Yu Bin

Wittenberg University
Photo of Yu Bin

YU Bin (于滨, Ph.D Stanford) is professor of political science and director of East Asian Studies at Wittenberg University (Ohio, USA). Yu is also a senior fellow of the Shanghai Association of American Studies, senior fellow of the Russian Studies Center of the East China Normal University in Shanghai, and senior advisor to the Intellisia Institute in Guangzhou, China. Yu is the author and co-author of six books and more than 150 book chapters and articles in journals including World Politics, Strategic Review, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Asia Policy, Asian Survey, International Journal of Korean Studies, Journal of Chinese Political Science, Harvard International Review, Asian Thought and Society. Yu has also published numerous opinion pieces in many leading media outlets around the world such as International Herald Tribune (Paris), Asia Times, People’s Daily (Beijing), Global Times (Beijing), China Daily, Foreign Policy In Focus (online), Yale Global (online), Valdai Club, the BBC, Public Radio (USA), Radio Beijing, Radio Australia. Previously, he was a fellow at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the US Army War College, East-West Center in Honolulu, president of Chinese Scholars of Political Science and International Studies, a MacArthur fellow at the Center of International Security and Arms Control at Stanford and a research fellow at the Center of International Studies of the State Council in Beijing.

Articles by Yu Bin
War and Peace for Moscow and Beijing

Perhaps more than any other time in their respective histories, the trajectories of China and Russia were separated by choices in national strategy. A year into Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, the war bogged down into a stalemate. Meanwhile, China embarked upon a major peace offensive aimed at Europe and beyond. It was precisely during these abnormal times that the two strategic partners deepened and broadened relations as top Chinese leaders traveled to Moscow in the first few months of the year (China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, President Xi Jinping, and newly appointed Defense Minister Li Shangfu). Meanwhile, Beijing’s peace initiative became both promising and perilous as it reached out to warring sides and elsewhere (Europe and the Middle East). It remains to be seen how this new round of “Western civil war” (Samuel Huntington’s depiction of the 1648-1991 period in his provocative “The Clash of Civilizations?” treatise) could be lessened by a non-Western power, particularly after drone attacks on the Kremlin in early May.

Ending the War? Or the World?

As the Ukraine conflict was poised to expand, the “extremely complicated” situation at the frontline (in Vladimir Putin’s words on Dec. 20) gave rise to intensified high-level exchanges between Moscow and Beijing as they searched for both an alternative to the conflict, and stable and growing bilateral ties. As the Ukraine war dragged on and mustered a nuclear shadow, it remained to be seen how the world would avoid what Henry Kissinger defined as a “1916 moment,” or a missed peace with dire consequences for not only the warring parties but all of civilization.

Embracing a Longer and/or Wider Conflict?

Unlike in 1914, the “guns of the August” in 2022 played out at the two ends of the Eurasian continent. In Europe, the war was grinding largely to a stagnant line of active skirmishes in eastern and southern Ukraine. In the east, rising tension in US-China relations regarding Taiwan led to an unprecedented demonstrative use of force around Taiwan. Alongside Moscow’s quick and strong support of China, Beijing carefully calibrated its strategic partnership with Russia with signals of symbolism and substance. Xi and Putin directly conversed only once (June 15). Bilateral trade and mil-mil ties, however, bounced back quickly thanks to, at least partially, the “Ukraine factor” and their respective delinking from the West. At the end of August, Mikhail Gorbachev’s death meant so much and yet so little for a world moving rapidly toward a “war with both Russia and China,” in the words of Henry Kissinger.

Flashpoints in the Indo-Pacific Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine
On June 13, 2022, Pacific Forum organized a Comparative Connections Roundtable that discussed the impact of the Russian conflict in Ukraine on three flashpoints of the Indo-Pacific. The session was moderated by Rob York (Pacific Forum) and featured Dr. David Keegan (Chinese Studies Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies), Mr. Aidan Foster-Carter (Honorary Senior Research Fellow in…
Ukraine Conflict Déjà Vu and China’s Principled Neutrality

Perhaps more than any month in history, February 2022 will come to symbolize how the states of peace and war can flip-flop in a few days, with dire consequences for the global order. On Feb. 21, just one day after the closing ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Russia announced its official recognition of the independence of the two breakaway regions (Donetsk and Luhansk) of Ukraine. Three days later, Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine to end the “total dominance” and “reckless expansion” of the United States on the world stage (in the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov). As the West imposed sanctions on Russia and rushed arms into Ukraine, China carefully navigated between the warring parties with its independent posture of impartiality.

Not So Quiet in the Western Pacific

For Moscow and Beijing, relations with Washington steadily deteriorated toward the yearend. This was in sharp contrast from early 2021 when both had some limited expectations for relaxed tensions with the newly inaugurated Biden administration. For Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, each of their meetings (real and virtual) with Biden was frontloaded with obstacles: US sanctions, a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, and screw-tightening at strategic places (Taiwan and Ukraine). Biden’s diplomacy-is-back approach—meaning US-led alliance-building (the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and AUKUS for China) or reinvigorating (NATO for Russia)—turned out to be far more challenging than Trump’s erratic go-it-alone style. It was against this backdrop that China and Russia enhanced their strategic interactions in the last few months of 2021, particularly mil-mil relations at a time of rising tensions in the western Pacific.

Afghan Endgame and Guns of August

The summer of 2021 may be the best and worst time for Russia-China relations. There was much to celebrate as the two powers moved into the third decade of stable and friendly relations, symbolized by the 20th anniversary of both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the “friendship treaty” (The Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation Between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation). This historical moment, however, paralleled a hasty and chaotic end to the 20-year US interlude in Afghanistan with at least two unpleasant consequences for Beijing and Moscow: a war-torn Afghanistan in their backyard with an uncertain future and worse, a United States now ready to exclusively focus on the two large Eurasian powers 30 years after the end of the Cold War. As the Afghan endgame rapidly unfolded in August, both sides were conducting large exercises across and around Eurasia. While Afghanistan may not again serve as the “graveyard of empires” in the 21st century, the end of the US engagement there will usher in an era of competition, if not clashes, between rival empires.

Empire Strikes Back at Moscow and Beijing

For Moscow and Beijing, the changing of the guard in the White House in January 2021 meant no reset of ties with Washington. Instead, the newly inaugurated Biden administration turned the screws on both China and Russia by reinvigorating alliances, firming up sanctions, and prioritizing force deployment, particularly to the Indo-Pacific region. In contrast to Biden’s multifaceted diplomatic offensive, China and Russia seemed passive, if not inactive, both in terms of their bilateral ties and their respective relations with the US. Top Russian and Chinese diplomats met in person just once in the first four months of 2021 in the middle of sharply escalated tensions across the Taiwan Strait and in East Ukraine. Meanwhile, Beijing and Moscow waited to see if the transition from Trumpism would lead to a brave new world (“new concert of powers”), a grave new world of Kissingeriangreat games” in the era of WMD plus AI, or something in between.

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The end of 2020 may well be an “end-of-history” moment for a world riddled with disease, death, despair, and de-linkage. Despite huge differences in how Russia and China coped with these challenges, bilateral cooperation in a variety of areas (SCO, COVID-19, response to the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy, etc.) were sustained and even enhanced in the last months of 2020. A salient factor was Washington’s dual-adversary undertaking, which pushed Moscow and Beijing toward deeper and broader strategic coordination. The post-election instability also cast a long shadow over US domestic and foreign policies. As 2020 drew to a close, Beijing and Moscow stepped up their strategic coordination for a possible resetting of relations with the Biden administration, or perhaps even a Biden moment, thanks to Trump’s legacy.

Age of Triangular Politicking

While the coronavirus raged throughout summer 2020, China and Russia found themselves entangled in two separate triangular dynamics with the US and India. China faced off with India along the long mountainous border, culminating in the June 15 deadly brawls. Meanwhile, the “whole-of-government approach” of the Trump administration against China led to a near-freefall in bilateral relations, featuring the highly ideologized, militarized connotations of the Cold War (1947-1991). In both cases, China’s strategic space was increasingly constrained.

Russia, however, found itself in a curiously pivotal position within the two geopolitical triangles: an “innocent” bystander in the Beijing-New Delhi-Moscow trio and a useful, delicate balancer in the Washington-Beijing duel. Between its strategic partner (China) and persistent yet unrequited courter (the Trump administration), Russia carefully played its cards from a position of strategic weakness. By end of summer, the US-China-Russia triangle made its way into the US 2020 presidential elections as presidential candidates played the “Russia” and “China” cards. No matter who wins the 2020 US election, the stakes are high for China and Russia.