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The China-Russia Relationship


President Vladimir Putin’s show of strength with President Xi Jinping in Beijing amid the standoff with NATO on Ukraine was intended to demonstrate that Russia and China were on the same page on the “core interests” of upholding “international equity and justice” in the face of US “unilateralism”, and supported each other against “external interference and regional security threats”.


GS-II: International Relations (Important Foreign Policies and Agreements affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. History of China-Russia relationship
  2. China-Russia against US
  3. Different interests of China and Russia
  4. Russia-India-China Grouping (RIC)
  5. Significance of Russia-China ties and RIC to India

History of China-Russia relationship

  • Relations between China and the former Soviet Union were frosty, marked by mistrust and doctrinal differences for most of the Cold War decades.
  • The change came in 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to land in Beijing
  • The visit took place in the midst of the Tiananmen Square student protests, but Gorbachev held off from saying anything that would anger his hosts.
  • Gorbachev and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping declared “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence” as the basis of their bilateral relations.
  • 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 under Putin’s first presidency turned to China under President Jiang Zemin.
Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation
  • In 2001, the two countries signed the treaty , paving the way for expanding economic and trade ties, including sales of defence equipment and energy by Russia to China, and Russia’s backing for China’s position on Taiwan.
  • Recently, the two countries extended the treaty at a virtual meeting between Putin and Xi.
    • Putin told Xi that the “Russian-Chinese coordination plays a stabilizing role in world affairs”, and China’s President said their countries had “set an example for the formation of a new type of international relations”.

China-Russia against US

  • Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine led to a sharp downturn in Moscow’s ties with the US, NATO, and Europe.
  • This was also the turning point in Russia’s ties with China, which revealed the possibilities, potential, and the limits of the relationship.
  • When the US, EU, and Australia imposed sanctions on Russia, Putin turned reflexively to Beijing.
  • Over the next year, Russia opened its doors wide for Chinese investments, and struck a $400 billion deal for Gazprom, the Russian state monopoly gas exporter, to supply 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) annually to China for 30 years from 2025.
  • The Power of Siberia pipeline began operations in 2019, and sent 16.5 bcm of gas to China last year.
  • During Putin’s visit to Beijing off late, the two countries signed a deal for another pipeline, Power of Siberia 2, which will add 10 bcm of gas to the annual supply for 30 years.
  • Since 2016, trade between the two countries has gone from $ 50 bn to over $147 bn.
  • China is now Russia’s largest trading partner. Towards a modus vivendi in Central Asia, 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.
  • With their ties closer than ever before, the crisis in Ukraine has been an opportunity for each country to express solidarity with the other’s grievance against the US.

Different interests of China and Russia

  • And yet, as several observers have pointed out, the China-Russia compact is not yet a formal security alliance against the West, nor is it an ideological partnership.
  • The joint statement referred to NATO’s expansion, but did not mention Ukraine. Back in March 2014, in the vote on UN Security Council resolutions on the referendum in Crimea that was used by Putin as an excuse to annex the Black Sea peninsula, China had abstained — and despite the recent bonhomie, has not recognised Crimea’s accession to Russia.
  • China’s main security interests lie in Asia; Russia’s are in Europe.
  • As the smaller economy — its GDP is a tenth of China’s — but with a strong memory of its lost superpower status, Russia is loath to become China’s junior partner.
  • Its experience with China in 2014 had brought home the reality that friend or not, Beijing drives a hard bargain. The negotiations on the pipeline and gas prices were fraught, and Russia is acutely conscious that its gas exports to Germany and the rest of Europe gets much more revenue — and that China anyway has other pipelines to tap.
  • Also, despite talk of Russia-China co-operation in Central Asia, Moscow still sees the region as part of its sphere of influence.
  • For Beijing, war in Ukraine is the least suitable of options. It would take US military energies away from the South China Sea, but might also stall talks to resolve trade issues.
  • China and the EU are each other’s biggest trading partners — China’s trade with Russia is small by comparison.
  • Beijing will not fight the war if it breaks out, but it will nonetheless find it messy and complicated to negotiate.
  • As for Ukraine, it is a crucial link in Xi’s BRI project. China is also Ukraine’s biggest trading partner — and its agricultural exports, particularly corn, have sustained China during its trade war with the US.

Russia-India-China Grouping (RIC)

  • Russia-India-China (RIC) is a strategic grouping that first took shape in the late 1990s under the leadership of Russia as “a counterbalance to the Western alliance.”
  • The group was founded on the basis of ending its subservient foreign policy guided by the USA and renewing old ties with India and fostering the newly discovered friendship with China.
  • Together, the RIC countries occupy over 19% of the global landmass and contribute to over 33% of global GDP.
  • Even though India, China and Russia may disagree on a number of security issues in Eurasia, there are areas where their interests converge, like, for instance, on Afghanistan. RIC can ensure stable peace in Afghanistan and by extension, in Central Asia.

Significance of Russia-China ties and RIC to India

  • India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China and includes four Central Asian countries.
  • Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan (as member states) heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • Growing Chinese influence is testing the informal Russia-China understanding that Russia handles the politico-security issues in the region and China extends economic support.
  • The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
  • Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance our materials security — the importance of which has been highlighted by COVID-19.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023