Abstract. Russian-Chinese relations in the 20 years since the signing of the Grand Treaty of June 2001 have become a key factor of global development. Despite vigorous opposition from the West, their importance in world politics has steadily risen. They have encountered major challenges at all levels of cooperation (bilateral, regional, and global), but both countries have invariably responded to them effectively. Russia’s role has grown steadily in proportion to the escalation of the China-US rivalry. Russia and China have shown that they complement each other not only on the level of bilateral economic relations, but also on a global scale, allowing them to address shared problems of creating a new international order and resisting pressure from the West. Extension of the Treaty has both confirmed the strategic nature of their relations and opened new areas of collaboration – ideological and otherwise. Amid growing tensions and the creation of new blocs in the Indo-Pacific region aimed at containing China, Russian-Chinese partnership is growing stronger without becoming a formal alliance. This type of harmonious and coordinated collaboration between major powers can be described as an axis.
The creation of a new world order assumes detailed analysis of its structural elements. Russian-Chinese relations have in recent years helped shape the current world system, influencing the trends and nature of developments in international relations, including the creation of new principles of multilateral cooperation. Among the various forms of political collaboration synonymous with a military and political alliance is an axis – the harmonious and coordinated interaction of major powers with their own national interests, the existence and number of which usually preclude the formation of a full-fledged union. An axis establishes a coordinated rhythm of mutual progress in the powers’ foreign policy and acts as a means of influencing other countries and international institutions.
Such a mechanism of cooperation between Russia and China has already been created, but the countries continue to compete, engaging with other countries and international formats. Moscow and Beijing’s interest in creating a durable, internationally recognized institution of cooperation under modern conditions is dictated by the interests of their national development, along with a clear understanding that in the current situation of extreme turbulence and aggravated international competition, the space around them can be organized by other powers and according to foreign principles.
The process of creating new alliances and thus redrawing the geopolitical map of the world is gathering speed. The North Atlantic alliance (NATO) is being joined by an Indo-Pacific alliance (AUKUS) in which Canberra is working along with Washington and London.1 The creation of the QUAD as an alternative to the Russian-Chinese Eurasian security structure is proceeding in parallel with the participation of Tokyo and New Delhi. The time factor is key in building a new regional architecture. If Russia and China do not show initiative and persistence, they will fail to create a broad international platform, making it highly likely that they would then have no choice but to join and submit to other rules – or be content with isolation should they refuse. Despite the substantial domestic potential that China is already trying to exploit in its “double circulation” strategy,2 the consequences of the foreign challenge could be just as detrimental to it as to Russia. In today’s global world, a high level of interdependence and integration prevent the breaking of economic ties, but any kind of isolation, even voluntary or sectoral, could bring losses that are hard to compensate. In relations with the West, neither Russia nor China can currently withstand economic sanctions comparable in effectiveness to those that remain an instrument of power. Nevertheless, certain changes have taken place since the Cold War, an analogy with which it is impossible to avoid drawing in the current situation. The US and the West are generally not so independent of their strategic rivals, though they do continue to have a set of unique competitive advantages that curb their initiatives.
Both economic competition and mutual ties, the value of which have grown immeasurably, have thus become an important indicator in the global world and supplement the confrontation of traditional military and political alliances with close economic collaboration. The spread of global manufacturing chains has substantially reduced the natural environment and prerequisites for creating bipolarity and bipolar blocs – already they can no longer exist in their earlier, restricted form. The structure of bilateral and multilateral relations has become much more complicated as a result, and the lines of tension are no longer oriented strictly according to poles. They most often recall Foucault points, of which only the cumulative vector can be presented as general lines of resistance.
The first trends in globalization were based on expansion and the geographic spread of rivalry between the great powers that eventually led to the world wars. After the Second World War, the cooperation that had gradually formed on strategic security issues opened up the possibility of broad economic collaboration, which over time became the predominant trend and foundation of globalization. At the same time, cooperation on strategic security was matched by competition on the regional level as a result of the need to consolidate the zones of the bipolar world and adjacent intermediate areas. The circumpolar buildup of forces opened up global possibilities. It was on this dual-level structure that the logic of bipolarity took shape: consolidation within and resistance without. Even cooperation between the great powers was, therefore, sectoral and partial. It was merely an element of the competition reflecting the predominant trend of the global world. Globalization fundamentally altered the situation and created an environment for the broad practical application of two strategies: rivalry and cooperation.
Both strategies of interaction between the great powers are seen in today’s world: strategic cooperation between Russia and China, and strategic rivalry between China and the US and Russia and the US, which can be broken down into many situational cases. Just as it is still hard to imagine a universal bipolar confrontation under the current circumstances, it is impossible to think of and create full-fledged strategic alliances with the participation of global powers. Neither Russia nor China is prepared to take a place analogous to that of France (or even Great Britain) in a bloc established by the US, as demonstrated in particular by China’s refusal to participate in the G2 format proposed by the US in the mid-2000s. This was an indicator of, if not incipient multipolarity, then an organization more complex than bipolarity3 in which the participants were not able to compete effectively with the US separately and were forced to come together in order to divide functions.
Russian-Chinese military and political cooperation, which meets the requirements for an axis, actually existed back in the 20th century. In the 1950s, Moscow thought that Beijing could bear a considerable part of the responsibility for overseeing the interests of the socialist camp in the Far East (as evidenced most fully in the Korean War), while Moscow could focus its efforts on the epicenter of the world confrontation – Europe and the North Atlantic. The 1950 Treaty of Union gave these relations a higher legal status but did not fundamentally alter their content, since it did not extend beyond the confines of the Far East to Europe and the Atlantic. The situation is quite different today.
After the 1989 normalization of relations with the Soviet Union according to Deng Xiaoping’s “turn the country around” formula, Russia began to lose the initiative in building relations with China. From that time on, they have increasingly been built upon and guided by Chinese thinking. The two countries have switched places. The main reason for this reversal is that China, as the only great power of today that actually has a strategic culture, created the kind of relations that suits it and is firmly rooted in the Chinese concept of partnership.4 China describes Russian-Chinese relations today as exemplary precisely because they were built according to the Chinese design.
How can such an axis be organized, and what are its elements? This depends on the mechanisms of cooperation and interaction on three levels: bilateral, regional, and global, where the first lays the foundation, the second determines the internal structure, and the third assumes a division of functions and responsibility according to external zones and spheres, which in reality already exists along and beyond the borders of the American zones of influence.
Structure of Bilateral Relations: Challenges and Responses
Bilateral relations are of interest to each side, especially from the viewpoint of mutually beneficial economic cooperation and ensuring national security. As part of the system of international relations, however, they can be seen not only from the viewpoint of the interests of the two parties but from that of their place in the modern world as well, along with their role in shaping the international order and seeking responses to global challenges.
The assertion that Russian-Chinese relations are now at their best stage in history, with a high level of political trust and no off-limit topics, has become an unquestioned formula. This and even more categorical statements were made in the 1950s, when Soviet-Chinese relations were characterized by true friendship and mutual assistance, as confirmed not only by the reminisces of contemporaries but also economic cooperation statistics. While it cannot be denied, it is also inappropriate to recall. Along with the armed conflicts of the 1960s, the period of the 1950s in bilateral relations has today fallen into oblivion at the official level. That part of history is especially important today, when the two countries are again facing a historic choice and searching for a new type of relations. One problem for both countries is ensuring that today’s highly valued relations do not become a new object of silence, in order to keep Jiang Jemin’s promise “to hand down friendship from generation to generation,” made in the Grand Treaty of 2001. This will depend on how well the two countries are able to overcome the challenges of time, and such challenges do exist.
The first challenge is the growing gap in economic potentials and the unequal structure that stems from it, along with the importance of bilateral trade for each country.
Russia and China have an action plan for responding to this challenge. Their trade turnover fell by 3% in 2020 because of the global coronavirus pandemic but grew at above average rates in 2021 and notably exceeded the price indicators of recent years, totaling more than $146 billion for the first time in history. At the heart of this was energy cooperation, the extraction and processing of natural resources, and the gradual diversification and growth of the high-tech component. Work began on several Russian nuclear power stations inside China in 2021. China is now participating in the construction of LNG complexes, along with the Amur gas-processing plant and gas-chemical complex. It is also developing projects for cooperation in hydrogen power and other fields. There is mutual political support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Russia’s project for a Greater Eurasian Partnership. None of these processes are a result of unilateral measures, showing that there is still room for cooperation to grow.
The second challenge is the change in the external environment. The rise in the confrontational nature of international relations has become a major test of Russian-Chinese relations.
There are also certain objective prerequisites for responding to the second challenge: the two countries’ geographic positions and complementary economic nature, which determine their national interests and geopolitics. In the Far East, Russia and China have always been natural allies when it comes to international problems. They form one camp and have been trailblazers in seeking new forms of cooperation and collaboration since 1896. By far, most of the conflicts that have arisen in their relations have stemmed from domestic political problems or ideological differences. The decision to remove the ideological component from relations helped minimize the risks of a new schism, though it has yet to allow the same level of trust and cooperation that existed in the 1950s to be achieved.
The geographical proximity of the two countries provides an objective prerequisite for future growth in Russian-Chinese relations, the complementary nature of which has been shown many times in history:
• Developing economic collaboration and cooperation in Russia’s Far East and China’s Northeast.
• Combating terrorism and ensuring stability along their shared borders (in Northeast and Central Asia, including Mongolia and Afghanistan). Russia and China are interested not only in the absence of international conflicts in the region but in the stability of neighboring countries that could become sources of humanitarian problems and transnational crime. This requires supporting existing political regimes, preventing color revolutions,5 and maintaining a coordinated position in relations with Afghanistan’s Taliban, which both sides are now doing their best to develop.
• Consistent mutual support of their fundamental national interests and territorial integrity. Amid today’s geopolitical shifts, it does not fit the new international situation for Russia’s support of China’s position on Taiwan to remain one-sided. A clear position from Beijing on Russia’s ownership of Crimea and the Kuriles, which was clearly stated in amendments to the RF Constitution in 2020, is needed.
Overall, foreign pressure has not led to a rise in tension and division. On the contrary: It has become a factor of convergence based on the “back to back” formula.
The third challenge is maintaining the stability of bilateral relations. Today’s Russian-Chinese relations are characterized by a high degree of mutual trust at the top level. This is, as they say in China, a “fundamental guarantee of stability and durability.” To paraphrase Mao Zedong, we needn’t worry when the leaders of two countries speak the same language. This is a distinguishing feature of the new model of Russian-Chinese collaboration that characterizes the “new era in relations” announced in June 2019,6 and reflects the close nature of the two countries and the similarity of their political regimes.
But at the same time, it is not good for the relations of two countries to depend on the personal relations of their heads of state, since the mechanism for institutionalizing such relations is weak, there are no firm guarantees that they can be reproduced, and it is extraordinarily difficult to create them on the international level.
The current political regimes are yet another fundamental reason why Russian-Chinese cooperation is unlikely to become a long-term official alliance. The political structures of China and Russia do not permit a redistribution of power either domestically or internationally. The Soviet-Chinese alliance resulted from the Chinese Communist Party recognizing the undisputed authority of the Soviet leadership. When that authority evaporated, so did the alliance.
The close vision of a just international order and the course of its evolution is at this moment a sufficient condition for creating an axis – a much more flexible form of cooperation than a formal alliance. In all of these matters, paying close attention to the interests of the other partner and coordinating efforts at the regional level are needed to achieve results, especially in Russia’s “near abroad” and China’s “adjacent region,” which partially intersect and are characterized by multidirectional and thus potentially conflicting trends that are centrifugal for Russia and centripetal for China.
China’s foreign policy has been evolving since the second half of the 1990s. This evolution is closely associated with China’s economic growth and therefore has not elicited fears in the international community. China has switched from a policy of isolation to partnership. Neighboring countries became the first target of China’s new foreign policy strategy, an embodiment of which was the Shanghai process, which would not have been possible at the initial stage without Russia’s consent and active participation.
This was a great change for China, the significance of which was hidden by the emergence of the globalization crisis. China’s area of interests grew and extended to other regions in proportion to the rise of its economic might and global influence. This altered the content and character of collaboration at the economic level from “mutual benefit” to “joint prosperity.” In the words of Xi Jinping, China was prepared to offer neighboring countries the possibility of and room for shared prosperity while bearing most of the responsibility, playing a more active role and providing great social benefits in developing the region.7 Cooperation with ASEAN and within the SCO was organized and coordinated inside China. The “adjacent region” was expanded to the Greater Adjacent Region, which now included the Near and Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and countries of the Pacific Ocean. The initiative was given the name “One Belt, One Road.”8
Throughout the period of China strengthening its economic and political influence, Russia was embroiled in other problems – eliminating the consequences of the geopolitical catastrophe caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian participation in settling numerous conflicts in the post-Soviet space (in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the Transcaucasus) and Syria, dealing with sanctions from the West, etc., required considerable efforts and resources. The withdrawal of Western coalition forces from Afghanistan shifted the responsibility for maintaining stability in the region to regional powers. Under these conditions, Russia had to decide on the measures and degree of its further participation in regional processes to ensure security and determine the burden it was willing to bear, which could in practice lead to a distribution of functions among the CSTO and SCO. China, therefore, also had to determine the extent of its additional responsibility. Great powers disrupt not accumulated influence, as is clear from the example of the US, but the growth of responsibility, especially during periods of instability. In making such a decision, China had to consider its own power and avoid infringing upon Russia’s interests.
These are complicated problems that affect relations with third countries and have no simple solution. They explain why there is no alliance but assume there is such a thing as a coordinated policy.
On the regional level, China is generally rising against the backdrop of reduced Russian influence, and is likely prepared to solve most of its problems by itself, especially economic ones. Globally, however, it cannot resist the US on its own and needs Russia’s support. The main problem in this case could be China’s domestic policy. The world is now witnessing a new global configuration whose structure will differ from the old bipolarity. As an emerging focal point, China will influence its formation and determine the global agenda. There is, however, another trend that in recent years has been obscured by global processes. The world is fragmenting and heading toward multipolarity. China’s role and influence will be determined by this regional level, which is practically more significant, forming a reliable background of global rivalry. Russia plays an exceptionally important role in both processes and, consequently, in the lines of China’s foreign policy.
Russian-Chinese Strategic Cooperation in the Global Arena
New challenges for humanity – e.g., guaranteeing cybersecurity, combating climate change, and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic – demand the combined efforts of all countries for the first time in history. However, the strategic nature of the problems that objectively demand collaboration do not necessarily mean a high level of cooperation. Global challenges and threats have complicated the structure of international relations, so the entire system must now be changed. Accelerating this process will make it easier to increase geopolitical disengagement, showing indirectly that global problems will not be solved jointly, and there will be losers and winners.
Like strategic rivalry, strategic cooperation has its own limits. There will unavoidably be a stage in which the benefits achieved through joint efforts are redistributed.9 It could be the final stage that ends the period of cooperation, or it could be an intermediate stage of adjusting joint efforts. This would mean the nullification of the three earlier Russian-Chinese treaties. The treaty signed in 2001 showed no special diplomatic foresight that might have predicted what would happen in the next 20 years.10Treaties describe the state that exists when they are signed and fade into history when they begin to conflict with reality. In contrast to the treaties of 1896, 1945, and 1950,11 the extension of the treaty in 2021 showed that that time had not yet come. It was the first to stand the test of time and provided a new angle on assessing the current state of Russian-Chinese relations, analyzing their problems and outlook, and (most importantly) determining their role in the world.
China and Russia realize that the world situation has changed radically in the last 20 years. The international environment and the two countries’ aggregate national power relative to each other have both changed.12 The conditions are thus ripe for a new balance of power that would inevitably reduce the level of trust in relations.13 However, the treaty was not amended in 2021. Two factors prevented practical discussion of this turn of events.
The first factor was the strategic nature of cooperation. The goals set for Russia and China had not been achieved. On the contrary, growing Western pressure underscored the unresolved nature of strategic problems and the need to strengthen collaboration. The Grand Treaty, therefore, found convincing new grounds for its extension. Attempts to adapt it to the new circumstances and amend its substance could have reflected the change in the balance of relations but at the same time weakened Russian-Chinese unity in the face of the outside world. The growing geopolitical uncertainty played an important role in the fate of the 2001 treaty, and its extension bought time to seek an effective joint response.
After geopolitics returned to international relations on the cusp of the 1990s, the possibility emerged of using corresponding historical analogies. Geopolitical rivalry always reflected the arrival of a critical point on the map of history. Each such instance has been thoroughly studied because of its exceptional importance. The closest analogy to the current state of the world is the eve of the Second World War, when the geopolitical ambitions of the Third Reich bound the East and West of the European continent, uniting them in an as hoc alliance driven by the situation. Today, the prerequisites for alliances emerge in the global world wherever there is mutual gravitation and trust and no mutual pressure. Russia and China turned out to be natural allies bound by geographical proximity, the successful development of bilateral relations, and external pressure from a single source.
The second factor is the continuing transitional period in the development of the system of international relations. Its dominant trends are the emergence of new challenges and uncertainties, and a rise in confrontation and dividing lines. A distinguishing feature of the latter has recently been its institutionalization. Under these conditions, the main problem is maintaining the strategic nature of cooperation in order to jointly influence the change in the situation.
The most important factor influencing the development of Russian-Chinese cooperation is the US’s struggle to preserve the American-centered world order. In a unipolar world, the peripheral countries of North Africa and the Middle East were earlier considered the main sources of concern to the US. Only under the Donald Trump administration was the fundamental nature of the threat to American hegemony finally recognized to emanate from China. China has become an economic superpower in the last 20 years, and its mere existence has upset the Pax Americana that formed after 1991. China was officially identified as the main strategic opponent of the US in the foreign policy documents of the Trump administration. A direct consequence of the incipient geopolitical rivalry was the search for additional outside counteraction resources by increasing the number of allies and forming new coalitions while improving their forms of organization.
This resulted in a need to regroup forces, deploying them in areas of secondary importance and concentrating them where they are needed most. A manifestation of this was the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and the creation of new coalitions (AUKUS, QUAD) aimed primarily against China to supplement old ones. The American initiatives were largely a response to Chinese economic initiatives, especially in regions that traditionally posed a threat to the US or were not controlled by it.
Its exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 and the new Biden administration’s lack of integration plans shows that the US has no potential for creating new transregional or, what is more important, global economic associations. The priority is now military and political deterrence, not North American integration or economic competition. The difference between this and American ambitions and projects of a decade ago is striking.14
China has become a driver of economic development and globalization, as is especially clear from international support for the Belt and Road Initiative. The attractiveness of this development model, the effectiveness of which has been widely acknowledged during the pandemic, has grown simultaneously. This is already openly discussed in China, which calls its model a “new type of civilization”15 and promotes its project for reshaping the world as a “common destiny community for China and humanity.”16 China is clearly challenging the hegemony of the US in all areas other than military. It is thus vital for it to have a powerful friend – a role that only Russia can fill. For geopolitical and economic reasons, war has always been a tool of American foreign policy that Washington has used actively and effectively. Russia has historically participated in many large-scale military conflicts and has usually emerged victorious. It does not fear war. In a bipolar world, those positions created a consistent discourse that allowed a number of treaties on strategic parity to be signed. That discourse is preserved in Russian-American relations to this day. The situation in Ukraine shows that the US recognizes Russia’s red lines.
If only Russia can counterbalance China’s geopolitical rival, then the special nature of relations with it automatically makes it both a factor and participant in Chine se-American relations. Russia is therefore acquiring a special role in Beijing’s global strategy that greatly exceeds its geoeconomic contribution, which accounts for about 2% of China’s trade turnover. Because of its military potential, Russia has been able to join the emerging bipolarity and elevate its own importance in the world by compensating for China’s weakness.
By repeatedly demonstrating its geopolitical potential, Russia has taken on an important mission. It will not allow the US to concentrate on restraining China. Since the distant bipolar past, it has always challenged the West. It did so in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea in 2014, and in Ukraine in 2022. As a result, China has always gotten an extension by being spared direct confrontation while continuing to build up its forces and study and remedy flaws in its experience of conducting international affairs.
The situation is different in relations with China. China has always avoided war, preferring to use other geopolitical instruments to safeguard its interests. Under circumstances such as these, it is still not clear if China will strike a balance with the US. It is clear, however, that the US has tested China and will continue to use it as an example of its willingness to find a military solution to problems in the region.
The question of how likely an armed conflict is between China and the US in the South China Sea over Taiwan has been studied for some time. Tension has grown but not led to armed conflict and, with no way out, has begun to expand and draw in new participants. The US-proclaimed Indo-Pacific region is about more than just attracting new allies and extending the geographic zone of confrontation. The increased number of participants changed its scale from the regional to the megaregional and essentially quasi-global level. Large, influential, and vastly different countries are being drawn into the confrontation. Creating a coalition on this scale demands a common foundation that underlines the strategic, not ad hoc, nature of cooperation. Institutionalization of the ideological conflict on a global scale began at the Summit for Democracy on December 9-10, 2021,17 giving it a systemic character and substantially reducing the prospects for compromise. Like the Soviet Union in its day, China was thus fully characterized as a strategic rival.
On one hand, the emerging geopolitical conflict and what seemed to be the final burial of communism in the Soviet Union demonstrates the principal differences between the East and the West. On the other hand, it underscores the unity of Russia and China by allowing each side to reduce mutual suspicion of a separate normalization of relations with the West. A sense of the existential inseparability of Russian and Chinese security is emerging under amid the growing, all-encompassing confrontation. This is indeed more than an ad hoc military and political alliance, making the two countries “more than allies.”18
The joint Russian-Chinese announcement of February 4, 2022, which begins with talk of democracy, demonstrates the historic sense of extending the treaty, supplementing it with new content and laying the foundation for cooperation that is more durable and comprehensive than economic ties and geopolitical interests. The Western countries played a big role in contrasting democracy and autocracy, and creating the conditions for Russia and China to come together on a new platform.
Yet another extension with even deeper historical consequences can be added to the emerging ideological split under current conditions. A fundamentally new type of technological civilization is now taking shape for reasons independent of foreign policy. In terms of its consequences, the creation of China’s own technological platform and corresponding social paradigm, which China has already gone quite far in shaping, can be compared to the division of the world according to religious principles and can greatly magnify the civilizational component of today’s international relations. The pace of scientific and technical progress is so great that we can already see the horizon of the consequences of the changes now under way. The process is complicated by the accelerating decline of the US, which for decades had been a model of social development and a universal constant that played a central role in the system of international relations and determined the architectonics of the world. The future of Russian civilization will depend on with whom Russia cooperates in setting the standards of digital society. Participation in the forthcoming technological alliances can likely be compared to the consequences of Russia adopting the [Christian] Orthodox religion and its subsequent entry into European civilization. The changes now taking shape open up new prospects for it to go from being a passive observer and minor historical player to once again having a chance to take center stage in world history and confirm its special mission.
The conflict along the East-West divide has always been not so much political as cultural and ideological, and therefore of greater significance to Russia. After the collapse of the bipolar system and the disappearance of the ideological confrontation, its place was taken by the North-South contradictions that existed within the capitalist economic system and spread to the rest of the world after 1991. As the losing side, Russia tacitly fell into the camp of the South but felt no intrinsic sense of belonging to it and did its best to rise from its lower economic league to a higher geopolitical one, initiating the creation of BRICS, in particular.19 In this way, it once again aspired to influence historical thought.
The emergence of the ideological component in Russia’s and China’s relations with the West revived the confrontation along the East-West axis. The recognition by both sides of the highly functional ideological nature of the conflict facilitated domestic consolidation and not just a convergence of positions but their organizational reinforcement as well. Anticipating the emergence of a new area of collaboration, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared at the start of 2021 the unlimited potential of improving and perfecting Russian-Chinese relations.20
Amid the deteriorating international situation, Russia and China turned unwillingly to history and saw there a closeness in relations that might help them now as well. The ideological conflict of the 10 years after the forging of the military and political alliance of 1950 led to a deterioration of relations but could not break the deep internal bond resulting from the two countries’ common social and political structure. That is why relations were normalized between the two countries and their communist parties during Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1989 visit to Beijing.
The collapse of the Soviet Union ruled out the possibility of seeing a new alliance between the two countries. Free from the burden of ideological principles and alliance obligations, relations with Russia under those conditions were extremely pragmatic and dictated by mutual economic and political interests.
The Russian-Chinese treaty of 2001 reflected both their privileged nature and the desire not to come into conflict with the US while taking advantage of the possibilities for economic growth.
For the Russian elite, ideological differences prevented further convergence with China. The communist ideology that had earlier united them now drove them apart. Time was needed for the situation to change. The international situation has done much in this respect, but what is happening in China is most important. Contemporary China is a far cry from Soviet ideas of socialism and is increasingly seen in Russia as a model of successful development in which the Russian elite can find their own place.
* * *
China has grasped, developed, and exploited the current arc of historical development. As a result, the global and regional crises of the last 25 years have strengthened its positions while reducing the influence of the West. Russia has found its own place on this arc: It is on the side of China and can no longer claim to equal it in historical status. The 2022 Ukrainian crisis has negatively affected not only Russia’s economy but the economy of the West as well, which continues to depend on the global South, primarily the suppliers of hydrocarbons (e.g., Iran and Venezuela), and affects China only indirectly.
So long as the West considers Russia a direct, geographically immediate threat, it will be unable to combat the strategic threat of China. Under these conditions, China is interested in Russia preserving its economic potential and defense capability. It will support Russia to the best of its ability and continue to make use of the resulting strategic pause to prepare for the decisive stage of its conflict with the US. Given this situation, close collaboration without official obligations is the best policy.
1. Its final formulation could be Brexit, which replaced plodding, inconsistent, and unreliable Brussels with more dynamic and trust-instilling London.
2. A.I. Salitsky, Dva kontura: Kitay otvetil na vyzovy 2020 g. [Two Outlines: China Responds to the Challenges of 2020]. Problemy Dal’nego Vostoka, # 3, 2021, pp. 48-60.
3. In China, this format is traditionally referred to as triangular.
4. “Friendly partnership,” “neighborly partnership and mutual trust,” “constructive partnership,” “strategic partnership,” “comprehensive strategic partnership,” and so on. See: 李葆珍 结盟、不结盟、伙伴关系：当代中国大国关系模式的嬗变 [Li Baozhen, “Alliances, Nonalliances, Partnerships: The Evolution of the Current Chinese Model of Relations with Major Powers”]. 郑州大学学报, # 2, 2009, p. 43; See also: A.Ch. Mokretsky, Chinese Diplomacy in the Era of Xi Jinping, International Affairs, Vol. 65, No. 3 (2019), pp. 76-92.
5. Wang Chensheng, Jiang Hongfei, Thoughts on How China and Russia Can Work Together to Prevent “Color Revolutions,” Far Eastern Affairs Vol. 49, No. 4 (2021), pp. 20-38.
6. Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Developing a Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation upon Entering a New Era. June 5, 2019. URL: http://www.kremlin.ru/supplement/5413 (Retrieved on March 21, 2021.). Signed one year after Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were reelected heads of state.
7. 习近平: 让人类命运共同体的意识在周边国家落地生根 [Xi Jinping: Let the Consciousness of a Common Destiny Community Take Root in Neighboring Countries]. 人民日报. October 26, 2013.
8. “One Belt, One Road” was proposed by China in the 2010s along with the combined projects of “The Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century.” A.V. Vinogradov, Kitayskiy proekt dlya Bol’shoi Evraziyi [China’s Project for a Greater Eurasia]. Mezhdunarodniye protsessy, Vol. 19, # 2(65), 2021, pp. 6-20.
9. The collective benefits are shared unequally. L. Gruber, Ruling the World: Power Politics and the Rise of Supranational Institutions. Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 31.
10. A. Gabuyev, Domashneye zadaniye na kitayskom fronte [Homework on the Chinese Front]. Kommersant. July 15, 2021. URL: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4900093 (Retrieved on November 25, 2021.)
11. I. Denisov, A. Lukin, Korrektsiya ili khedzhirovaniye [Correction or Hedging]. Rossiya v global’noy politike, # 4, 2021. URL: https://globalaffairs.ru/articles/korrekcziya-i-hedzhirovanie (Retrieved on November 25, 2021.)
12. See, e.g.: 冯玉军: «如何处理今天的中美俄三边关系» [Feng Yujun, How to Resolve Sino-American-Russian Trilateral Relations], 世界知识, # 12, 2019.
13. The subject of an article by A. Lukin and wide discussion in the West. See: A. Lukin, Have We Passed the Peak of Sino-Russian Rapprochement? The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 44, # 3, 2021, pp. 155-173.
14. S.M. Rogov, PA. Sharikov, S.N. Babich, I.A. Petrova, N.V. Stepanova, Doktrina Obamy. Vlastelin dvukh kolets [The Obama Doctrine: The Lord of Two Rings]. RSMD. URL: https://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/doktrina-obamy-vlastelin-dvukh-kolets (Retrieved on November 16, 2021.)
15. Kommyunike 6-go plenuma Tsentral’nogo komiteta Kommunisticheskoy partiyi Kitaya [Communique of the 6th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China]. Xinhua. November 11, 2021. URL: http://russian.news.cn/2021-11/11/c_1310305235.htm (Retrieved on November 26, 2021.) Interest in the Chinese political model is also growing. See: A.V. Vinogradov, A.V. Ryabov, Political Systems of Post-Soviet Countries and China in the Process of Intersystem Transformation: An Attempt at a Comparative Analysis. Polis. Politicheskiye issledovaniya, # 3, 2019, pp. 69-86.
16. According to Xi Jinping, it is already seriously influencing neighboring countries. URL: http://russian.news.cn/2018-04/23/c_137131515.htm (Retrieved on December 10, 2021.)
17. The Summit for Democracy. US Department of State. February 2021. URL: https://www.state.gov/summit-for-democracy (Retrieved on December 30, 2021.)
18. Statement by PRC Foreign Ministry Representative Wang Wenbin: Beijing Comments on Putin’s Words on Relations with China. RIA News. October 22, 2021. URL: https://ria.ru/20211022/kitay-1755763431.html (Retrieved on October 22, 2021.)
19. A.V. Vinogradov, Dialogoviy format BRIKS i yego rol’v stanovleniyi mnogopoly-arnogo mira [The BRTCS Dialogue Format and Its Role in Establishing a Multipolar World]. Sravnitel’naya politika, # 1, 2014, pp. 47-52.
20. 王毅：中俄战略合作没有止境，没有禁区，没有上限 [Wang Yi, “Smo-Russian Strategic Cooperation Has No Finish Line, No Restricted Zones, and No Upper Border”]. 外交部. January 2, 2021. URL: https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1844069.shtml (Retrieved on October 16, 2021.)