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The Russia-China Partnership

A map of “Great Tartary” (Russia) and China, London, 1704

The Russia-China partnership has developed in the past 20


  • One of the most important legacies of the Gorbachev era

    • 1989: Normalization of USSR-China relationship

    • 1992: Upgrading the relationship in Beijing

    • 1996: Concept of Strategic Partnership announced in Shanghai

    • 1999: first joint naval exercises

    • 2001: Treaty for Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, signed in Moscow

    • 1995-2007: Full settlement of the border issues

    • Economic and military cooperation

    • Same positions on most international issues, joint diplomatic initiatives, growing coordination of foreign policies

  • Not an alliance (3 disappointing precedents: 1895, 1945, 1950)

  • But a new type of relationship between two major powers

  • What is new:

    • Context: globalization and multipolarity

    • Power trends: US in decline, China and Russia rising

  • The 2 countries, adapting to the realities of the globalized post-Cold War world, are discovering more and more points of common interest and concern and acting together

  • A growing factor in Eurasian and global politics

    • What is the historical norm for the four-century old


    • Very few conflicts (if one compares this relationship with others)

    • Russia’s wars with Sweden, Germany, Poland, France,

    Austria, Turkey, Iran

    • With China:

    • When Russia was expanding into Siberia: minor clashes with Cossack settlers in the Primorskiy Krai, 17 th century

    • The Qing Empire was very strong at the time, it was not a matter of Russian domination

    • Late 19 th century: Russia dominant, takes advantage of Qing decay

    • Russia’s participation in the suppression of the Ihetuan (Boxer) Rebellion in 1900

    • The conflict over the China Eastern RR, 1928

    • The Damansky Island clash, 1969

    • Indirect conflicts in Afghanistan and Vietnam

    • No large-scale military conflict between the two states

    • Russia is the only country with which China has entered into an alliance with 3 times over the past century

    French cartoon,


    cutting the China pie

    • Parallel experiences:

    • Major setbacks for both empires in the 1840s-1850s: Britain as the main adversary, the global hegemon at the time

    • Lost wars with Japan at the turn of the 20 th century

    • Revolutions and fall of the two empires (Russia, 1905-07, China, 1911, Russia, 1917)

    • Civil wars

    • Alliance in WWII

    • Alliance in the most dangerous period of the Cold War (on the same side in Korea and Vietnam)

    • Imperial revival under Communist regimes

    • Ideological affinity

    • 1917 was a major watershed for both

    • Bolshevik anti-imperialism (incl. Russian)

    • The “science” of revolution

    • Systemic emulation (Soviet modernization model for Mao, China’s market reforms for Gorbachev)

    • What led to the rift in the 1960s:

    • Out of phase ideologically Soviet abandonment of Stalinism and attempts at rapprochement with the US at a time when Maoism was just getting into its high gear and relations with the US were on the verge of war

    • “Soviet revisionism”

    • Later, under Brezhnev’s more conservative leadership –

      • Full-fledged clash between the two foreign policies

      • Soviet hegemony in the communist movement, influence in the 3d world

    Hand-to-hand fighting on the Soviet-Chinese border, March 1969

    Hand-to-hand fighting on the Soviet-Chinese border, March 1969

    • But then geopolitics began to play the decisive role -

    • Nixon moved to support Beijing in its standoff with Moscow

    • Triangular balancing

    • Relations began to normalize when ideological change came to USSR with Gorbachev

    • US role

    • From 1970s till 2000s, the US generally regarded China as a geopolitical ally

    • And it has built a massive economic relationship with China

    • Dissolution of USSR made geopolitical reliance on US almost irrelevant for China

    • Meanwhile, geopolitical cooperation with Russia developed

    • Under Bush Jr., US tended to regard China as a rising threat

    • And it put Russia under growing pressure through its security policies

    • Shared Chinese-Russian security concerns about US hegemony and radical Islamist threat

    • Today’s remarkable scope of cooperation with minimal differences should not be surprising, because cooperation is historically a more normal mode of Sino-Russian relations than the familiar China-Soviet split of the 1960s-1980s

    • What brings the two countries together and what generates differences (not conflicts, not tensions, not even frictions) between them?

    • Power trends:

    • Systemic crisis in Russia successful reforms in China

    • Collapse of the Soviet Union growth of China

    • Compared to the past, an unprecedented interplay

    • Late Qing Romanov

    • USSR ROC and PRC

    • Population, 2007:

    • China 1,322 mln.

      • Growth rate 0.6%

    • Russia 141 mln.

      • Decline rate 0.5%

    • If current population trends continue, by 2050:

      • China will rise the level of 1.5 bln.

      • Russia will fall to the level of 100 mln.

    • Population of border regions

    • Russian Far East 7.5 mln.

    • China’s Heilunxian Province – 120 mln.

    • Maritime Province: 2.3 mln.

    • China: 70 mln.

    • China:

    • GDP, PPP $7 trln.

    • GDP per capita - $5,300

    • Real growth rate pre-2009 11.4%

    • Russia:

    • GDP, PPP - $2 trln.

    • GDP per capita - $14,600

    • Real growth rate pre-2009 7.6%

    • Expenditures on R&D, 2003, % of GDP:

    • China 1.3%

    • Russia 0.3%

    • Number of people employed in the R&D sector, 1995-2003:

    • China: increase from 470,000 to 820,000

    • Russia: decline from 804,000 to 411,000

    • Now, China is offering investments in Russian R&D

    • ------------------

    • Tatyana Chesnokova and Natalia Cherkesova, Rossiya Delete? 2030 god: Global’naya skhvatka tsivilizatsiy. M., Yauza-EKSMO, 2007

    • Comprehensive national power, Chinese calculations:

    • United States 90.62

    • Britain 65.04

    • Russia 63.03

    • France 62.00

    • Germany 61.93

    • China 59.10

    • Japan 57.84

    • Canada 57.09

    • South Korea 53.20

    • India 50.43

    • Geopolitics

    • Global level

      • Opposition to US hegemony and unilateral use of force

      • Support of multilateralism

      • Economic cooperation with all

      • Opposition to new arms races

  • Regional level

    • Demarcation of the borders (Russia-China, Central Asia)

    • Stability in Asia

    • Hostility to Islamism

    • Trade and investment

    • Russia to China:

      • Energy resources, raw materials, arms, technology transfers

    • China to Russia:

      • Consumer goods

    • Asymmetrical

    • Quality of trade remains unsatisfactory

    • Investment goal: $12 bln. by 2020

    • Trade remains a major link between US and China

    • Russia’s interest in technological development – China’s

    offers, money, joint ventures

    • Symbiosis is possible

    • The volume of Sino-Russian trade is 2 percent of China's total foreign trade, or:

    • 1/10th the amount of China's trade with the United States, 1/9th of that with Japan, 1/8th of that with the European Union, and 1/6th of that with South Korea.

    • Russia has sought to promote sales of industrial goods, but China is not much interested in anything except

    commodities and arms.

    • Common concerns in Russia:

    • Imports of Chinese goods are threatening whole sectors of Russian industry

    • It is unwise to sell weapons to a large and dynamic country that poses a potential strategic and demographic threat to Siberia.


    • Market authoritarianism (left-wing in China, right-wing in Russia)

    • State-capitalist models

    • Defence of sovereignty in the face of globalization

    • Opposition to Western democracy promotion

    • Russia-China

      • Economic links underdeveloped, political relations


    • US-China

      • Developed economic links, political relations cool

    • US-Russia

      • Minimal economic links, political relations deteriorating

    • In this kind of triangle, Russia is at a disadvantage

    • In a 2007 opinion poll, conducted among listeners of the popular radio station “Echo of Moscow”, 74% endorsed the opinion that Russia must conclude an alliance with China to counterbalance the US. “Together, we’ll become bigger than the Americans”, wrote one listener.

    “China is a great country from which we should learn a lot –

    qualities like resourcefulness, initiative, persistence, hard

    work. I don’t understand those who see China as an enemy.

    China is our closest neighbour and strategic partner. If your

    neighbour is richer and more successful than you, you shouldn’t undermine him – instead, you should try hard to improve your own performance. Likewise, we Russians should not envy China and foster an enemy image. We

    should strive to reach the same level of economic development and of national cohesion. Everyone would only benefit from that”

    Gennady Lysak, Russian businessman, provincial MP in

    Primorskiy kray*

    *Лед российско-китайских отношений тает,, 2006-01-16

    • Russia’s place in Chinese foreign policy

    • Not the No.1 priority

    • But a key partner

    • It is important to keep Russia friendly, and to team up with it

    • China is using Russia as backup

    • But economic relations with the West are far more important

    • China’s place in Russian foreign policy

    • Neither is it priority No.1

    • Relations with the West more important

    • Russia is using China as backup

    • Russia’s growing rift with the West

    • World public opinion on Russia

    • A balance of interests

    • Each other’s strategic rear

    • Gradually, the two sides are finding more and more uses for their partnership

    • Academician V. Myasnikov:

    • “The level of strategic partnership, one rung below that of a full-fledged alliance, has a number of advantages. Unlike an alliance, the partnership does not make Russia responsible for any of China’s actions, nor does it involve major commitments which would limit Russia’s freedom of maneouvre. At the same time, it does increase mutual trust between the two countries. Finally, the partnership, acting through the various geopolitical “polygons”, stimulates other powers to try to develop their relations with both Russia and China up to the level of Russian-Chinese relations. This last point is currently more advantageous for China, but Russia also benefits from the fact that other powers are interested in preventing an even closer rapprochement between Russia and China.”

    • China, too, is wary of alliances, prefers more flexible forms of relations

    • Power trends

    • Russia is behind, and falling farther back

    • China feels confident, Russia uncertain

    • China has the initiative, Russia reacts

    • Russia won’t be able to compete with China

    • Russia may be marginalized

    • Especially if its relations with the West should deteriorate

    • There is a logic in the idea of balancing out China

    • But such balancing out is considered by China as a major threat to be neutralized

    • So, the balancing can only be done through multilateral organizations

    • China is not afraid of Russia’s resurgence

    • It welcomes it while the West is concerned

    • This draws Russia closer to China

    • In Russia, rise of China does generate some concerns

    • Asymmetry of perceptions

    • Still, cooperation deepens

    • Sources of problems

    • 1.Competition for Central Asian oil and gas

    • 2.Both sides’ interest in multipolarity, in balancing each other out may create distrust

      • For instance, if Russia moves too close to the US

      • Or, if China teams up with US to contain Russia

  • 3.Trade issues: disappointment on both sides with quality

  • 4.Russian concerns about Chinese takeover of the Russian Far East

  • But: it’s a network-type relationship, not a hierarchy

    • Bad scenarios

      • 1. A China-Russia anti-Western alliance

      • 2. A China-Russia war

  • Neither is very likely

  • The prospects for the partnership are good

  • And the partnership poses no threat to others

  • It is likely to be a stabilizing factor in Eurasia

    • Amb. Denisov:

    • “It is a good example of how two major states belonging to

    • different sociopolitical and cultural-civilizational models have managed to find mutually acceptable solutions to the immensely complex and delicate problems inherited from

    • history, in the first place, the border issue, and to work out a model of peaceful and goodneighborly coexistence.

    • Russian-Chinese relations have reached a qualitatively new level, that of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.”

    • Amb. Denisov:

    • “Russia and China are two great powers and Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. In recent years the emergence at the global and regional levels of new acute international problems, challenges and threats has predetermined a multitude of new points of contact and spheres of real cooperation for Russia and China. A fruitful bilateral partnership in international affairs is based on the

    • similarity of national interests of Russia and China, on the identity of approaches of Moscow and Beijing to the key global problems - future world pattern, strategic stability, central role of the United Nations, in international affairs and so on. Given the attempts to use the globalization for gaining unilateral economic and geopolitical advantages, the upholding by Russia and China of the principles of multilateralism in international affairs, respect for sovereignty of states and the rights of peoples to an independent choice of their development road has a special importance.”

    • In 2007, The China Daily described China-Russia relations as "a harmonious relationship with unique characteristics“:

    • "The two countries [China and Russia] are close without having to rely on each other. They protect their own dignity with no intention to subvert the other; they manage to resolve conflicts of interest through negotiations on an equal footing

    and they are both keen on

    ... developing bilateral ties with the US, the only superpower in the world today, while opposing unilateralism," it added. The wrangling that lies ahead in Russia-China relations can be kept to a minimum if the two countries get used to their divergent foreign- policy priorities. Fortunately for them, as the China Daily assessed recently, their relationship has "more positive than negative factors".