Growing Sino-Russian ties helpful, but not critical, for national rise

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-6 21:28:01

In the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs held in Beijing in late November, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and Chinese President Xi Jinping raised the diplomatic concept of building a "global network of partnerships," which will be one of the major principles of China's diplomacy for some time. The aim of building a network of partnerships is making friends based on the premise of sticking to the nonalignment principle and then forming a global network of partnerships. The network is the precondition for China to maintain its long-term national interests and become an influential power in the international system.

China has established 72 partnerships in different forms and at different levels with 67 countries and five regions or regional organizations. Among them, the partnership with Russia is at the highest level. Both the Chinese and Russian governments have high expectations for the improvement of bilateral ties. Nonetheless, the nonalignment principle is the premise of building a global network of partnerships, which means Sino-Russian relations under this framework have to develop within certain boundaries.

Sino-Russian relations have significant strategic value for China in the current international system. China is a rising power. In terms of its economic might, China has been drawing closer to the center of the international system, but its political and military influence still lags far behind its economic clout.

Post-Cold War Russia benefited little from the international system. However, despite its slow development, it is still a strong power and has the world's third largest military budget. In addition, it shares one of the longest land borders with China and has the world's richest energy resources. Therefore, at the international level, boosting ties with Russia has strategic importance for China.

The bilateral relationship has a role in the Eurasian continent. Eurasia is likely to be the core area for China to enter the center of the world stage. It is also the region where the interests of China and Russia overlap most. China has raised the strategic idea of the Silk Road Economic Belt, while Russia has been engaged in building the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU). Although both rely on cooperation among regional countries, the EEU has prominent advantages. As the heart of the former Soviet Union, Russia has a stable network in Eurasia. The Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the EEU are all Moscow-led multilateral institutions.

Meanwhile, Russia also plays a key role in other multilateral organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia. Therefore, Eurasia, especially Central Asia which has entangled interests with Russia, is a critical point in China's establishment of a global network of partnerships. The intimacy or alienation between China and Russia will have great influence on the region and directly affect China's process of moving to the center of the world stage.

A cooperative Sino-Russian relationship helps China win a longer period of strategic opportunity. In contemporary international relations, political powers grew out of the balance after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, prompting the international community into a multipolar state. Such a change has brought more uncertain risks to China's strategic opportunities. Before its rising, strengthening international cooperation is an effective means for China to reduce these risks. 

Nonetheless, even highly developed Sino-Russian relations cannot reduce the "China threat" theory, and cannot exclude the possibility that major powers adopt military means. China's rising strength may also increase worries from the Russian side. Extending the period of China's strategic opportunity is an important objective of China's diplomacy. Sino-Russian relations are vital, though not decisive.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and an adjunct researcher at the Research Center for Geopolitics of Central Asia of Xinjiang University.

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