Why Russia and China Have Not Formed an Anti-American Alliance

By Weitz, Richard | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Why Russia and China Have Not Formed an Anti-American Alliance


Weitz, Richard, Naval War College Review


Since the Cold War's end, many analysts have expected China and Russia to cooperate vigorously to counter U.S. geopolitical superiority.1 Although Chinese and Russian leaders have collaborated on some issues, substantial obstacles have impeded their forming an anti-American bloc. This failure of the two strongest countries with both the capacity and (arguably) incentives to counterbalance U.S. power and influence in world affairs suggests why the United States continues to enjoy unprecedented global preeminence. This article analyzes why Russia and China have not allied against the United States and offers policy recommendations on how to avert such an anti-U.S. bloc in the future.

At their third November summit in 1997, Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin (then the presidents of their respective countries) set for their two countries the goal of establishing a "strategic partnership for the twenty-first century." During subsequent meetings, they reaffirmed this commitment and jointly criticized NATO's intervention in Kosovo, U.S. plans to develop ballistic missile defenses (BMD), and other American policies they opposed. The many comparable statements by representatives of the two governments, the large number of meetings between senior Chinese and Russian officials, and Russia's extensive arms sales to China intensified expectations that the two governments would form an anti-American bloc.2 At this time, U.S. intelligence agencies undertook a major initiative to analyze evolving Chinese-Russian relations and their implications for the United States.3

Notwithstanding these plausible expectations, however, the normalization of Chinese-Russian relations during the past decade has proceeded for reasons mostly unrelated to any joint effort to counterbalance the United States. For instance, the quality of Russian arms purchased by China has been impressive, but these transactions alone do not constitute a Chinese-Russian military alliance. Furthermore, the two countries' policies on a range of important issues have been uncoordinated and often conflicting. Finally, although the two governments have signed border and other security agreements signifying the end of their Cold War hostility, nondefense economic ties and societal contacts between Russia and China have remained minimal compared to those found between most friendly countries, let alone allies.

POST-COLD WAR IMPROVEMENTS IN RUSSIAN-CHINESE RELATIONS

Chinese-Russian relations improved along several important dimensions during the 1990s, but how one assesses the extent and significance of these changes depends on what metric and starting point one uses. For example, ties between Moscow and Beijing might be said simply to have experienced a "regression toward the mean" from their excessively poor state during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. The changes look so impressive only because Sino-Soviet relations were so problematic before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985. Ties between Russia and China have come to resemble those one would expect to exist between two neighboring countries sharing important interests and concerns but differing on many others. Indeed, despite recent improvements, relations between China and Russia remain less harmonious than those existing between Germany and France, the United States and Mexico, or Russia and India.

Border Stability and Arms Control

During the past decade, China and Russia largely have resolved the boundary disputes that engendered armed border clashes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and they have demilitarized their lengthy, 2,640-mile shared frontier. (The section to the east of the Russian-Mongolian border is 2,606 miles long; that to the west is thirty-four miles.)4

Border demilitarization talks began in November 1989. They soon split into parallel negotiations, one on reducing military forces along the Chinese-Russian frontier, the other on establishing confidence and security building measures in the border region. …

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