Chinese Dragon and Russian Bear - A New Strategic Alliance?

Posted in Russia | 06-Jul-05 | Author: Dmitry Udalov

Sino-Russian relations have never been a simple matter. They have ranged from cordial alliances and implicit mutual support to barefaced rage involving military border clashes.

Although the countries have had much in common - ideology, economic structure and mutual foreign enemies - they still have disagreed upon issues that as a result fostered severe disputes.

The post-bipolar world order adds complexity to Sino-Russian relations. Complexity does not mean that relations have worsened or will become worse. What is meant is that the number of political options and steps that can be initiated has risen, and therefore it will be more complex for both parties to choose the right ones. This has the consequence of making the future of Sino-Russian relations rather uncertain.

In recent years, China and Russia managed to settle one very tense issue: A borderline. Both sides made some concessions to stop century-long territorial claims. Aware of the importance of maintaining a stable Russian-Chinese border, Russia made large concessions. Whereas both countries settled the major problems in bilateral relations, did this mean that they had laid a firm foundation for friendship, cooperation and trust?

"Long live Soviet-Chinese partnership!"Even common communist ideology didn’t help to build a strong alliance.But is it possible to build it…
"Long live Soviet-Chinese partnership!"Even common communist ideology didn’t help to build a strong alliance.But is it possible to build it in the 21st Century?
Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Russia in early July had to clear up this matter. The political result of the visit was a “Chinese-Russian joint declaration on world order in the 21st Century.” It outlines the vision of major issues of international relations and reflects a firm will to uphold peace and stability throughout the world. The declaration is not aimed against any country in particular, although some observers detect that a clear message is being sent by China to the US.

The common political view of the new world order helps to strengthen the economic partnership between China and Russia. However, there are also controversial economic issues. China badly needs Russian oil. Russia is not very enthusiastic about fuelling China’s booming economy because it is afraid of China’s dominance in the Siberian region. The demographic situation is not the last Russian argument to take into account. The Russian government simply is afraid of a massive migration of the Chinese workforce to Siberia and a takeover of Russian resource industries.

Paradoxically, Russia needs the help of the Chinese workforce to develop boundless Siberia and the Far East. The point is to find the right proportions and to be able to control the situation. It’s clear that control over migration can only be efficient if both Russia and China are interested in it. This is why these issues were discussed thoroughly during the summit.

China’s global trade that is sometimes seen as a menace to the EU, the US and other regions was discussed during the meeting of Hu Jintao and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Interestingly, although Russia and China are neighbors, they have a relatively small trade balance. Russia isn’t afraid of Chinese imports (remember how many talks there were about Chinese textile imports to Europe). On the contrary: Russia wants to do its best to welcome Chinese imports. At the same time, Russia can be a good trade partner for China, too. The Soviet economy was an economy of an industrial society. Since China is in the process of developing large areas of what was a primitive rural society into an industrial one, Soviet tractors, hoisting cranes, mining machinery etc. would suit many of China's needs. The Chinese leader agreed to increase Chinese-Siberian annual trade to $10-12 billion while Russian-Chinese trade as a whole should increase to $60-80 billion in three years. (Note: Total US-Chinese trade was $231,4 billion in 2004!)

Russian arms imports to China are a special issue as well. Russia and China are very interested in this field of cooperation. Overall arms trade has been rising gradually. Without a doubt, it will continue to grow. The US is known to be the largest arms exporter in the world. Russia had to find its own markets, and it has found them in the East.

The arms issue leads us to the other political problem that was discussed during the summit: Taiwan. Russia and China are bolstering reciprocal support on Taiwan and Chechen issues. While Russia supports only a peaceful solution of the problem, its support helps China to gain initiative in solving the Taiwan problem.

This summit as well as the general course of bilateral relations was held in an amicable atmosphere of mutual respect and strategic partnership. Still, China’s global ambitions, booming economy, enormous population and geopolitical forecasts show us that China is accumulating power to become a greater player in world politics in the future.

Today, China is following a very wise foreign policy. It is a policy in which the principles are: “minimum responsibilities, maximum national interests.” This is precisely why the cheerful smile of President Hu Jintao is welcomed but at the same time is met with a little fear in Moscow, Washington, Europe and Asia.