You are here

Rajinder Singh asked: What are the key aspects of the existing and emerging alliance between Russia and China?

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Rajorshi Roy replies: To view the Russia–China partnership through the prism of an alliance partnership would, perhaps, be a little presumptuous. This is notwithstanding the unprecedented improvement in their bilateral ties since 2014 when developments in Ukraine first broke out. It includes cooperation in sectors that have traditionally been Russia’s red lines in the form of the Arctic, Far East, Central Asia and defence. China has also emerged as Russia’s biggest trading and energy partner with trade amounting to over US$ 130 billion. And this figure is likely to increase as Russia increasingly leans on China to overcome the Western sanctions.

    A key vector which appears to have brought them closer is their shared interest in diluting what they perceive to be US hegemony and unilateralism. This has seen Russia and China coordinate their positions at global fora.

    For Russia, the vital driver is the strategic necessity of tiding over Western attempts at isolating it. It has sought Chinese investments and technology apart from exploring additional outlets for its natural resources amidst the Western economic boycott. Russia also appears to be seeking to avoid being in the Soviet position of tackling two Cold Wars in the presumptive Great Power strategic triangle comprising Russia, China and the US.

    Meanwhile, China has sought to tap Russia’s diplomatic heft (evident in Russia increasingly batting for China on the global stage), military prowess and natural resources at knockdown prices. Additionally, the 144 million strong Russian market relying increasingly on China to tide over the ongoing economic crisis is attractive, particularly amidst the potential for regionalisation of the renminbi. Also, a robust relationship with Russia enables China to focus more on its key competitor and rival in the US.

    However, the fact remains that Russia and China are not natural partners. The two countries have a chequered history with their ties oscillating between rivalry, competition, adversarial, alliance and partnership.

    Today, this relationship remains uneasy amidst their growing asymmetry which has seen Russia cede ground to China in Eurasia. A potential Pax Sinica could undermine Russia’s own attempts at making a comeback in the region. In fact, Russia has sought to strengthen its presence in Eurasian organisations like the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) where China is not a member.

    Russia and China have also not always been on the same page vis-à-vis their foreign policy outlook. This includes Russia’s weapons exports to India and the Kremlin’s position on the South China Sea. Similarly, contrary to projections, China does not appear to have gone all–in to economically bail out Russia, ostensibly due to fear of retaliatory Western sanctions.

    A military alliance, therefore, appears unlikely. It could undermine the scope for flexibility which has marked the Russia–China relationship. It is also unlikely that Russia is counting on China’s support for strengthening its deterrence given its own nuclear insurance. Arguably, it is in Russia’s interest not to put all its eggs in the Chinese basket. This is where robust relationships elsewhere, including with India, come into play since they strengthen Russia’s strategic autonomy.

    Posted on 16 September 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.