China found itself in the international wilderness after its suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests. The violent crackdown elicited widespread condemnation from the West and, shortly thereafter, the United States and the European Union imposed an arms embargo on China that remains in place to this day.
In the subsequent years, Beijing found an unexpected partner in post-communist Russia. The collapse of the Soviet Union had financially devastated the Russian arms industry, making it very eager to do business with an economically-ascendant China. Over the following decade, China bought up Russian fighter jets and missile systems as part of its quest for military modernization, emerging as Russia’s largest arms customer in the process.
More than thirty years later, a new crisis could once again bring China and Russia closer together. An outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus in the Chinese industrial center of Wuhan has over the past few months spiraled into a global pandemic and economic depression, inciting an international backlash against China along the way.
Amidst the recent turbulence, Russia was among the few nations that sided with China against its critics. With the current global health crisis taking an increasingly geopolitical turn, Moscow and Beijing are looking to each other for support.
The coronavirus pandemic has battered China’s global image in recent months, as well as its business interests overseas. The United States has led the charge against Beijing, with the Trump administration blaming China for the outbreak and a growing number of Republican senators threatening to adopt punitive legislation against the People’s Republic. Numerous European governments have accused China of seeking to exploit the crisis for political gain and of sending them faulty testing equipment.
Even several of China’s close African partners have lashed out at Beijing for reportedly discriminating against their citizens as part of its public health restrictions.