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Foreign Policy

China-Russia Relation, A Model for Big Powers

Mar 23 , 2013
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

Xi Jinping has chosen Moscow as the destination for his first state visit in his new capacity as the Chinese president, a decision that has caught the attention of the international community. Some people see it as a readily understandable decision, while others regard it with unease.

The reason why Xi has chosen Russia as his first state visit is simple and clear: to raise China-Russia cooperation to a new level and inject new vigor into bilateral relations by continuing with the past and opening up the future,or, as Putin put it, to vigorously promote cooperation and people-to-people exchange between the two countries and to further cement good relations.

In more than two decades since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, bilateral relations between China and Russia has continued to grow and flourish. It is no longer only friendliness that ties the two nations together, but a constructive partnership or, to be more accurate, an all-round strategic partnership. The two countries have even concluded the China-Russia Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation to affirm, in legal form, the level of their bilateral relations and their consensus on cooperation.

Both China and Russia are now working towards national revitalization. They are both countries going through their own transitions. Whatever reform and transformations are planned, the top priority will be an improvement in economic efficiency, and the promotion of scientific and technological advancement. The expansion of ties with the international community will also be emphasized. It is under these preconditions that both nations are striving to boost their productivity, increase their comprehensive national strength, and improve living standards for their citizens. Taking the “Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence” as the basis of their relations, they will not enter into an alliance, confront one another, or aim at any third country. On the contrary, they will remain good neighbors, friends and partners, and treat each other equally with mutual trust. They will respect each other’s development path, and prevent ideology from interfering with the normal development of state relations clear.

Both Chinese and Russian leaders have hailed the relations between their two countries as a model for relations between big powers. What characterizes this model is its promotion of strategic cooperation instead of an alliance, the tightening of ties instead of dependence, the maintenance of self-respect and dignity instead of evil intentions, the handling of international affairs in line with commonly acknowledged principles, and the settlement of all interests and disputes through consultation on the basis of equality. These are also features that have been advocated by Chinese and US leaders for the development of a new-type relationship between big powers.

When in Moscow, Xi will exchange views with his Russian counterpart on cooperation between their two countries, and on economic cooperation in particular. While China-Russia relations are close and tight, they are not perfect. One notable flaw, for instance, is the imbalance between political and economic relations. When cooperating with China in the hi-tech sector, for instance, Russia always worries about a possible infringement on its intellectual property rights. Chinese enterprises, meanwhile, often find it difficult to comply with Russian laws and regulations when doing business there. The corruption in Russia also makes Chinese enterprises less and less enthusiastic about putting their money in Russia.

Fortunately, however, the leaders of the two countries have always looked squarely at the problems instead of shunning them, and tried their best to solve the issues instead of leaving them alone. China is now Russia’s biggest trade partner, second biggest importer, and biggest source of imports. Last year, bilateral trade volume between the two countries hit US$80 billion, a 40 per cent yearly growth. According to the blueprints drawn by the leaders of the two countries, the total trade volume between the two countries will rise to US$100 billion by 2015 and US$200 billion by 2020.

To speed up bilateral economic and trade cooperation, the two countries will deepen their discussions on moving from commodity and resource trade to technical and service trade. Priority will also be placed on cooperation in the energy industry; as well as the promotion of cooperation between scientific research institutions, hi-tech firms and colleges and universities to advance hi-tech development and innovation.

During his stay in Moscow, President Xi will also exchange views with Russian leaders on international and regional issues of pressing concern.

It is not advisable to mystify Xi’s Russia trip. It is neither rare nor customary for a new Chinese president to go to Russia for his first state visit. When elected as the Chinese president in 2003, for instance, Hu Jintao first visited Russia. When re-elected in 2008, however, he picked Japan for his first state visit.

Neither is it advisable to play up Xi’s Russia visit or speculate on the motives behind it. The New York Times has interpreted Xi’s Russia visit as a response to the Obama administration’s back-to-Asia policy . The Japanese newspaper Sankei daily, meanwhile, reported that Xi was trying to tighten ties with Russia for the purpose of counterbalancing the alliance between Japan and the United States. The Mexican newspaper, Der Tag, reported that Xi’s Russia visit was designed to counter the US attempt to encircle China.

On the same day that he was elected as the Chinese president, Xi Jinping had a friendly telephone talk with US president Obama, during which the two leaders acknowledged the results of the positive development of their bilateral relations and expressed hope for developing a new type of relations between big powers. These viewpoints are precisely the same as those expressed by Xi in his phone talk with Russian president Putin.

If properly nurtured, the partnership of positive cooperation between China and the US may become a true model of new-type relations between big powers.

Cooperation and competition always accompany each other during the course of development of state relations. What counts is to cooperate in earnest and compete in line with the rule of law. This is the only way toward sound interaction during the course of development of both Sino-Russian and Sino-US relations.

Yu Sui is a professor with the China Center for Contemporary World Studies.

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