The China-Russia relationship

International Relations, Mains Paper 2: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India.


Although Xi Jinping appears to be siding with Vladimir Putin in his opposition to the United States, the relationship between the two countries is complicated, and their interests do not always coincide. Ukraine is in a state of flux, and all sides are hedging their bets to protect their interests.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a joint press conference in Beijing last week amid the ongoing standoff with NATO over Ukraine. The meeting was intended to demonstrate that Russia and China shared a common understanding of the “core interests” of upholding “international equity and justice” in the face of US “unilateralism,” and that they supported each other against “external interference and regional security threats.”
  • ‘International Relations Entering a New Era and Global Sustainable Development’ was the title of the joint statement issued following the summit, which praised the “new inter-State relations between Russia and China [as] superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era,” and stated that the friendship had “no limits” and that there were no “forbidden areas of cooperation.”
  • Despite the fact that they are united in their opposition to US unipolarity, the relationship between Russia and China is complicated and multilayered. Each has a particular viewpoint and special interests in their geographic location, as well as own wars to fight.

The key triangle:

Since 1950, the triangle connection that exists between the United States, China, and Russia has largely dictated global political affairs.The route to success for the American Cold Warriors led through Beijing; now, the Kremlin appears to feel that the road to the resurgence of Russian strength and prestige leads via the same city.

  • Despite the fact that India is not a member of this triangle, it represents our three most important international connections.
  • A realistic assessment of the Sino-Russian relationship will thus be important to our foreign policy calculation going forward.
  • Second, the dissolution of the Soviet Union effectively eliminated the Russian threat in the minds of the Chinese people and government. Even in light of current difficulties in Sino-American relations, both of these patterns are expected to continue.

The following are the columns of the partnership:

  • Currently, the three foundations on which the Sino-Russian alliance is built are a quiet border, increased commerce, and a mutual scepticism of American objectives.
  • Western economic sanctions have tended to push the Russians closer to China rather than away from it.
  • Oil prices are plummeting, and threats of further restrictions on Russian gas supply (through Nord Stream 2) are forcing Russia to rely even more heavily on Chinese imports, causing the country to become even more reliant on the Chinese.
  • Contrary to popular belief, although it is neither in Russia’s nor the European Union’s interests to speed the establishment of a bipolar world, western moves to punish Russia have worked to bolster China’s position in the strategic triangle.

Mistrust to cooperation

For the majority of the Cold War era, relations between China and the former Soviet Union were tense, characterised by mistrust and theological disagreements, and this was especially true during the Cultural Revolution. The shift occurred in 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to arrive in Beijing since Nikita Khrushchev did so in 1958, marking the beginning of a new era. The visit took occurred in the midst of the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, but Gorbachev refrained from saying anything that might inflame his Chinese guests’ feelings. During their summit meeting in Moscow, Gorbachev and China’s supreme leader Deng Xiaoping declared that the basis of their bilateral relations would be “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, reciprocal nonaggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.”

The Russian Federation, a decade after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, dissatisfied and humiliated by the West’s downgrading of it, and in the throes of an economic crisis, turned to China under President Jiang Zemin during Putin’s first presidential term. In 2001, the two countries signed the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, which paved the way for the expansion of commercial and trade links, including Russian supplies of defence equipment and energy to China, as well as Russia’s support for China’s position regarding Taiwan.

  • According to the George W. Bush Administration, this was not an anti-American coalition and was not a source of concern. At a virtual conference between Putin and Xi in June, the two nations agreed to prolong the pact for another five years. “Russian-Chinese collaboration plays a stabilising role in world events,” Putin told Xi, who responded by saying that both nations had “laid an example for the establishment of a new style of international relations.”

Uniting Factor of US (enemies of enemies are friends)

  • Because of Russia’s invasion of Crimea in Ukraine in 2014, relations with the United States, NATO, and Europe have deteriorated significantly. This was also a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with China, as it highlighted the possibilities, potential, and limits of the bilateral relationship in the process.

When the United States, the European Union, and Australia placed sanctions on Russia, Putin reacted instinctively by turning to China. As soon as the next year, Russia opened its doors to Chinese investment and signed a $400 billion agreement with Gazprom, the Russian state-owned monopoly gas exporter, to deliver 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas per year to China for the next 30 years, starting in 2025.

The Power of Siberia pipeline, which began operating in 2019, delivered 16.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas to China in 2018. A new pipeline, Power of Siberia 2, was officially inaugurated during Putin’s recent visit to Beijing. The pipeline will add 10 billion cubic metres of natural gas to the yearly supply over a period of 30 years.

  • Since 2016, commerce between the two nations has increased from $50 billion to more than $147 billion dollars. China has surpassed the United States as Russia’s most important commercial partner. Towards a modus vivendi in Central Asia, the two nations agreed to collaborate in order to accelerate the integration of Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Belt and Road Initiative).
  • Due to the fact that their relations are stronger than ever, the situation in Ukraine has provided a chance for each nation to demonstrate solidarity with the other’s grievance against the United States. The Chinese government is anticipated to aid Moscow in the event that the West imposes financial and banking sanctions on the country. This assistance might include alternate payment methods.

Different interests

  1. Nonetheless, as various commentators have pointed out, the China-Russia agreement does not yet constitute a formal security alliance against the West, nor does it constitute an ideological alliance.
  2. Ukraine was not mentioned in the joint declaration, which was primarily concerned with NATO’s expansion. China had abstained in the vote on UN Security Council resolutions on the Crimean referendum, which Putin had used as a reason to annex the Black Sea peninsula back in March 2014 — and, despite subsequent goodwill, the country has not recognised Crimea’s accession to Russia.
  3. Asia is where China’s primary security interests lay, while Europe is where Russia’s primary security interests lie. As can be seen from Putin’s demands in the continuing discussions with the West, he wants to see Europe’s defence structure reformatted. And, if the United States wants to relate the situation in eastern Europe to China, that is their problem, not Putin’s. Russia, which aspires to be recognised as a great power once more, has taken views on a wide range of topics that are distinct from those taken by Beijing, including the relationship with India.
  4. The Russian economy, which is a tenth the size of China’s, but which nevertheless bears a strong memory of its former superpower status, is apprehensive about joining China as its junior partner. Its encounter with China in 2014 had driven home the lesson that, whether a friend or foe, Beijing is a tough negotiator to deal with. It was a difficult process negotiating the pipeline and gas rates, and Russia is well aware that its gas shipments to Germany and the rest of Europe generate far more income — and that China has alternative pipelines to tap into. Aside from that, despite the idea of Russian-Chinese cooperation in Central Asia, Moscow continues to regard the region as being within its spheres of influence.
  5. War in Ukraine is the least desirable of all possible possibilities for Beijing. It would divert US military resources away from the South China Sea, but it might also put a halt to negotiations to address trade disputes. When it comes to commercial relationships, China and the EU are the most important – China’s commerce with Russia is insignificant when compared to the rest of the world. It is unlikely that Beijing will participate in the battle should it break out, but it will find negotiating in a tangled and delicate situation.
  6. Ukraine, on the other hand, is a critical link in Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative. As well as being the country’s largest trading partner, China is also the country’s largest supplier of agricultural exports, notably maize, which has helped the country survive its trade war with the United States.

The view from the, New Delhi

In the midst of a crisis with numerous moving pieces, it is easy to overestimate and understate the nature of the Russia-China relationship at the same time. Everyone is hedging their bets in a way that is reshaping the geopolitics of Europe and Asia on a real-time basis.

  • In order to avoid decreasing its own space, New Delhi would be best served by treating its ties with both nations and the United States as distinct from one another. Indian ties with Russia are not what they once were, but there is still a lot that both countries perceive as mutually advantageous in their ongoing cooperation. A reference to increasing cooperation among the three nations was all that was stated in the Russian-Chinese joint statement. It did not address China’s ongoing border conflict with India.
  • In response to a teaser for a documentary that drew parallels between Kashmir and Palestine, the Russian embassy underlined that Redfish was not official media and reiterated that Kashmir was a bilateral problem between India and Pakistan that should be resolved bilaterally. On the same day, Pakistan and China released a joint statement expressing their displeasure with India’s “unilateral actions” in Jammu and Kashmir.

As one senior Indian ambassador put it, by taking sides in a dispute that has nothing to do with it, India would constrain its foreign policy options and damage its own reputation as a rising global force of international stature. What else could the five-hour dinner conversation between French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been except a demonstration of the immense complexity of global politics, the fluidity of the present, and the chances that exist in it?


The garden of friendship, like other gardens, must be regularly nurtured,” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said on September 20, 1982, during a visit to Moscow.

  • Having some type of multi-polarity is preferable than simply shutting off diplomatic lines entirely.
  • The future trajectory of India’s foreign policy will be determined in great part by the regime in the United States as well as the amount of participation of China and Russia in the region.

Accordingly, the new reality of Sino-Russian relations is one in which significant growth in bilateral collaboration is coupled by increasing asymmetry and China’s pre-eminence, particularly in Russian “backyards” such as Central Asia and the Arctic areas.


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