The China-Russia diplomatic relations improved after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991. The two nations announced in 1992 that they were seeking a “constructive collaboration,” moved closer to a “strategic partnership” in 1996, and then signed a treaty of “friendship and cooperation” in 2001. Read here to learn more about the bilateral ties and their implications for India and the world.
Beijing and Moscow are strengthening political, economic, and military ties which will probably increase in the new year as well.
Russia’s economy is a tenth of that of China, hence it is considered the junior partner in the bilateral relationship.
Over the past ten years, China and Russia have increased their defense and commerce cooperation. However, they are not formally allied, and the strength of their alliance has been questioned by some experts.
They both want to limit American hegemony and put up a fight against it. China has attempted to compete with the US while Russia has employed force.
History of China-Russia Relations
Before the 17th century, Siberia, which was inhabited by free-ranging nomads was located between China and Russia hence the interactions were almost none.
Russian people crossed Siberia and colonized the Amur River basin by around 1640. But these Russian settlers were driven out by Chinese soldiers between 1652 and 1689, but after 1689, China and Russia reached a trade agreement, the Treaty of Nerchinsk.
The present-day Mongolia region did not have a well-demarcated border between the Russian and Chinese kingdoms which stirred problems in the trade routes.
In 1729, just before his death, Peter the Great decided to deal with the border problem. The result was the Treaty of Kyakhta which defined the northern border of what is now Mongolia and opened up the Kyakhta caravan trade southeast to Peking.
The two empires’ zones of authority collided in what is now eastern Kazakhstan and Western Xinjiang as the Chinese Empire established its rule over Xinjiang in the 1750s and the Russian Empire grew into Kazakhstan at the start and in the middle of the 19th century.
Trade between the two nations in the area was made legal by the Kulja Treaty in 1851.
In 1858, during the Second Opium War, China grew increasingly weaker as the “Sick man of Asia” while Russia strengthened and eventually annexed the north bank of the Amur River and the coast down to the Korean border in the “Unequal Treaties” of Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860).
Over the next century, there were several border disputes and treaties signed between the two regions. Russia and Japan were both trying to take advantage of the weakened Chinese kingdom.
Sino-Soviet Split 1961
The Sino-Soviet split was the dissolution of political ties between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union as a result of differences resulting from their dissimilar understandings and applications of Marxism-Leninism during the Cold War (1947–1991) as influenced by their respective geopolitics.
Nikita Khrushchev visited China in 1958 and later Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, after which there was a change in China-Russia relations.
The remnants of the Sino-soviet split lessened even more after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, but the relations were still poor until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
A decade after the Soviet Union broke up, disappointed and humiliated by the way the West had downgraded it, and deep in economic crisis, Russia turned to China.
In 2001, the close relations between the two countries were formalized with the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, a twenty-year strategic, economic, and controversially implicit military treaty.
The United States’ sanctions against Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea helped push Russia to a warmer relationship with China.
- China does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Russia does not support China’s claims in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, China and Russia currently enjoy the best relations they have had since the late 1950s.
- Although they have no formal alliance, the two countries do have an informal agreement to coordinate diplomatic and economic moves and build up an alliance against the United States.
Latest developments in China-Russia relations
Both the Chinese and Russian political systems are seen as authoritarian, with power being centralized in the hands of a single, long-serving leader in both countries.
- While Russia is a multiparty system ruled by Putin’s United Russia party, China is a one-party state run by the Chinese Communist Party.
- To maintain their power, both regimes have clamped down on domestic dissent and undercut the rule of law.
From 2003 until 2013, mutual trade increased 7.7 times; in 2014 the scale of bilateral operations increased even more.
The Power of Siberia gas pipeline deal was signed which ensured the annual gas supply to China.
In January 2022, the two countries signed a deal for a pipeline, Power of Siberia 2, which will add 10 bcm of gas to the annual supply for 30 years.
China is Russia’s largest trading partner as of now.
The two countries agreed to work towards speeding up the linking of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
Russia also supported China’s claim on Taiwan but China has not publicly supported Russia’s war in Ukraine.
- But Chinese officials have refused to condemn Russia for the war, and have blamed the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for provoking Russia.
- During the 2008 global financial crisis, China and Russia saw the United States and the West decline.
Together, they worked to boost collaboration with each other as well as with emerging economies, such as Brazil and India through the BRIC grouping. (South Africa joined the group in 2010, and it was renamed the BRICS.)
China has focused on promoting trade and economic development, while Russia has supported the security and political stability of allied former Soviet republics.
Despite having divergent interests in Central Asia, they have avoided conflict and worked together to maintain regional security through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
China and Russia don’t have a formal alliance, and their militaries have never engaged in combat alongside one another, but defense cooperation has increased since 2014.
Global implications of China-Russia relations
The growing bilateral alliance has led the US and Western countries to become united against the front.
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has assisted the US in Europe in reviving and enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
- The concern over Chinese territorial expansion in Asia has also been sparked by the Russian invasion. As a result, the US’s bilateral partnerships with Australia and Japan have grown stronger.
Pacifist powers like Japan and Germany have spoken up against the alliance and its expansionist policies.
- Being the third and fourth-largest economies in the world, respectively, Japan and Germany’s mobilization dramatically change the correlation of forces between the West and the Russia-China axis.
- To counter the security threats from China and Russia, Germany and Japan have also committed to increasing their defense budget.
US’s Asian partners attended the NATO summit in June 2022 for the first time, and NATO committed to actively influencing the power dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region.
China-Russia relations’ Impact on India
India is faced with its issues in how to handle relations between an ancient enemy and an old friend, while the warming China-Russia relationship undermines the Western-led world system.
The Sino-Russian partnership’s effects on the India-Russia defense relationship, a crucial fulcrum of relations between New Delhi and Moscow, are essentially what motivate India’s interests.
- According to the theory, the strengthening of Sino-Russian strategic and commercial ties as well as India’s strategic and security cooperation with the US could lead Russia to lose interest in future defense supplies and possibly halt crucial deliveries of equipment and spare parts during emergencies.
- Increased military cooperation between China and Russia as a result of the alliance could endanger Indian security by enhancing their military prowess.
The necessity to limit China’s growing influence in the region apprises Indian foreign policy in Eurasia.
- There are numerous economic and security convergences between Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union program and India’s outreach to Central Asia, especially on counterterrorism.
By continuing to put pressure on radical Islamist groups operating in the area and serving as a counterbalance to China, cooperation between India and Russia can offer a genuine balance in the region that includes Eurasia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
The China-Russia relationship is getting more and more unbalanced as China’s economic and military capabilities are anticipated to increase in the years to come relative to Moscow’s.
Furthermore, China won’t need a weakened partner if it can gradually stop importing Russian commodities like coal, gas, and oil. Moscow and Beijing are expected to get closer in 2023, but it’s unclear whether this partnership will last.
India should rebalance its defense imports to reduce the risk associated with reliance on a single source, according to an essential lesson learned from the situation in Ukraine.
As China gains significance for Russia, it is crucial to preserve the strength of that country’s relationship with India as a counterbalance to its growing economic reliance on Beijing.
India has a great deal of potential to help and supplement the Russian economy in general. It also has its reasons for wanting to continue having access to Russian energy and defense supplies.
The extent to which this trade potential can be realized, given the unprecedented Western sanctions and the considerable economic downturn in Russia, remains to be seen.
-Article written by Swathi Satish