The Emerging Sino-Russian Axis

By Nemets, Alexander V.; Scherer, John L. | The World and I, June 2000 | Go to article overview

The Emerging Sino-Russian Axis

Nemets, Alexander V., Scherer, John L., The World and I

The hoped-for death knell of anti-Western authoritarianism that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 seems to have ended with the formation of a Chinese-Russian military alliance in December 1999.

The new alliance includes Belarus and Kazakhstan. Belarus joined this Eurasian bloc when it signed the Union Treaty with Russia on December 8, 1999, a few hours before then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin left for China. Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko had proposed establishing a Minsk-Moscow-Beijing strategic axis as early as January 1997, according to the China Daily.

For its part, Kazakhstan has endorsed Moscow's and Beijing's foreign policy initiatives at every opportunity.

"The Chinese-Russian alliance is a reality," says Thomas Robinson, a prominent expert on China and Russia at American Asian Research Enterprises, a private consulting firm in Reston, Virginia. "It should be taken into account seriously enough by the U.S. government."

Many observers agree with him. Many others--such as David Shambaugh, a professor of political science and international relations at George Washington University and a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., policy institute--don't agree, however. "Chinese-Russian relations do not qualify as a military alliance," he says, "because the two countries don't have an official mutual-security agreement."

But developments over the past few years seem to support the notion that a politicomilitary symbiosis between the two nations is gaining strength. At a summit in April 1996, Russia and China for the first time announced a "strategic partnership for the twenty-first century." By the end of 1996, significant numbers of Russian troops had been transferred from the Chinese border to the Moscow and St. Petersburg regions. Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) withdrew from the Russian border to the "Taiwan front" and to positions along the South China Sea.

At a summit in Moscow in November 1997, China and Russia resolved their long-standing border disputes and agreed on foreign policy goals, namely, that Taiwan must return to China, that Chechnya is an inseparable part of Russia, that neither nation would impose sanctions against Iraq, and that both Moscow and Beijing would oppose an East Asia theater missile-defense system and a U.S. national missile-defense system. In October 1998, Chinese and Russian diplomats and high-ranking military officers began discussing a joint air-defense system as an appropriate response to U.S. moves toward a missile defense.

NATO operations in Iraq in December 1998 and in Yugoslavia during March-July 1999 convinced Moscow to turn from the West to China, despite a desperate need for loans and Western investments. The May 7 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade brought Beijing onboard. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov traveled to Beijing at the beginning of June last year, and Col.-Gen. Zhang Wannian, the first deputy chairman of China's Central Military Commission and de facto commander in chief of the PLA, went to Russia June 9--17 to work out the details of the alliance.

During the Yeltsin-Jiang summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on August 24-- 25, the two sides codified the military alliance and, at the same time, agreed to speed the delivery of the most advanced Russian weapons to China.

President Vladimir Putin, who was Russia's prime minister between August and December 1999 and acting president from December 31 until his presidential election victory in March, has allowed ties to the West to weaken, revived the Russian military-industrial complex, placed police and security officials in important government posts, and strengthened relations with China, which has wholeheartedly supported Russian military actions in Chechnya [see "What's at Stake in Chechnya" on p. 300].


Official statistics have reported that China purchased at least $6. …

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