Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Rethinking Russo-Chinese Relations in Asia: Beyond Russia's Chinese Dilemma

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Rethinking Russo-Chinese Relations in Asia: Beyond Russia's Chinese Dilemma

Article excerpt


Bandwagoning with China against the United States and simultaneously covertly trying to restrain China have been the dominant motives of Russia's Asian policy in Northeast and Southeast Asia. Throughout the 2000s, due to this dual-track policy, Russia had resigned itself to its growing economic dependence on China and its role as an energy source to China. Between 2009 and 2011, Russia made a conscious effort to portray itself as an Asian player. However, Russia's failure to develop the Russian Far East (RFE) has forced it to "turn to China for help", and this has allowed China to begin building a new economic and security order in Asia at Russia's expense. The nature and direction of the Russo-Chinese "strategic partnership" under Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin is again becoming a subject of intense debate. The major assumption of this article is that it is unlikely that Russia would simply acquiesce in subordination to China without reacting to situations with negativity. Since 2012, to avoid overdependence on China, Russia has oriented itself not only towards China, but towards the whole spectrum of interests and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, spanning from Japan, South Korea and the United States, to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Russia is tapping into ChinaJapan tensions to encourage greater Japanese investments and commitment to the development of Siberia and the RFE, which would offset China's presence in the region and diminish Russia's current overdependence on Chinese investment and trade. Moscow prefers more Japanese presence, which also serves as a counterweight to China. Russia's energy cooperation with Japan has increased Moscow's negotiating space vis-a-vis China as well as the European countries. The permission granted by Vietnam to use Cam Ranh Bay means that Russia gains a foothold to expand its influence in Southeast Asia. The South China Sea is important for not only its abundant resources but also its strategic significance.

The objective of this article is to analyse the changing Russo-Chinese relations under Xi and Putin in the context of shifting Asia-Pacific international relations. The first section analyses the nature of Russo-Chinese relations. The second examines the impact of the US pivot to Asia on Russo-Chinese relations. The third section explains the Japanese factor in the Russo-Chinese relations and the final section examines the impact of Russia's renewed ties with Vietnam on Russo-Chinese relations.


Every official statement on Russo-Chinese relations from Moscow or Beijing reiterates that relations have never been better and postulates virtually identical interests shared by the two governments regarding Asian security. This relationship is a strategic partnership or even quasi-alliance, though both sides normally use the former term. The scale of cooperation between Russia and China is reflected in the extensive infrastructure of dialogue between the two states where regular contact is maintained at nearly all levels of central authority. (1)

The basis for China's strategic partnership with Russia lies in countering the global export of America's liberal values. Russia's professed political values (i.e., sovereign democracy) comport with the so-called "Asian values" much more than with the European ones. (2) To be sure, a higher degree of congruence exists in Russo-Chinese views of Asian issues, particularly when it comes to opposing US interests and values. The greatest significance of the China-Russia partnership may be that it creates an obstacle to the Western monopoly and protects the basic rights of the non-Western world, such as no external intervention in national interests and an acceptance of diverse political systems. Russia and China have frequently collaborated on the basis of a shared antipathy to US-led democracy promotion efforts and Washington's willingness to use force without the sanction of the UN Security Council. …

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