The Sino-Russian relationship is a model of friendly ties between major powers after the end of the Cold War. The two sides have been through four stages since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which are regarding each other as “friendly countries,” constructive partnership, strategic partnership of coordination, and the signing of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation.
Some of the Western scholars and media have started to argue that Beijing and Moscow are forging a military alliance and define the development of Sino-Russian ties as a game of major powers. It is nothing but display of Cold War mind-set and has ignored the economic as well as the geographic complementarity between the two nations.
The rapid development of Sino-Russian ties is not driven by the pressure from the West, but the internal factors, such as inherent values, standpoints and economic interests, of the two countries. China and Russia are not only neighbors, but also two major global powers.
Since the end of the Cold War, both countries have realized the importance of developing bilateral relations to maintain regional security. From the perspective of geopolitical security and economy, the steady growth of the Sino-Russian relationship serves the fundamental interests of both sides.
Over 30 years of reform and opening-up, considerable achievements have been made in China. China has not only emerged as the world’s second-largest economy, but also created a huge market with strong demand. Meanwhile, Russia is one of the major energy-producing countries, and exporting to Asian market has become an inevitable choice since the import growth of its traditional export market, the EU, is limited.
Expanding its energy exports to China could provide rare opportunities for economic growth in Russia. And when it comes to the manufacturing industry, the Chinese market is of great importance in terms of upgrading Russia’s aviation, infrastructure and so on.
In addition, the China-Russia partnership is not aimed at any third party, nor does it contain any intentions of alliance. Although there are certain divergences between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin’s main focus of economic and diplomatic ties still lies in the Western countries. While the Western media are criticizing Russia’ democracy under Vladimir Putin’s ruling for moving backward, the constitutional democracy in Russia is still based on Western values, and Russia is only making more efforts to protect its national interests in international affairs.
The EU is still Russia’s major economic partner. Enhancing economic cooperation with China is just a fine-tuning of Moscow’s policy, since strengthening economic cooperation with Beijing is a realistic choice after the financial crisis, and an important complementary approach to its economic recovery. Moreover, China is a beneficiary of the international political and economic order after the end of the Cold War. The Chinese economy has been fully enmeshed into the global economy, and China has become the major economic partner of the US and the EU. Substantial quantities of achievements have been made by China in this post-Cold War international order. Therefore, China has no intention to challenge this order.
On the contrary, China is a contributor to the current order. As Chinese President Xi Jinping puts it, the “new type of major power relations” requires no conflict or confrontation, but stresses mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.
At a Capitol Hill Reception celebrating 35 years of normalized relations between China and the US in June 2014, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said that China’s vision is clear, which is to build China into a prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious modern country, but not to seek global dominance, challenge or replace other countries.
Therefore, when Beijing and Moscow enhance their cooperation, there is no purpose of forming an alliance, nor do the two sides have a need to ally each other. Internal factors are the major contributors to the development of the bilateral relationship, which can also be a great inspiration to other major power relations.
Zhang Hong is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.