The Long Sunset of Strategic Partnership: Russia's Evolving China Policy Author(s): Bobo Lo Source: International Affairs (Royal

Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 80, No. 2, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Mar., 2004), pp. 295-309 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs Stable URL: Accessed: 02/11/2010 20:06
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it is time to assess how far the Yeltsin-Jiang vision of enhanced strategic interaction has been realized. Rapprochementrivalry? in or Russia-China relations a changing (WashingtonDC: CarnegieEndowment for International in Asia Peace. for the purpose of strategic interaction in the twenty-first century'. 2 (2004) 295-309 . 'Limitedpartnership'. 25 April 1997. the article looks ahead to the future of the bilateral relationship.I The statement was widely seen not only as a challenge to American 'hegemonism'. p. then Russian president Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin announced their commitment to develop a 'partnership . civilizational prejudices and strategic suspicions appeared to be giving way to a new era of constructive engagement and positive-sum cooperation. Garnett. but also in shaping a Russian foreign policy struggling to come to terms with changing global realities and seismic strategic shifts.. 2000). ShermanW. As Vladimir Putin prepares to enter his second presidential term. This article has three main aims. partnership on the basis of convergent perceptions and priorities. or a gradual but inexorable slide into strategic enmity? The outcome has enormous importance. 2.The long sunsetof strategicpartnership: Russia's evolvingChina policy BOBOLO In the 1997 'Joint declaration on a multipolar world and the formation of a new international order'.ed. what does the future hold for Moscow and Beijing: a lasting. if imperfect. International Affairs 80. based on shared political.. Gamett. The second is to examine the influence of Moscow's larger strategic calculus after 9/I on Russian policy and attitudes towards China. Finally. not only in defining the relationship between two of the world's major powers. p. security and economic interests. The first is to review the strengths and weaknesses in the strategic partnership between Russia and China as it has developed in the decade or so since the fall of the Soviet Union. I. but also as confirmation of the qualitatively new relationship that had emerged between Moscow and Beijing after the end of the Cold War.. ShermanW. Some seven years later. and to consider the likely evolution of a relationship that continues to be characterized by profound contradictions and uncertainties.2 The negative legacy of historical irredentism. seen through the prism of three critical 2 Rossiiskie vesti.

This elitist vision is the modern-day successor of the Concert of Europe in the early nineteenth century. and there is genuine substance to the official claim that relations are at an all-time Somewhat remarkably. 296 . the 'strategic partnership' with Beijing represented a notable exception to the rule. The record of achievement is even more impressive in respect of the bilateral agenda. Friendship and Cooperation in July 2001. and international conflict management. when Russia's international status and influence were in decline on nearly all fronts. Beijing has publicly backed Putin over his handling of the Chechen conflict.300okmcommon border and Chinese 'illegal migration' into the Russian 3 Bobo Lo. while Moscow has reciprocated on Chinese efforts to suppress separatism in Xinjiang and Tibet and has given its unequivocal support to the 'One China' policy towards Taiwan.27 May Russia. They aspire to a 'multipolar' world in which a few great powers-the United States. Formerly contentious issues such as demarcation of the 4.4 particularly after the signing of the Treaty of news report. and strategic involvement in Central Asia. 4 VladimirPutin. most recently in the context of Iraq. news.7 They are supportive of each other's direct security concerns. A success story The development of the relationship with China is arguablythe greatest Russian foreign policy success of the post-Soviet period. from an attachment to geopolitical concepts such as spheres of influence and the balance of power to a common view of the post-9/I I international security agenda. Both emphasize the primacy of the UN in global decisionmaking and the precedence of national sovereignty over western conceptions of 'humanitarian intervention' and 'limited sovereignty'.ln. the two countries have near-identical views regarding the desired structure of the post-Cold War international order. Moscow and Beijing also share many security interests and threat perceptions. Both have a major stake in ensuring peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. http://www. 2003). there are currently no serious disagreements. China. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. First. crisis management on the Korean peninsula. p.3 Under Vladimir Putin the gains of the I99os have been consolidated.stm. and diametrically opposed to the unipolar order associated with a hegemonic America.6 They have adopted similar positions on the war against terror. Japan-make the big decisions.s The positives are evident across the board. given the historical record.rmid. 26. India. western Europe. 27 May 2003. cited in 'China-Russia"closerthan ever"'.Bobo Lo issues: the routeing of the Angarsk-Nakhodka oil pipeline. 5 Joint declaration Putin and Hu Jintao. 7 Ibid. Vladimir Putinandtheevolution Russian policy(Londonand Oxford:Royal Instituteof of foreign International Affairs/Blackwell. http:// 86i8.nsf. the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). of 6 Ibid.

Kazakhstan.. 8 297 . there is growing interest in trans-Asianinfrastructural especially energy (oil and gas) billion per annum a relatively modest proportion of total bilateral trade.'3 and Such achievements are matched by the proliferationof institutionallinks.nsf.8 The two countries have also reached a tacit understanding over their respective roles in Central Asia. proceedings of a seminar held at United Nations University. pp. CNPC and KOGAS complete Kovykta international feasibility study'. IO Russian foreign ministry press releases.ln. http://www..nsf.The long sunsetof strategic partnership Far East (RFE) have been largely defused.nsf. 1997). p.mid. With Beijing effectively conceding Russia's leading position. Economic ties.ln. there are also reasonable prospects of natural gas development in the Kovykta field near Lake Baikal: see 'RUSIA petroleum. the five countries adjoining the former Sino-Soviet border-Russia.ln. The institutional framework is furtherbuttressed by both countries'participationin regional multilateral organizations-the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). I43. ed. 'Great power stakes in Central Asia'. Highlevel bilateralmeetings have become much more frequent. 2003.12 In addition to cooperation in civilian nuclear energy and space technology. Paper 315 (London: Oxford University Press/International Institute of Strategic Studies. Tokyo. http://www. the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping. p. MA and London: American Academy of Arts and Sciences/MIT Press.. Thinking strategically: majorpowers. The agreements imposed ceilings on the number of ground troops and certain types of military equipment permitted in a Iookm-wide frontier zone. and the Central Asian nexus (Cambridge. torgovo-ekonomicheskogo sotrudnichestva'. There is considerable interaction between respective ministries. One could not find any villages or settlements in the region with a predominant Chinese population'. http://www. militaries and economic entities. acquiring some of the routine character of Russia's regular summits with the United States and European Union. This layer of multilateralism has helped consolidate gains in the bilateral relationship.7 billion in I999 to US$I 5.ln/mid. Kazakhstan. 9 Robert Legvold. some of which went as high as 2 million. For a useful summary of the agreements see Jennifer Anderson. 27 May 2003. although most estimates put this at around US$I-I.mid. particularly compared to estimates in the I99os. particularly in the area of confidence-building measures (CBMs) along the former SinoSoviet border. 22 Nov. http://www. a commercial relationship once dependent on arms transfersand shuttle commerce has shown signs of diversifying. 27 May 2003. 20-21 Nov. In called because they criss-cross the border to sell their wares.mid.miis. there is considerable secrecy regarding the level of Russian arms transfers. and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). in Robert the Legvold. Moscow. In addition to the Angarsk-Nakhodka oil pipeline project. ed. from US$5.7 billion in 2003. p.14 while offering useful insulation in the event of future tensions. Russia exported 3 million tonnes of oil to China: Putin's comments at joint press I3 conference with Hujintao. in Tsuneo people . Two-way official trade has nearly tripled during Putin's first presidential term.. 14 As a result of two agreements reached in I996-7. China. 'Chinese migration to the Russian Far East: a view from Moscow'. 'Based on all the available data. too-once the weakest dimension of the strategic partnership -have expanded in recent years.9 the threat of a renewed Great Game in the region has been deferred. See Vilya Gelbras. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan-undertook not to carry out threatening military activity against one another.I? And this is before factoring in 'unregistered trade'. Dec. Humanflows across in borders northeastAsia. 2002 (Monterey Institute of International Studies. " Joint press conference of Vladimir Putin and HuJintao in Moscow. 2002. http://www. 'O Rossiisko-kitaiskom torgovo-ekonomicheskim 'O razvitii rossiisko-kitaiskogo sotrudnichestve'. 40-2. 6. the Chinese population in the Far Eastern district cannot exceed Ioo. 2004. Today's figures for the number of Chinese in the RFE are relatively modest. Insight TNK-BP." Moreover. The limits of Sino-Russian strategic partnership.nsf I2 The bulk of'unregistered trade' comprises transactions by shuttle traders (chelnoki). 30 for example. estimated at around US$io billion. 2003).ru/ns-rasia.

5 million sq Amur and Birobidzhan. main/2003 / I / 3/51197. 200I).Khabarovsk. these insecurities are not the result of Chinese actions and policies.49: 6. I3 Nov.7 million duringthe pastdecade. P. 218. p.Bobo Lo An imperfect relationship Nevertheless. As a resultof the 'unequaltreaties'of Aigun (I858) and Peking (I86o). so Moscow's Sinocentrism in Asia does not necessarily signify a favourable disposition towards China.html. Putin's concerns that Chinese could become the lingua franca of the RFE are directed at the failure of the Russian authorities-central and local-to regenerate the region. let alone make good on the Yeltsin-Jiang vision of 'strategic interaction' for the twenty-first century. 2003. Some of this is linked to Moscow's changing strategic calculus in the post-9/I I world. if anything. Although the connection between the medieval Mongols and today's Han Chinese is tenuous at best.17 and by the steady depopulation of the RFE. the populationof the RFE hasfallenfrom 8 million to 6. i8 Accordingto Yurii Obriadin. for all its successes. it is clear that 'there is still a long way to go to the "peak".includingthe present-dayregionsof Primorye. A number of issues will require careful handling if the two countries are to safeguard the gains of recent times. 'Populationin FarEastdroppingfast'. Affairs Dmitri Trenin. whose population has declined to less than 7 million. 6. 9. Just as the overall western focus of Russian foreign policy does not imply a pro-western outlook. China is Russia's principal 'partner'and its main gateway to the Asia-Pacific region. 298 . 91. While relations may have reached a high point. http://newsfromrussia. But there are also critical weaknesses in the bilateral dynamic itself. both across the elite and among the general population.specialassessment (Honolulu:Asia-PacificCenter for SecurityStudies. 2003). Russia'sChinaproblem DC: CarnegieEndowmentfor International Peace. but not eliminated. The oldest and most fundamental problem is historical baggage dating back to the Mongol invasion of Muscovy in the thirteenth century. China ceded about 1.'6 Such atavistic prejudices have been fuelled by fears of Chinese irredentism regarding territories lost under the 'unequal treaties' of the nineteenth century. The endof Eurasia: and Russiaon theborder between (Moscow: geopolitics globalization I7 Carnegie Moscow Center. for now: Russia'sChina debate'. but a reflection of internal Russian problems. the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership has become the target of increasingly negative comment and speculation. this past trauma lies at the heart of the anti-Chinese attitudes of many Russians. (Washington I999). In short. 'The optimistshave the lead. a subject that will be discussed below. See website. km of territory. 'Russian-Chinese relations: theirpeak?'. such as incentives to encourage migration from European Russia and from ethnic Russians in the Baltic states and Central Asia.cited in Rouben Azizian. 20 Dmitri Trenin. yet also major strategic competitor and potential security threat.19 Possible remedies. I9 Putin'scomments.Deputy Presidential for Plenipotentiary the FarEasternFederalDistrict. heightened by the pre-eminent position of China in Moscow's 'Asian view'. Russia's China policy reflects larger contradictions and paradoxes in Moscow's approach to international affairs.Pravda. The image of a 'yellow peril' sweeping into the Russian Far East and further west remains a powerful one.20 have not been '5 I6 International Mikhail Margelov.'I5 This climate of uncertainty is. p. I8 In fact.Dec. which the progress of the past decade has masked. at (Moscow).

It fosters a superiority complex that many Chinese find unwarranted in a state they view as economically Judith Thornton and CharlesE. The startling pace of China's modernization raises the spectre of an increasingly ambitious Beijing. In the first place. whether in the form of foreign investment. 'The balanceof power and US foreignpolicy interestsin the RussianFarEast'. Such relativism detracts from the bilateral relationship in two ways. Rajan Menon and CharlesE. 'Moscow's retreat'. 22. Russia and China have to some extent become competitors for western favour. For example. the Putin administration has made significant commitments in its external relations-notably endorsement of the American military presence in Central Asia post-9/I I and strategic arms agreements with Washington-after only minimal consultation with Beijing. that have traditionally fallen within Moscow's pale.The long sunset of strategic partnership seriously attempted. 29. subscribe to the image of Russia as a 'civilizational barrier' against the barbarian 'East'. local inhabitants are leaving in droves in response to living conditions miserable even by Russian standards. 39. This is especially true in Moscow. it sometimes translates into a careless attitude towards the strategic concerns of the other. in the absence of any early prospect of improvement (let alone a lasting solution).24 This sense of competition is rendered more acute by perceptions of the rapidly changing balance between the two states.23 Second. p. as well as with Moscow's relaxedattitudetowardsAmericanabrogation the 1972 Anti-Ballistic of Missile(ABM)Treaty. The endof Eurasia. 'Russiananalysis often treatsChina as a strategic partner. Russia'sFarEast:a region risk at (Seattleand London:National Bureauof AsianResearch/Universityof WashingtonPress. such as Central Asia.but rarelyas a politicalor culturalequal':E. Many Russians. eds. militarily crippled and of diminishing international influence. As a consequence. Ziegler. In the meantime. political approbation or advantageous security arrangements. there has been an upsurge in concerns within Russia about Chinese rearmament and the contribution of Russian 2I 22 23 24 25 As one western commentatorhas put it. Trenin. Problems Post-Communism 3. even advocates of strategic partnership. the strategic partnership carries the whiff of second class.p. the Chinese serve as convenient scapegoat and bogeyman. western Europe and the former Soviet Union (FSU) absorb considerably more attention and resources.22 The combination of historical fears and political/civilizational stereotyping has reinforced an extant West-centrism in both Russia and China. 'Moscow'sretreatand Beijing'srise as regional of greatpower'. Unfortunately. Ziegler. intent not only on maximizing its influence in areas. where relations with America. in Merrycomments that Putin'ssupportfor the US post-9/I I 'causedgenuine consternation Beijing': see Merry. there exists a cultural divide that frequently obscures and undermines commonalities of interest. but also one day reviving its territorial claims on the RFE.25 In this connection. p.2' Although these days the principal danger is seen as Islamic radicalism emanating from the south. 50: This was a common refrainof Chinese diplomatsandjournalists when the authorworked at the Australian embassyin Moscow duringthe late I990s.2002). At a more generalized level. The Chinese are also known to have been unhappywith thefait of accompli the Russia-US StrategicOffensiveReductions Treaty (SORT) in May 2002. the very concept of Russia as a guardian of 'western' values inhibits rapprochement with China. 299 . 220. p. Wayne Merry. May/June2003.

rather than proof that the current state of affairsis necessarily viewed as satisfactoryby either side. Pavliatenko. Settlement of the common border.28 In the end.27 In Russia. there is ample scope for dormant differences to flare up again. which had appeared to be more notional and long-term than direct. economic stagnation and the revival of nationalism and feelings of derzhavnost (sense of 'great power' status) might engender more less flexible attitudestowards China.'Limitsof the Sino-Russianstrategicpartnership'.26 The 'China threat'. E. Andrew C. The last twelve months have already assertive. but need to be considered against the setting of Putin's overall management of foreign policy in an unstable international environment. Their quiescence is a function of the positive atmosphere and momentum in the relationship.Bobo Lo weapons and weapons technologies to this build-up. the Russiaafter fall (WashingtonDC: CarnegieEndowmentfor International Peace. provoke widespread disorder and lead to unregulated large-scale population movements in the border regions.ed. based on the premise that Russia can be 'friends'with all countries. 300 . The tensions and ambiguities in Russian-Chinese relations cannot therefore be understood in an isolated bilateral context.'Russiansecurityin the AsiaPacificregion:the dangersof isolation'. but flexible in response to events and emerging international trends. Russian strategic calculus is susceptible to rapid and significant adjustments. Russia's evolving strategiccalculus29 At a time when both countries. of calculus'does not imply here a logical or even rationalized The term 'strategic process. 2002). especially given the intrusion of other elements into the mix. Russia'sChinaproblem. are in profound transition. is now seen as looming more rapidly than anyone had anticipated. logical and atavistic-that shape signifiesthe basketof predispositional Russia'sapproachto geostrategic political-military and questions. environment RussiaandEastAsia:the21st century security (Armonk.includingthe formalization the Collective SecurityTreatyOrganization(CSTO) and the establishment a militarybase in Kant. p. and global affairsmore generally. Chinese 'migration' into the RFE. Since coming to power in January 2000 Putin has pursued a 'multivectored' foreign policy. strategic and economic involvement in Central Asia. Kuchins. but only neutralized for the time being. 212-13. witnessed a noticeably more vigorous Russian approach to defending 'zones of special interest' in the FSU. the strategic partnership is a dynamic rather than a static phenomenon. See also Viktor N. 33. p. In China. Kuchins. MikhailG. pp.NY and London:EastWestInstitute and M. I999).in GilbertRozman. Nosov and Koji Watanabe.. it should be remembered that many bilateraldifferences between Russia and China have not been settled definitively. In this complex ideational and psychological climate. 26 27 in See Andrew C. 28. 28 29 its In 2003 Moscow undertooka numberof concrete stepsto reassert presencein formerSoviet Central of Asia. not founded in eternal 'truths' and principles. and Russian arms transfers are all issues on which an apparently stable accommodation could unravel.eds. political instability arising from internal power struggles or economic recession could stimulate a nationalist revanche. As the Kremlin's reaction to 9/I I and its aftermath showed.but rather influences-rational and irrational. Trenin.Kyrgyzstan. Sharpe.

Belying the rhetoric about a universal civilization confronting common threats. In a shifting international system.The long sunsetof strategic partnership In practice.Hu Jintao'ssix-dayvisit to Russia preceded Putin'sSt Petersburg meetingswith George Bush.and a Muslim nation when at participating the summit of the Organizationof IslamicConference.31 But Putin's room for manoeuvre is contracting. and Russian strategic sensitivities on many fronts are combining to create an environment in which he may no longer be able successfully to portray Russia as all things to all people in a rosy. and its ties with the Islamic world have survived the brutal conduct of the Chechen war and participation in the American-led coalition against international terrorism. with even the concept of a unitary West under attack. Despite agreement in principle about the menace posed by international terrorism and WMD proliferation. it has built on its strategic partnerships with Beijing and New Delhi. Thus Russiais Europeanin dealingswith Europe. transatlantic strategicpartnerwith the United States. In this context. In theory. Moscow can (and does) claim to assign equal importance to East and West. positive-sum conception of international affairs. and the importance of cooperation in conflict management. And it has even imparted some substance to this assertion. 301 . for example timing summits with the non-western powers immediately before or after meetings with George Bush and other western leaders. Asianin Asia. Putin finds himself under increasing pressure to make critical choices. One year later. particularlywith the United 30 Putin'sdepiction of Russianforeign policy as multivectoredhasbeen much aidedby his flexible use of civilizational labellingaccordingto time and place. a cosy relationship with Beijing is not incompatible with the West-centric focus of contemporary Russian foreign policy. over the past i 8 months this multifaceted approach has come under some strain. these priorities mean very different things to different countries. China assumes an importance that extends well beyond the bilateral. China's apparently inevitable ascent as the next superpower. the post-9/ ii world is anything but united. the summit of the Shanghai followed the Russia-US and CooperationOrganization Russia-NATO summitsin May-June2002. Moscow today has functional relations with Washington and the major west European capitals. the continuing global primacy of the United States. and conflict management is above all the responsibility of the major powers-rather than one 'hyperpower'operating through the structuresand mechanisms of the United Nations. Compared to the Yeltsin years. a commitment to non-proliferation does not preclude nuclear exports to Iran. and one of the most difficult of these concerns China. it is much more effective in projecting Russian influence in the FSU. he has been very successful in realizing this ambitious design. Thus. Tony Blairand EU leaders. for Russia international terrorism is about Chechnya rather than Al-Qaeda.30 However. In a very real sense. 3I For example. contrasting attitudes towards the partnership with Beijing reflect a continuing struggle for Russia's foreign policy soul: integration (albeit highly qualified) with the West against an ambivalent approach characterized by alternating cooperation and competition. highlighting a larger dilemma in Russia's relationship to the outside world. With its public commitment to 'multivectoralism'.

it was implicit. between China and the United States. p. Survival 3. Rubinstein. also RajanMenon. There is a basic unwillingnessto acceptthe loss of sovereigntyand freedomof manoeuvreentailedin subordinating Putinandtheevolution Russian nationalidentityto a largerpersona. 4. the pace of China's economic development may in time generate a more aggressive foreign policy posture in Beijing-not only in connection with Taiwan but also throughout the Asia-Pacific and beyond. 'Russian-Chinese relations'. 34 See Denny Roy. Russia's place and influence in the world may depend on making the right choice. when George Bush first outlined his Manichaean vision of the world. 36 Trenin. work against Russian interests. Vladimir p. such notions have given ground to a more practical. 302 .36 Accordingly. In such a scenario. tri 4 relations: p. if discreetly. pp. Russia's China probleni. occurred during the Iraq war. 80. Although forecasts that the gulf in military capabilities between the two will be bridged some time around 202033 are scarcely credible. specifically reducing its dependence on China to promote its interests in the region. for example. in Yeltsin's attempts during the 199os to reach an accommodation with Japan over the Southern Kuriles/Northern Territories. India and the Muslim world. Putin emergedrelativelyunscathedfrom the Iraqcrisis. the case for strategic diversity has become more urgent than ever-not in the classical sense of balancing East and West. 'China'sreactionto American predominance'. Autumn 2003. 'Russo-Japanese implicationsfor NortheastAsiansecurity'. the Daqing route is 32 It should be emphasized that Putin's interpretation of'integration' is highly selective.He was fortunate-or skilfulenoughthan that of the French to almostinvariably be more accommodating that the Russianposition appeared and the Germans.Bobo Lo States. The idea of such diversity is not new. Blank and Alvin Z.35 As in the aftermath of 9/I I. A second major factor is Russia's growing emphasis on strategic diversity in Asia. economically based vision of strategic diversity. The most important is the emerging strategic rivalry between the United States and China. 1997). 142. Although in the past Beijing's cooperation has been vital in facilitating Russian membership of organizations such as APEC and the ARF. Nov. I997. 'Obeshschannogo goda zhdut'. policy. 45: 35 In fact.37Today. the Kremlin would have to balance the strategic partnership with China against the need to avoid collateral damage from being on the 'wrong' side-as. p. Segodnya. more fancifully.NC and J. 85. In important respects. p.eds. There was talk that Russia might become the 'swing' power in north-east Asia between China and Japan and. and the pursuit of closer ties with the major non-western powersChina. but in the sense of shifting towards a less Sinocentric approach in Asia. there is a belief that China often acts in ways that effectively.34 Even if such predictions prove unfounded or exaggerated. 74.32 What might otherwise be an abstractdiscourse is transformedinto the concrete by the presence of several critical catalysts. for example. 28.See Lo. Stephen role Russia's decline: changing in Asia (Durham. 60. of foreign 33 Margelov. 37 See GeorgiiBovt and AlexanderChudodeev. Imperial London: Duke University Press. American concerns about China's enhanced military capacities may still push Washington into an increasingly tough policy of containment. as illustratedby the debate over whether to build the Angarsk oil pipeline to Daqing in northern China or favour a longer route extending to the Russian port city of Nakhodka.

p. in Garnett. that the changing balance of power will lead to a reversal in roles and its demotion to junior status within the partnership? Or does it move instead to embrace the West.. 42 Menon and South Korea and the South-East Asian 'tigers'.p. including its Asian members (Japan. They go to the heart of what role and place Russia envisages for itself in the strategic map of the twenty-first century. China's focus will remain firmly centred on other priorities-internal modernization. rather than as a mere raw materialsappendage. http:// www.Under the Blue Streamproject. Taiwan. Although it was originallyenvisaged(in 1997) transport that the pipeline would eventuallydeliver I6 billion cubic metresper annum. 'U Putinaest shansprevzoitiKhu Tsintaov vostochnoi diplomatii'.39The Nakhodka option. http:// 'Japan www. alluded to earlier. The threat is not that Beijing will attempt to exploit this to regain its former lands in the RFE or challenge Moscow's leading role in Central Asia. p. its planned capacity is better suited to the estimated volume of oil to be carried from the east Siberian oilfields.'Russian-Chineserelations'.ed. the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea. 49. that its destiny is as a global power-as opposed to an essentially regional player with some global interests-then the comfort of a multivectored foreign policy could give way to overt competitive tensions between two aspiring world powers. in order to mitigate China's growing strength-a shift that would involve downgrading 'partnership' relations with Beijing? The implications of this choice are not merely bilateral and regional.The long sunset of strategic partnership economically more viable: as well as being cheaper and logistically easier.html.South Korea). 38John Helmer.4' The importance of strategic diversity has been accentuated by the changing balance of power between Russia and China.Moscow and Ankaraagreedto Russiannaturalgas to Turkey via the Black Sea. still hold good.43whereby stabilityalong the Russian-Chinese border frees both to concentrate on more pressing concerns elsewhere. 4I Ibid. 'Russia'sevolving grandstrategytowardChina'. 303 . July 2003. 'The balanceof power'.strana. as Putin has often suggested.40 In this schema. opens up the entire Asia-Pacific market to Russian oil exports-not only China. If the answer is. by contrast. 13 1. Rapprochement or rivalry?. the Turkishgovernment used its position as sole customerto pressure Russiansto agreeto considerably the reduced subsequently advantagesof the 'rear-to-rear'arrangement. the development of transnational energy (and infrastructural)projects would become the main conduit through which Russia could establish itself as an influential player in the region. but also Japan. But Chinese resurgence does present Moscow with a dilemma regarding the long-term future of the strategic partnership. Russia Journal.russiajournal. 43 Alexei D. namely. Voskressenski. 40 See Margelov. 90.38 But such considerations are counterbalanced by concern that Russia could be held hostage by a China exploiting its position as monopoly customer-as Turkey did over Blue Stream gas. 39 SergeiPletnev. 87. For the time being. Does Russia accept the 'inevitable'.26 May 2003. misdirects 8 lobbying for Russianoil'.

There is an underlying assumption-albeit less confident than before-that Russia will retain a significantnuclear and conventional military 44 In 2003 a three-year decline in Russian-Japanese trade was reversed. continues to be more theoretical than real. Neither Moscow nor Beijing is dewy-eyed about the quality of their the prospect of China's bridging the gap in military capabilities remains a distant one. Moscow and Tokyo are no nearer to clearing the road-block of the territorial dispute. and both are careful to distinguish today's partnership from the so-called 'unbreakable friendship' of the Stalin-Mao era. 2004.45 Fourth.ln. There may be some sharpening of individual policy differences and even a deterioration in the overall atmosphere. and Moscow fears that an economically resurgent Japan could become ever more aggressive in pursuing its foreign policy interests. notwithstanding Russian unease about China's ascent. In this context. 304 . this is a realist (and even cynical) union of interests. the strategic and security implications of this phenomenon are poorly defined and understood. not a love-in. But there are also countervailing considerations that suggest the partnership may prove surprisingly resilient in the face of conventional strategic logic. Second. The most crucial of these is that the relationship is clearly established on the basis of common interests rather than 'shared values' or ideological stereotypes. although Putin's choices may be narrowing. even when a western 'rational actor' perspective might suggest otherwise. p. The Japan 'option'. 'Moscow's retreat'. eventual confrontation between Moscow and Beijing is far from certain.mid. There are few real alternatives.nsf. with turnover back to nearly US$5 billion (up from US$4. Its limitations are well understood and expectations correspondingly well managed. http:// www. this improvement is unimpressive when compared to the burgeoning commercial ties between Russia and China. 28 Jan. China remains the most promising political.2 billion in 2002): 'Rossiisko-yaponskie otnosheniya'. Putin will nonetheless maintain close ties with China.44 there are significant differences on a number of issues. 45 Merry. However. which. taking into account unregistered trade. economic and security partner for Russia in Asia. touted by some. demonstrating that Moscow will not give ground easily. his stubborn resistance to American pressure over nuclear energy cooperation with Iran offers an instructive precedent. For example. In the event of further Russia-US rapprochement heightened Sino-American and tensions. are now worth over US$25 billion. bilateral trade is less than a fifth of the turnover between Russia and China. Tokyo is viewed as Washington's staunchest ally in the region. Despite the occasionally flowery rhetoric. he will attempt to sustain his positive-sum approach to international relations for as long as he can. Third. including Asian theatre missile defence and post-conflict management in Iraq.Bobo Lo Resilience and continuity Notwithstanding the impact of a larger strategic calculus on the bilateral relationship. 29.

although some observers have identified the impact of generational change as a potentially negative factor in Russian-Chinese relations. I5 Nov.The long sunset of strategic partnership superiority for some time. On a broader macroeconomic level. the economic (and political) benefits of large arms sales continue to outweigh the hypothetical possibility that China may. Dabbling in balance-of-power games of 'triangularism' could rebound dangerously. 'The optimistshave the lead'. 47 China'spurchaseof Russianarmsmakesit dependenton Moscow for sparepartsand ammunition. DonaldsonandJohn A. 21-2. p. of Although the transfer Russianmilitarytechnologiesto the PLA (People'sLiberation Army)meansthat China will. pp.andthe UnitedStatesin EastAsia (WashingtonDC: Council on ForeignRelations Press. there is a compelling argument that the best way of neutralizing the 'China threat' is to tie Beijing more closely into trans-Asian energy and infrastructural projects.g. They referrednot only to the dynamicbetween the United States. 48 Ideasof strategic'triangularism' were especiallycurrentduringthe Soviet period. Moscow would still retainsubstantial inside knowledge.ed. 'The armstradein Russian-Chineserelations: Studies identity. 49 Dmitri Trenin. especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Thestrategic Russia.47 Fifth.while variouscommentatorshave also suggestedthat Russia tends to sell a better classof weaponryto India.48 It is worth recalling in this connection that many in Moscow are bitter about Washington's perceived ingratitude in return for Putin's support-his 'strategic choice'49-in the aftermath of 9/II. 6. domesticpolitics. Russian policy-makers recognize their country's limited strategic weight. certainlymore than would be the case if China were to buy from other sources. As few believe that China could launcha successfulamphibiousoperationagainstTaiwan today.46 Meanwhile. 2001. even accepting that China represents the principal long-term threat to Russia's security. fomenting anti-Russian sentiment in Beijing without obtaining any adequate quid pro quo from the United States (let alone Japan). for conventionalwarfarecapabilities. The accelerated development of local infrastructure that might result from such collaboration could attract Russian people and investment into sparsely populated regions.700-2. with or without other powers. even if analysts the US militarywere to standaside. I995). thereby defusing a seemingly intractable security problem.the Soviet Union and China. the natural course is to tread warily.200 warheads.CarnegieMoscow Center. but also in space cooperation. use these same weapons and their technologies against Russia. Finally. see in Michael Mandelbaum. 305 . avoiding commitments unless absolutely necessary.. Donaldson. the proliferation of bilateral commercial links-not just in oil and gas. but also includedat various times the Chinese-Soviet-Japanese. Chinese-Soviet-Indian. "'Osenniimarafon" Vladimira Putinai rozhdenieRossiiskoivneshnepoliticheskoi strategii'.China. Despite occasionally grandiose claims of influence.Chinese-Soviet-North Koreanand Chinese-Soviet-Vietnamesetriangles: Robert Legvold. 50 See e. pp. 47.50 the 46 The vast disparity nuclearweaponspotentialis reflectedin the fact that Russiais committedby the in May 2002 SORT agreement to reducing its strategic weapons stocks to 1. able to make its own weapons. and geopoliticalpositioning'.See Azizian. With no particular reason to trust in American good intentions. it is a huge leap to conclude from this that the optimal response is a policy of confrontation or containment. all this while China has an estimated20-25 strategicwarheads. eventually.International Quarterly 2003.briefingpaper. one day. Indeed. atomic energy and civil aviation-gives Russia a strong security as well as economic interest in maintaining good relations. facilitating the transformation of the RFE into a commercially lucrative region in whose stability all parties have a stake. 6-7. quadrangle: Japan. p. 'Russiaand the strategicquadrangle'. Robert H.

and (3) strategic projection in former Soviet Central Asia. 306 . three issue areaswill bear particularscrutiny: (i) developments over the Angarsk-Nakhodka oil pipeline. On the one hand. moving from a barely civil interaction into one fully meriting the often devalued title. This duality suggests that the relationship is set to move into an ambivalent. The retirement of the old Soviet-educated cohort of Chinese leaders and their succession by a more business-oriented. there may be scope for a measure of normative convergence between two statist. in the minus column. and resilient perceptions of common bilateral interests. Responses to these contrasting sets of problems will provide crucial pointers as to the condition of the strategic partnership. a better fit for Vladimir Putin than Hu's predecessor. on the one hand. expanding economic ties. the advantages of functional. common threat perceptions. TheAngarsk-Nakhodka pipeline Few issues highlight the dual nature of the Russian-Chinese dynamic so vividly as the pipeline debate. yet market-oriented models of government.51 More generally. a confluence of views on many international issues. will shape the evolution of Russia's China policy well into the new century. cooperative relations continue to be appreciated.Bobo Lo opposite could turn out to be true. but in which. the burden of historical and civilizational prejudices. an increasingly dominant West-centrism in Moscow and Beijing. Jiang Zemin. whereby the primary rationale of 'partnership'-'counterbalancing' the United States-was essentially 5' Although Hu is some ten years older than Putin. Over the next decade. essentially transitional phase in which many of the assumptions of partnership are challenged by new realities. Despite criticisms from some quarters. they enjoy a similar reputation for professionalism and dynamism. and Russian anxieties regarding China's rise as the next superpower. western-influenced generation may encourage the development of relations on a more practical basis. a choice born of the pragmatic realization that the alternative is far worse. Litmus tests In the post-Soviet period the trend of Russian-Chinese relations has been consistently positive. in many respects. The tension and interplay between larger strategic considerations. The ambiguities in the strategic partnership will remain: on the plus side. (2) security management on the Korean peninsula. too. A leader like current Chinese President Hu Jintao is. there are unlikely to be radical changes to this thinking. collaboration on this project reflects the determination of both countries to take their relationship up to the next level. 'strategic partnership'. on the other. Formerly stuck in a near-default mode. the goal of a stable and cooperative relationship with Beijing has found broad acceptance within the Russian political establishment. Within this overall dynamic.

and Moscow will need to handle the announcement and implementation of this decision very carefully in order to limit the wider fall-out. the most promising avenue for diversifying and enriching the bilateral relationship. Large-scale energy and infrastructuralprojects represent the 'future'. IAIR Policy Papers I: 3.54 there will be political as well as economic ramifications. In a further break from the Yeltsin years. 6. 54 Author's interviews in Moscow in October 2003.Beijing would not only take grave offence at the cancellation of prior intergovernmental undertakings. However. 56 Alexander Lomanov. it may increasingly be disposed to work with the other powers in East Asia-the United States included-to restrain Beijing's strategic ambitions there. Nov.The long sunset of strategic partnership derivative. Summer I997. 2003. 'Russia in the New World Order'.-Dec. not only by economic considerations. just as Moscow seeks common cause with others to dilute the exercise of American power worldwide. no. The Chinese have already indicated that they will not readily accept Russian economic arguments regarding customer diversification. 2002. Institute for Applied International Research. 'Russia's Chinese policy'. and has raised the stakes all round. Antwerp. I2.52 these days Moscow and Beijing focus much more on relations for their own sake.57 Consequently. in the first instance on the Korean peninsula.55 but might also interpret the decision as signalling a fundamental reorientation in Putin's foreign policy-away from the geographical 'balance' of multivectoralism towards a clear strategic commitment to the West. as a country with an overtly hegemonic agenda. p. this symbolism is double-edged. 55 As related to the author by a senior Chinese government official.56 The Korean peninsula Moscow's interest in the Angarsk-Nakhodka pipeline route is motivated. but also the desire to play a larger. To some extent. Survival39: 2. 52 p. 'The strategic convergence between Russia and China'. but will be extrapolated to highlight the limitations and structuralweaknesses of the strategic partnership as a whole. In the event that Putin opts for the Nakhodka route. 101. Lessius Hogeschool. 27 Nov.yet they also enhance the potential for serious disagreements. 2002. Russia sees China regionally as the analogue of the United States globally. despite their logic. more independent role in the Asia-Pacific region. 57 Bobo Lo. 53 Rajan Menon. Moscow. YadernyKontrol (Moscow). 'Rossiiskaya politika v Vostochnoi Azii: evolyutsiya i preemstvennost'. as many believe he will. p. presentation to a conference. 'The strategy of "stability" (on the results of the i6th National Congress of the Communist Party of China)'. they are also looking to change the centre of gravity in the partnership from principally political and security-based issues (what Rajan Menon terms 'strategic convergence'53) to economic cooperation. 307 . for ill as well as for good. it will be recalled. Vassily Mikheev. that is. Differences arising from concrete decisions will not be issue-specific. The corollary of such an agenda is the need to restrain China-discreetly-from occupying too dominant a position in north-east Asian affairs. Nov. 40.

more or less plausibly.mid. policy that involves expenditures.he Roy Allisonand LenaJonson.the strongAmericanemphasispost-9/I I on the war againstterror'is likely to be durableand to dictateengagement':'The new GreatGame in CentralAsia'. it remains acutely uncomfortable with the involvement of outside powers in the region. Russia sees itself as the regional hegemon. Russia's position as the least influential of all the parties involved in the Korean question is to its advantage. much less challenge. this means exercising 'strategic patience'. Survival 2.Bobo Lo However. 58Moscow's unassuming in position on participation the Koreantalkswas exemplifiedby ForeignMinister Igor Ivanov'scomment that Russiawould be happyto take a more active partin the negotiations. and will do what it can to contain this.60 However.'in on whateverform required': pressconferencein St Petersburg I June 2003.' Nevertheless. the Chinese agenda. Blank. will be hardto sustainany and frustration the loss of Americanlives. For the moment this is not an issue. But there is no guarantee that this commonality of interest will remain the dominant reality. argues.200I).58 CentralAsia If north-east Asia highlights the prophylactic dimension of Russia's geopolitical ambitions. 'The United Statesand CentralAsia'.ln. As Russia seeks to reassert its presence and influence in the region. 45: 308 . p.59 and Despite backing the Washington-led coalition againstinternational terronrism endorsing the American military presence in Central Asia post-9/I I. 201. Paradoxically. In relation to the United States. Summer2003. 144. given Beijing's willingness to accept a secondary role and the existence of a Russian-Chinese security consensus against the threat of Islamic radicalism. http://www. 59As StephenBlankhas noted. Central Asia looms as perhaps the most likely theatre for renewed bilateral tensions. waiting for Washington to lose interest-a not unreasonable hope in the light of historical experience. then in Central Asia Moscow is engaged in a much more activist project: re-establishing itself in a traditional sphere of influence. Russiais disinclinedto acceptlimits on its capability achieveits perceived and translate vital interests': StephenJ. 'the perceptionsof waning power are difficultfor Russianleadersto accept to into policy. a position it is extremely reluctant to cede. and China attempts to maximize its economic stake. the Asiansecurity: newinternational context eds.nsf. Moscow will need to preserve a delicate balance between pursuing this ambitious objective. since its weakness enables it. Affairs/Brookings 60 RajanMenon observesthat 'the Americanpublic'ssupportfor protracted embroilmentin the tumultof greaterCentralAsia statesis liable to be thin-and without that support. China's geographical proximity to Central Asia and considerable security and economic interests there mean that it will not simply 'go away'. Central (Londonand WashingtonDC: Royal Instituteof International Institution. p. and ensuring that it is not seen to obstruct. carving out a meaningful role for itself in multilateral negotiations on the Koreas. to put itself forward as the (relatively) disinterested facilitator of the peace process.

increased strategic and economic competition: all could exacerbate the numerous actual and potential stresses in a relationship that lacks the foundation of shared values to sustain it through periods of crisis. In spite of the many reservations about China. few in Moscow advocate a confrontational stance towards Beijing. Russian fears about China would find new life and be increasingly reflected in concrete policy. and there is no prospect of an early return to the adversarialrelationship of the 196os. new realities are intruding to highlight its limitations and weaknesses. In the ensuing climate of apprehension. Not only would this jeopardize vital national interests. As the process of China's transformation from predominantly regional actor into global player gathers momentum. despite the appearance of calm and productive cooperation. Such change would not be rapid or linear.The long sunset of strategic partnership Conclusion Many of the concerns in Russian-Chinese relations are more potential than actual. the ultimate paradox is that we may be witnessing the beginnings of a transformation from strategic partnership into strategic divergence. Currently. the underlying problems in the partnership are serious and the broader international context farfrom immutable. the fate of the Korean peninsula and Central Asia. mutually beneficial ties.6I Both countries will strivewith some success-to maintain substantive. The changing balance between the two countries. the growth of Chinese military power as a factor in international affairs. At a time when Russian-Chinese relations are at their zenith. the divide in perceptions and priorities is likely to widen. for a while at least. 309 . However. the strengths of the strategic partnership far outweigh its weaknesses and. relations should be resilient enough to absorb differences over the Angarsk-Nakhodka pipeline. but a still convalescent Russia is scarcely capable of sustaining such a committal and resource-intensive approach. 6I The nadir of Sino-Soviet relations was reached with a series of bloody border clashes on Damansky island on the Ussuri river in March I969. Nevertheless.

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