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The Future of China-Russia Relations: Alliance, Enemy or Partnership

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 3560 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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China and Russia, two neighboring countries share a long border and many historical heritages, their relation is a considerable force to form a new world order. As their total GDP accounted for over 21% global GDP (World Bank 2017, PPP) and share and nearly 18% of the global military budget, these two powerhouses that no cooperate into unipolar system leading by the United States, study their relation development also be the big help for supposing future development of the world. In the current international environment, both China and Russia as major authoritarian states, are facing the threats from the Western-dominated world order leading by the U.S hegemony. They have lots of domains that common interests existed for challenge current world order formed after the end of the cold war, these common interests push the bilateral relation developing rapidly. So, what are the most possible tracks for the future of the China-Russia relation (refer “relationship” for the rest of the paper)?

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For the research, understanding of factors to drive the relationship will be the vital part to suppose potential develop track between both these two countries with lots of unique features. The contemporary of relationships are very complicated, many variables are working independently or dependently. I categorized them into three major areas, ideology, national defense security, and economy. I plane to evaluate and analyze the developments among these three aspects, both positive factors (bring two countries closer) and negative factors (deterioration of the relationship).

   For the prospect of relationships, many scholars have varied views over this relation. These views pointed out many common foundations to make two countries to form an actual alliance and many risks to dissolve this potential alliance. Sherman w. Garnett thought there are foundations existed to form the basic alliance, but disagree over specific domains will eliminate the trusting between two countries (Garnett 2000). Alexander Lukin views China-Russia relation as constructive and cooperative, two countries will not run into a confrontation but also formal alliance (Lukin 2018). Alexander Nemets address the relation as “ominous alliance”, this “alliance” would change international order rapidly and strong anti-America. (Nemets 2006) Korolev and Portyakov believe China and Russia will further develop a stable alliance. (Korolev, Portyakov 2018).

From these very viewpoints, we could see that the study of the relationship is lack of similar conclusion, and not exclude the personal standpoints. Many events and facts could be used as the argument for completely opposite views. The situation also presents a fact: China-Russia relation could be described as one of the most complex subjects in International society and not easy to apply similar research experience to study of other bilateral relations. So, after the evaluation, I think it’s very important and necessary to bring the framework of structural realism to form the comprehensive conclusion to suppose most possible tracks for the future of relationships in the next one and two decades.

Enemy, Ally, and Partnership

Before the evaluation, it’s necessary to define the term “enemy”, “ally” and “partnership” firstly.

Enemy, it’s the clearest one to suppose definition under the context of the International relations. The sides involved in the war or the cold war could be view as the “enemy”, weaken the other sides or even destroy other sides are usually goals for a group deal other sides that view as the “enemy”. Beside with other two terms, “enemy” could be one-sided views, even another side may not recognize that they are regard as the “enemy” by certain group. However, “Ally” and “Partnership” may create many ambiguous understandings, there are many similar features to define both terms especially during the general peace period.

Cambridge dictionary defines the “Ally” as “a country that has agreed officially to give help and support to another one, especially during the war”, and it defined the “partnership” as “an agreement between organizations, peoples, etc. to work together.” By the definitions Cambridge gives, we can see that major differences between these two words. The Partnership could be between any two willing countries about cooperate or mutual-help upon the affairs that there are common interest existed, but not endorse for the other side’s action not benefiting own side. In the other word, “partnerships” is the framework to making the profits for themselves, so they have the “free rights” to involved in some affairs benefiting one side but not for other sides rather than all sides need to take similar standpoints to react outside power as “alliance” usually refer. Meanwhile, “Alliance” often formed by the concrete written documents to clear out the obligations for all sides in the treaty. And “Partnerships” more like the description of status between two sides and featured by many agreements made independently on certain affairs and usually not aim at the fixed third party. Generally, partnerships pursue self-sufficient and ally pursue relatively collective goods even sacrifice some self-interests are acceptable.


  From the traditional points about “ideology”, like “socialism”, “communism”, “capitalist democracy”, contemporary the relationship seems that there do not have many common interests like two countries used to have during the 1950s. However, with the increasing diversity among the world, there are more conflicts between new kind of ideologies emergence. For post-cold war, ideology could be described as the most important part to make two countries interactive more frequently and for the foundation of their “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination” (official status for relationship recognized by both two states). I refer the ideology in here as the call for a multipolar world and legitimize the authoritarian states by following different tracks rather than the “end of history”

After 1991, both China and Russia faced huge turn points. China, Tiananmen square event marked the end of nearly ten years “informally alliance” with the West and suddenly figure out they are isolated again. Russia, when communist rule over, they thought they would get the chance to adapt to the Western system especially during the early period of Yeltsin administration. During the early 1990s, Russian foreign policy included the feature about nearly total rejects the Soviet influences. “Russian foreign policy primarily focused on the relations with the west and a fascination with the ‘common European home’, forgetting almost entirely about relations with the East” (Lukin, 2018). In 1993, Russia issued its first “concept of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation” refer Western countries as the “dynamic factor in the progress of world civilization in the foreseeable future” (Cross & Oborotovs, 1994). But Western actions, especially NATO made Russia figured out they may still “isolated” by the West. NATO’s Eastward and its air war in Kosovo forced Russia to rethink their foreign affairs. Soon, Russia found out more common interests with its Eastern neighbor China, mostly about the desire about multipolar world order during the Yeltsin period. The shift of Russia policy create some achievements to pave the way for further developments after Putin. In 1997, China and Russia submitted the document to the United Nations named as “Russian-Chinese Joint Declaration on a multipolar world and the Establishment of a new International order” (UN.org 1997). After President Putin took the office, China and Russia have more foundations in the aspects of Ideology.

Internationally, Unipolar world order would keep China and Russia out from many fields and let the World run by the Western countries, both two countries would view they are not having the rights to influences the world they deserve. Meanwhile, the multipolar world would guarantee the countries not belonging to the side of the dominated power could get access into some vital resources, not all but better than the situation under the unipolar world order due to the US are not able to control all strategic resources and technologies under the multipolar world, it’s very important for both China and Russia(example: US sanction over Russia since 2014 and US ban the sale of vital chips to Chinese company Zhong Xin). Domestically, the multipolar world order is a vital thing to secure their internal system. China and Russia have significant authorities elements with their country, it’s a necessary thing to keep country on the track they favored. Under multipolar order, state sovereignty is one of the most important terms to be respected, so the behaviors of the institution within a country’s border should no be the international agenda. And both countries view they are the large country with a diverse population, intervene for the domestic issue from Western power may let their country into disability and even collapse. It’s the foundation to cooperate upon the ideology issue. By the specific aspects to secure the ideology security, the Prevention of Color revolution and Security of the cybersphere are two most vital aspects they have wide cooperation.

Color revolution

Lincoln Mitchell defines the color revolution in his book “The color revolution” as “peaceful street protests toppled corrupt and undemocratic regimes” (Mitchell, 2012). From Mitchell’s definition, it’s clear that color revolution in the event Western countries favored widely happen in the global level like happened during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Eastern Europe. Obviously, China and Russia have many common interests to prevent color revolution happen in their country and also the countries in the neighborhood regions. In 2015, China Military strategy of China addressed that “Anti-China forces have never given up their attempt to instigate a ‘color revolution’ in this country. Consequently, China faces more challenges in terms of national security and social ability’” (Bolt & Cross, 2018). In 2016, China’s Xinhua news agency wrote about the “Arab springs” about “Western intervention brought the region nothing but a toxic mixture of social disturbances, international conflicts, unprecedented refuges flows, bloody sectarian clashes and rampant terrorism”, “The tragedy-more like an ‘Arab Winter’ than spring” (Deng & Zhu, 2016, translated by Cross & Bolt).

   Russia holds very similar points toward the color revolution. Russian’s military Doctrine list “subversive information activities against the population, especially young citizens of the state, aimed at undermining historical, spiritual and patriotic traditions related to the defense of the motherland”, and National Security Strategy identifies “…focused on destroying the unity and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, destabilizing the domestic political and social situation-including through inciting ‘color revolution’”.(Cross & Bolt 2018).

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Through the evolution of thesis of from Both China and Russian side, it’s clearly both side views color revolution as the term used by Western countries to export the western values, and destabilize social stability and national integration. Beyond the two countries border, they also view the preventing the color revolution in the region and global scale is very important, as diplomatic minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov claimed “’ export of democracy’ has a destructive impact on international relations and result in increase in the number of hot spots on the world map” (Lavrov, 2014). Shared views between these two countries bring more foundation of cooperation, the relationship is going generally positive under cooperation. In July 2005, Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Russian president Putin and other members of Shanghai cooperation organization issued the statements about “people of each country have the right to choose their own road of development” and “Western attempt to expand their influences has failed to enable the Central Asian countries to get united but has caused division among them” (People’s daily online, 2005). They also are very eager to strike NGOs in their country and try to minimalize the influences of “foreign agents” China goes farther by regulating the NGO than Russia, they passed the National security law in 2015, and parts of law emphasized that the state has the right to expel the “hostile elements” from the country. Overall speaking, China and Russia view the stability of the society and country are more important than the individual rights, and that’s why they take same patterns to react Western ideological threat and engage the cooperation.

Security of Cybersphere 

The numbers of internet users are developed dramatically during the last two decades. For the governments of most countries, the opinion on the internet or social media is impossible to ignore or bypass, how to manage the cybersphere become the vital concerns when states evaluate their own security. As I discussed on the part of the color revolution. Internet is also one of the easiest ways to spread values, cultures and political ideas. China and Russia recognized the fact rapidly, they already achieve some achievements during this area. For the term “cybersecurity”, Western countries have different views than China and Russia have. For Western countries, the most important thing about cybersecurity is the protect the network from the possible threats from a hostile organization like terrorists, foreign governments and personal hackers. China and Russia view the Cybersecurity should include managing the information on the internet and social media.

   China and Russia already view the cybersphere as a very important ideological battlefield and they must come closer to cooperate more. In May 2015, two countries signed the treaty to promoting more widely cooperation in information security. (Roth, 2015). NYT reporter Andrew Roth described the agreements as the “non-aggression pacts” for the sphere, they promised they will not attack each other’s network and would cooperate on the countering the threats from the cybersphere to “societal-political and social-economic systems, and spiritual, moral and cultural environment of states” (Roth, 2015). Specifically, they impose more restrictions over internet society and censor the information, both two countries view the censorship on the internet is necessary to ensure “cyber sovereignty”.

It is stable?

Under contemporary circummundane, the conclusion about the possible tracks of the relationship by the point of ideology seems that the two countries shared lots of common grounds and nothing major concerns and obstacles between them would deteriorate the relationship. However, as Oxford dictionaries define the “ideology”, “A system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy; The set of beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual”. Ideology is the beliefs, the systems, and ideas, it means the ideology depends on the people rather than fixed with a “nation”. In the other words, if a new leader takes the office of China or Russia, or even unpredicted political shifting happens in one of them, current common grounds upon ideology aspects may turn the relationship into the negative, as like relationships used to be during the second half of cold war and early 1990s. To say the least, China and Russia do not make large shifting over the political system, but it’s hard to ignore that people of two countries still exist lots of different upon the values and cultures. For example, current Russia government view the orthodox church as the vital tool to unite Russia and it could view as the important parts of Russia tradition, but in China, the things like religion are never viewed as important things to keep country strong. So, the unpredictable future of these two countries’ domestic system and differences between the two countries objectively existed would bring more uncertainty about their relations by the ideology point.

National Defense Security

The interaction between China and Russia begin very early period when Russia Federation established. During early 1990s, China and Russia negotiated for import Su-27 jet fighter marked the beginning the engagement of Russia-China military affairs. At that time, due to Russian terrible economy, they need the financial support to make their military industry Inherited from Soviet Union away from the total disruption, then they have to sell the Su-27, the fighter marked as top fighter, not for sell during Soviet period. By simple way, for Russia, they need money. For China, they need advanced weapon to modernize their military since Western countries block all military technology to China since 1989 Tiananmen event. Sale of Su-27 create the window for China and Russia could conduct the normalization of interactions of military and National defense since Sino-Soviet spilt.

  Through these preliminary communications, China and Russia soon figure that they face many similar challenges. After the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996, NATO eastward expansion and NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, vulnerable parts of both China and Russia national defense exposed more clearly when Western power gradually closer and intervene their “sphere of influences”. The length of China’s land border is 22457 kilometers, share land border with 14 countries, maritime border with 8 countries. The geographical fact creates the complicated situation. Beyond the border, US presences are quite strong along the East coast of China. US has 11 military bases in East Asia (8 bases in Japan, 3 bases in South Korea). One of these bases, Kunsan Air base located in West coast of South Korea, it just nearly 980 kilometers away from China’s capital Beijing and 730 kilometers away from Shanghai, China’s largest city and economic center with 24 million population. It means that supersonic fighter could reach these places within 40 minutes. Within the border, separatism movements and terrorism active frequently, especially for Tibet, China faces the separatist movement and potential threat from India make it be the vital region. Andrew Nathan from Columbia University and Andrew Scobell from Rand’s Corporations describe China faces threats in four level, homeland, US allies, six regional systems and the broader world. For change the environment, Nathan and Scobell think China has four strategic goals. First, secure the territorial integrity. Second, increase China’s influences in Asia and prevent other states to dominate the region. Third, forming an international environment which sustain China’s rapid economic growth. Last, constructing or revising the global order. (Nathan & Scobell, 2012)

Beside with China, Russia has similar situation. Russia as largest country in the world by its size, it has 20241 kilometers long land border cover its land of 17125191 square kilometer. Russian share the land border with 14 countries, maritime border with 5 countries, include United States. 


  • Sherman W. Garnett, Rapprochement or Rivalry? Russia-China Relations in a Changing Asia(CarnegieEndowmentforInternationalPeace,2000).
  • Lukin, A. V. (2018). China and Russia: The new rapprochement. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
  • Alexandr Nemets, “Russia and China: The Mechanics of an Anti-American Alliance,” The Journal of International Security Affairs 11 (2006):83–88.
  • Korolev, Alexander and Portyakov, Vladimir, “China-Russia Relations in Times of Crises: A Neoclassical Realist Explanation” (July 31, 2018). Asian Perspective, Vol. 42, No. 3 (July-September 2018), pp. 411-437.
  • Cross, S., & Oborotova, M. A. (1994). The new chapter in United States-Russian relations: Opportunities and challenges. Westport (Conn.): Praeger publ.
  • Mitchell, L. A. (2012). The color revolutions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Deng, Y., & Zhu, D. (2016, January 19). Commentary: Color Revolution No Magic Potion for Middle East Tribulations [Editorial]. Xinhua.
  • ”SCO sends strong signals for west to leave central Asia”(July 8, 2005). People’s daily .
  • Roth, A. (May 08, 2015). Russia and China Sign Cooperation Pacts. The New York Times Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/world/europe/russia-and-china-sign-cooperation-pacts.html


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