tools at its disposal; it’s what governments do. A Russian Ministry of Defense with thoroughly exhausted conventional forces will still have fully rested & ready nuclear forces. Net of how their budget may have been crimped in recent years to pay for the conventional war in Ukraine.

Right. As mentioned in an earlier post, China can afford to go Long Game when it comes to the Russian Far East, it makes little difference for them if it remains in the hands of a Russia who is no regional threat but is together enough to keep internal order and be the ones with a defensive interest in the northern Sea of Japan/Sea of Okhotsk, who may be willing to make economic concessions. Bringing in Taiwan wouldn not just mean high economic value (if achieved with minimal disruption) but also strategically would strengthen the South China Sea claim and push the area of action of the US fleet further away, things that are important for Beijing now. Until they have that secured, they do not need to add yet another maritime front that hardly profits them.

Another factor is that the Russian Far East is almost unpopulated. It isn’t the land just over your own borders which is implicitly threatening to your interests. It’s the people on that land.

Substitute NK for Russia and Kim for Putin in the OP. Although NK is much smaller than OM, it’s got a lot more people who create a lot more risk to the essentially status quo power next door, China. If NK was to collapse through regime change, China would be very, very interested in managing what happens there next, most likely via the simple expedient of invading and occupying at least the border regions of NK, if not the whole place.

Next topic:
Overall though, I’d also be cautious about invoking the “Long Game” thinking about China here in 2022. Xi is a man much more in a hurry than e.g. Deng was.

If Xi is able to get that third term as President at this Fall’s 20th National Party Congress, he is more or less a shoe-in for God-President-for-Life. Which will remove essentially any/all checks on his behavior. He’ll end up following Putin’s path, just 10-15 years later. But with a vastly more powerful nation behind him, and one on the upswing, not the downswing.

The West has a tough row to hoe geopolitically for the next 20-ish years.

And that’s where any logic in the OP falls apart. Besides, if China was at all interested in reclaiming Outer Manchuria/invading the Russian Far East, why would they wait for the war in Ukraine to end? Now is just as good of a time to strike; the Russian army already has its hands more than full dealing with Ukraine and is right now in the process of getting its ass handed to them with the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Other problems include

  1. This isn’t disputed territory

Outstanding boundary issues between China and Russia were officially settled in the 1991 Sino-Soviet Border Agreement. Article 6 of the 2001 Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship provides that the contracting parties—the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation—have no territorial claims.

  1. Regardless of past history, the territory includes a lot of ethnic Russians. Vladivostok, founded in 1860 as a Russian military outpost has a population of 600,000. Khabarovsk, also founded as a Russian military outpost, has a population of 618,000.

  2. Losing this territory would be the loss of any meaningful access to the Pacific Ocean for Russia.

  3. One of the biggest problems for Russia with the war in Ukraine is that it isn’t actually a war as far as they are concerned, it’s a special military operation. They have not mobilized for the war and are suffering badly for it. I’m not sure a mobilization would cure their current problems in Ukraine as it would be a hugely unpopular move for Putin to take to call up a million reservists, start full scale conscription, and officially allow conscripts to be forced to serve in Ukraine. Right now, they are scraping by on offering what are relatively large pay incentives which are attracting men from extremely impoverished parts of Russia, ironically mostly the Far East, and forced conscription in the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Mobilization in the face of the invasion of Russia by China would be vastly more popular and wouldn’t present these problems. Conscripts wouldn’t even be forced to fight in another country’s territory.

That’s a drop in the bucket compared to 1.4 billion Chinese. Dictatorial governments have a long track record of moving populations around to make conquered areas easier to control.

China is taking the stealth approach. Haven’t looked into it per say but there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Chinese “entreprenuers” in the Russia Far East. It’s a stealth operation and economic colonialism. No need to actually mount an invasion if one can bribe and resettle millions and get the same result.

Puh-lese, can we stop with the canard that China could take Taiwan back any day of the week? Sure, China could possibly have a phyrric victory at a massive cost, but nothing of value would remain.

If that was aimed at me (perhaps among others) …

There is no doubt you’re right that China would wreck Taiwan in the course of subjugating it. If they could even succeed. Which of course would itself depend heavily on how the US & the rest of the West reacted to China’s overt military efforts.

But for the purposes of discussing starting a conflict there, it doesn’t matter what China will actually have gained by the end. What matters is what the Chinese leadership thinks / believes / feels they’ll gain by the end just before they give the order to begin.

Large human organizations are notoriously bad at getting the Straight Dope up to the top of the pyramid. In violent dictatorships, no matter how velvety their public rhetoric, the problem of bad actors at the top using bad info fed up to the top is even more acute. China may avoid an unforced error in this, or maybe not; recently Putin’s Russia certainly has not.

China will not make noise or take action unless they feel threatened. Putin will be busy dealing with the aftermath of his failure in Ukraine. Nukes won’t help him and he won’t have an army left to conduct a war. Putin will be occupied with staying in power as his country founders.

It’s more likely that China works out a deal to rescue Russia and then take it over as it when it reaches the point of collapse.

That’s not the point of there being such large numbers of ethnic Russians; it’s that the area isn’t territory taken by a colonial power over 150 years ago that is still full of ethnic Chinese giving China a grievance over treatment of its ethnic peoples at the hands of colonialists. The two largest cities in the territory were created by the colonial power 150 years ago and are populated largely by its people.

Regarding the idea of ethnic cleansing of the Russian population by China, consider Russia’s current actions over their propagandistic claims of oppression of ethnic Russians at the hands of Ukrainians in the Donbas and Crimea. Now consider their possible responses as the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet to actual ethnic cleansing of its people at the hands of those 1.4 billion Chinese.

Doesn’t matter if it is Russia or Taiwan. Xi Jinping is going for an unprecedented 3rd term, and has unabashedly stoked the flames of Chinese nationalism. Mao on a pojo stick, Chinese netizens were outraged at the loss of face because China failed to shoot down Nancy Pelosi’s plane. Think MAGA heads on steroids with only Faux News available to listen to. Seriously, I had friends in China that were convinced war was going to break out with the US during Nancy’s visit.

Xi Jinping will do what he wants after his anointment in October. Given my understanding of China, the Russian losses in Ukraine will cause more than a few second looks at the claim of Taiwan being a walk over. And remember, Taiwan has been preparing for a mainland invasion since the 1940’s. And the local Taiwanese have the opposite of fond memories of the last time the mainland invaded in the 1940’s.

The Russian Far East is resource rich. China would love to have it. That said, economic imperialism and bribery might be the lowest cost method of achieving those gains.

Right. There’s no urgency to put boots on the ground while you can just keep making deals to your advantage .

I agree. An actual invasion of national territory is something no nation is going to accept if it has nuclear weapons to use to oppose it. I’m sure China understands that.

If China wants to make a move on Russian territory, it will do so by backing (or creating) some supposedly local independence group, that will obligingly declare the region a separate nation from Russia. Russia will obviously disagree but this will give China the international cover it would need. China can recognize the Amur People’s Republic, which will then request Chinese military assistance to defend itself from Russian aggression.

In an previous thread, I posted about my discussions with a former Taiwanese army officer who was the staff Military Intelligence Officer for a battalion in the 1990s. He was definitely not impressed with their war preparations at the time or with the “crappy tanks” they had. The ROC army was a joke for many of those decades.

More importantly than the piss-poor planning of the past is what they do now. As the Ukrainian war has shown, this isn’t your father’s war anymore. There are a lot more unknowns on how this will all go down.

I do agree that an actual invasion or attempted invasion would be really bad for those of us living here.

Can we all say “Belt and Road Initiative”? Sure we all can.