- Visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to China for participation in opening ceremony of Winter Olympics in the backdrop of Ukraine Crisis.
- Russia and China have in last one century transcended through diverse patches in their bilateral relations.
- As on today, the two countries are considered to be closest to each other in history.
- Analysis of their ties becomes important as this relation will not decide the fate of Russia and China but also of the world order.
- China and Russia (Soviet Union before 1991), as two geographical neighbours, have interactions with great breadth, depth, and complexity. More concretely, the bilateral relations have a huge impact on the domestic affairs and diplomacy of two countries.
- In the People's Republic of China (PRC), from its establishment in 1949 to the 1970s, many major events in domestic and foreign affairs have been directly or indirectly linked to Sino-Soviet relations.
- The October Revolution (Russian Revolution) disseminated China’s Marxism, the official ideology that China has adopted thus far. The ruling party of China, Communist Party of China (CPC), was founded and guided by the assistance of the USSR until it gained power.
- After the establishment of the PRC, China and the Soviet Union formed an alliance, and China applied the Soviet Union (USSR) model for socialist construction.
- Relations between China and Russia were not totally hunky-dory and it swigged towards US during the Nixon Era after the start of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.
|Ping-pong diplomacy refers to the exchange of table tennis (ping-pong) players between the United States (US) and People's Republic of China (PRC) in the early 1970s, that began during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan as a result of an encounter between players Glenn Cowan (of the US) and Zhuang Zedong (of the PRC).
The event paved the way for President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 and has been seen as a key turning point in relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
- After the dissolution of the USSR though, China has been involved in a more important way in Russia.
- The decline of Russia and the strategic pressure of the US have made Russia tend to cooperate more with China. This tendency has accelerated due to the Western sanctions on Russia after the Crimea Crisis.
- In general, the Sino-Soviet/Russian relations can be divided into four periods, drawing on the alterations in the bilateral relations:
- The alliance from the founding of the PRC in 1949 to the end of 1950s,
- The confrontation from the 1960s to the 1970s,
- The rapprochement from the 1980s to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991,
- The steady development from the formation of Russian Federation in 1991 to the present.
- Belt and Road Initiative, proposed in 2013 and has been accepted by the Russian government, has the potential of boosting Sino-Russian relations even more.
- There are several features in the bilateral relations that are worth clarifying. First, due to the changes of national strength, the Sino-Soviet/Russian relations were dominated by the USSR, whereas currently, China has surpassed Russia in terms of economics.
- Second, the US and the West have played a crucial role in shaping the Sino-Soviet/Russian relations.
- Third, the fierce fluctuation of the bilateral relations appeared in the USSR era, while the bilateral relations have been steadily improving since the formation of the Russian Federation.
The Alliance from the Founding of the PRC in 1949 to the end of the 1950s
- The day after the establishment of the PRC, the Soviet Union officially announced diplomatic recognition, as the first country to establish diplomatic relations with China.
- During this period, China “leaned to one side” to follow the Stalin-led Soviet Union as the “elder brother” in terms of diplomacy, economic development and system design, with a hierarchical characteristic.
- Besides the aforementioned same political ideology and bipartisan history between China and the USSR, this strategy was determined by the objective environment at that time. With the support of the USSR, China joined the Korean War to oppose the US-led United Nations forces, leaving Beijing with the impossible task of establishing any official relations with the US-led Western camp.
- In February 1950, the two sides signed the 30-year Sino-Soviet Friendship Alliance Mutual Assistance Treaty against the aggression of Japan and its allies.
|This treaty regulated that the USSR needs to “transfer the Manchurian railway to China by 1952 to the Chinese administration of Dalian and noted the eventual removal of Soviet troops from Lüshun”.
Economically, this treaty stipulated a loan of USD $300 million to China and promised to send Soviet technicians in order to establish a modern industry in China.
- As a result, during this period, especially during China's first “Five-Year Plan”, the Soviet Union shored up the development of China, and meanwhile, the two countries also cooperated on many international issues. In public, Mao Zedong repeatedly praised the great friendship and alliance between the two countries, indicating the positive bilateral relation at this stage.
- However, despite the comprehensive contributions of the USSR to China, the Sino-Soviet relations and the treaty are unequal.
- Some reasonable requests from China were neglected by the USSR, foreshadowing the incoming disagreements of the two sides.
- The fundamental reason was the asymmetric status and strength between China and the USSR, due to their different stages of development.
The Confrontation From the 1960s to the 1970s
- After Nikita Khrushchev took the reins, the policy transformations in the USSR caused a divergence of the two countries.
- During this period the USSR’s renunciation of its agreement to provide nuclear technology to China, and Chinese criticism of Khrushchev for his overly slavish obeisance to the West all contributed to the worsening of the relationship.
- At the beginning of this period, the bilateral confrontation was ideological. Khrushchev criticized that the CPC only mechanically repeats what Lenin said decades ago, while Mao Zedong condemned the Soviet Union for deviating from socialism and became revisionist.
- Furthermore, their disagreements also appeared in different views regarding some international issues. For example, in 1968, Soviet troops sent Czechoslovakia to suppress the Prague Spring, which was characterized by the CPC as Soviet revisionist social-imperialism.
|The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization and mass protest in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dub?ek was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KS?), and continued until 21 August 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded the country to suppress the reforms.
- At the end of the 1960s, the Sino-Soviet quarrel escalated into border skirmishes. In 1969, large-scale battles took place between Chinese and Soviet forces on Zhenbao Island, bringing the allies of the past to the brink of war.
- At that time, China considered the USSR to be the main threat of the PRC, pushing China to re-evaluate its foreign policy and lean to the US.
- In 1972, the strategic conversion reached a climax in Richard Nixon's historic visit to China.
- In 1976, the Brezhnev-led Soviet government attacked China as an important reserve force for imperialism against socialism.
The Rapprochement From the 1980s to the Dissolution of the USSR in 1991:
- Negotiations between the two countries, the Soviet Union and China, restarted at the beginning of the 1980s. After Deng Xiaoping took power, the Chinese government set out to improve relations with various countries to create a peaceful environment for economic reform.
- In 1980, the Chinese leadership abandoned its accusation of the Soviet Union as a “revisionist” nation. On the Soviet side in 1982, Brezhnev issued an address suggesting Sino-Soviet collaboration in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
- In May 1989, Deng and Gorbachev (New General Secretary of Communist Party of Soviet Union) met in Beijing and announced that the relations between China and the Soviet Union were normalized, and the normalization of relations was not aimed at any third parties. As Deng Xiaoping pointed out, the purpose of the meeting was to end the past and open up the future.
The Steady Development from the Formation of the Russian Federation in 1991 to the Present
- Overall, Sino-Russian relations have gradually improved during this time. Nowadays, both countries claim that their relations are at their best in history. There are four reasons to explain this.
- The fundamental reason is that China and Russia have similar views towards domestic tasks and global issues.
- Domestically, the main aims of both are economic construction and political stability, requiring the harmonious ties with a large contiguous neighbour.
- Globally, the most important perspective is that both advocate multipolar world order and oppose the hegemony of any other country.
- The external rationale is that the deteriorating relations of China and Russia with the West have brought the two countries closer. For example, the Crimea Crisis in 2014 has pushed Russia's pivot to Asia, the Sino-American trade war since 2018 has promoted China to strengthen its cooperation with Russia.
- Economically, Russia seeks to benefit from the booming Chinese economy. Furthermore, the economic complementarity of Russia and China is beneficial for the two countries:
- China offers capital, consumer goods and labour to Russia, and Russia provides China with resources and military technology. Another influential factor is that after several decades of ups and downs in the Soviet period, the two countries have increasingly abandoned ideological battles and become more pragmatic, focusing on their own national interests.
Yeltsin Era From 1991 to 1999
- At the end of December 1991, China officially recognized the Russian government as the legal successor to the USSR, and both sides reasserted the previous agreement between the Soviet Union and China.
- However, the onset of the bilateral relations was not smooth initially. The Yeltsin-government implemented pro-Western diplomacy at the beginning, following Western countries to criticise China for the violation of human rights.
- It is possible to say that Yeltsin started to attach importance to Sino-Russian relations when his West-centered policy did not achieve the expected results.
- In December 1992, as the first Russian President, Yeltsin, visited Beijing and Sino-Russian relations entered a new era. The two governments signed “the Joint Statement on the Basis of Mutual Relations between the PRC and the Russian Federation” and declared each other as “friendly countries” and further mutually beneficial cooperation.
- Rapid development of the bilateral relations have occurred since 1994, representing the leading transformation of Russian leadership from “pro-Western” to “looking simultaneously toward both the West and the East”. In September, Jiang Zemin, the then President of China, was the first senior Chinese leader to be invited to visit Russia”.
- Internationally, both have since advocated multipolarity as a new world order and disagreed with “expansionism, hegemony, power politics, and the establishment of antagonistic, political, military, and economic blocs”.
- From 1994, the high-level exchanges between China and Russia have been frequent, and cooperation in the political, economic, technological, military, and cultural fields has continued to expand. In 1996, the top leaders of both sides decided to upgrade the bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership of coordination”.
- Since then, the two countries have decided to institutionalize and regularize meeting procedures, laying the foundation of the future Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the main security institution in Eurasia.
|The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance. It is the world's largest regional organisation in geographic scope and population, covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent, 40% of the world population, and more than 20% of global GDP.
Members of SCO are China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Putin Era from 2000 Until Now
- The Putin era, including the short-term presidency of Medvedev, is a period that has seen Sino-Russian relations progress remarkably.
- During this period, Russia and China concurred with the view that their relations are at their best in history.
- Putin took power in 2000, mainly inheriting the China policy of the Yeltsin era, but his leadership has a more positive influence on Sino-Russian relations than his predecessor.
- Putin streamlined the Russian bureaucratic system and consolidated the authority of the Russian central government, improving the efficiency of the bilateral contacts.
- Furthermore, the concentration of diplomatic power in the central government has effectively avoided the confusion and contradiction of foreign policy. Personally, compared to Yeltsin, Putin is more sensible and pragmatic. All these factors have increased the stability, credibility, continuity, and predictability of Sino-Russian relations.
- In July 2001, Russia and China signed “the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between the PRC and the Russian Federation,” laying the foundation for the next twenty-year development of a strategic and cooperative partnership between China and Russia.
- A crucial pointto consider is that the cautious wording of the treaty of 2001, a careful attempt to refrain from ideological declarations or knowingly unrealizable obligations, indicated that the leaders of the two countries were thinking long-term.
- However, it is arguable to say that the prudence and pragmatism in the treaty have given the future Sino-Russian relations more vitality and sobriety.
- The fluidity of the international environment has also facilitated closer Sino-Russian relations. In the early 2010s, the outbreak of the Arab Spring concerned China and Russia because of the potential instability and regime subversion the tide of revolutions may bring to the two countries.
|The Arab Spring was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. It began in response to corruption and economic stagnation and was influenced by the Tunisian Revolution.
- Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrovstated that Russia and China have agreed, using the possibilities of our two states, to coordinate our actions in order to facilitate the speedy stabilization of the situation, and the prevention of continuation of negative, unpredictable consequences.
- Furthermore, the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War has driven more political and military cooperation between China and Russia.
- The Crimea Crisis in 2014 and the on-going Russia-Ukraine dispute, on the decision of later to join NATO, has exacerbated the Russo-Western relations, and in fact, accelerated the development of Sino-Russian relations.
- Likewise, the current Sino-American trade war has pushed China to deepen its cooperation with Russia.
- Therefore, it is well-grounded that Sino-Russian relations are at their best in history now by summarizing the following three aspects.
- First, bilateral political and strategic relations have been achieved at an in-depth level. More precisely, China and Russia have established institutional political cooperation, including the mechanism of mutual visits between the heads of states, the system of regular visits between the prime minister, and the strategic security consultation, intergovernmental cooperation committees. For instance, over the past six years, President Xi met President Putin more than 25 times.
- Second, the two countries completely resolved the border issue. China and Russia have a long border of 4,374 kilometers. Border disputes were a major problem affecting the normal development of relations between the two countries.
- Third, based on similar positions on major international issues, Russia and China keep close coordination and collaboration in global affairs, such as the North Korean nuclear crisis, the Iraq issue, and the role of the United Nations.
- Both countries actively advocate multi-polarity in the world, and the development of a fair and reasonable new international political and economic order.
- However, it is difficult to say that Russia and China are allies. The two countries have repeatedly claimed that there is no alliance between them, and their closer bilateral relations are not in opposition to third parties.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrovstressed that as for relations with China, they have never been at such a high and trusting level in all spheres.
- However, if allied relations imply a military alliance, then neither Russia nor China are planning to set up such an alliance. By the way, it is committed to paper in documents, including those that were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia this June.
This view summarizes the recent Sino-Russian relations and shows the pragmatism of the leaderships in Russia and China. Reflecting on the bilateral history, the two world powers understand that an alliance might be inappropriate for both.
Despite the fact they have reached consensus on many topics globally and domestically, there are still some disagreements between them.
Furthermore, the population disparity in the Far East border between China and Russia concerns the Russian Central and local governments. Additionally, due to the economic ascendance of China, Chinese influence has increased in Central Asia that has been Russia's backyard and traditional influential area since the second half of the nineteenth century, leading to uncertainty in Asian geopolitics.