China and Russia have started to establish close relations especially in recent years after the Sino-Soviet Split in the early 1960s. This convergence, which is predominantly experienced in political and economic dimensions, is also taking place in many other areas; energy, arms production, trade in national currency, and strategic transportation projects supporting infrastructure services are examples of these…
It can be said that Western policies and activities have fed the Chinese-Russian rapprochement. For Russia, for example, the sanctions, differences of opinion and the resulting uncertain economic unforeseen convergence, which are further aggravated by the Ukraine problem, are the main reasons.
On the other hand, China’s policies aim to develop trade in European markets with the Silk Road project. The One Belt One Road (OBOR) project has been developed as an alternative or complementary to this. While Russia develops friendly investment structures, it is turning further east, towards the Russian Far East, where it borders with China. At the same time, China is turning to the west and making strong agreements with Central Asian countries and making very costly infrastructure and logistics investments in these countries.
SIgns of Convergence
In July 2017, the navies of the two countries conducted a joint exercise in the Baltic Sea for the first time, and in September 2018, China broke new ground by participating in Russia’s annual Vostok military operation.
In addition, Russia has sold China advanced military equipment that Turkey has bought as well, including the S-400 air system and 24 SU-35 fighter jets.
According to Chinese government data, bilateral trade from $ 69.6 billion in 2016 rose to $ 84.2 billion in 2017 and $ 107.1 billion last year, exceeding $ 100 billion for the first time.
In 2016, Russia replaced Saudi Arabia, becoming China’s largest crude oil seller, and signed a thirty-year contract to sell 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas per year (1m³ = 35.31467ft per year) through the Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China, which will begin as of this year.
Finally, since taking office, Chinese president Xi Jinping has visited Moscow more than he has visited other capitals. In addition, in June 2018, Xi addressed “My best, most sincere friend” and awarded Putin China’s first friendship medal.
Concerns of The US
American analysts have become increasingly concerned about the complex pace of this Sino-Russian relationship, as expected. In his speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Meeting held in Oslo in December 2016, former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said that America should be careful about China and Russia’s internal, political and ideological unity and their strategic alliances that will adversely affect the policies of the United States, and also stated that this alliance is a great danger. He concluded by emphasizing that nothing is more dangerous for America’s national interests than this.
Perhaps Brzezinski’s warning was heeded, in the face of the strengthening of ties between Beijing and Moscow, the White House’s national Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s national Defense Strategy were determined as threatening China and Russia with similar strategic challenges.
For example, the National Security Strategy  claims that the two countries are “attempting to undermine America’s security and welfare by trying to undermine America’s power, influence and interests, and making their economies less free and less just, growing their armies, and by controlling information, expanding their influence on their societies through pressure.”
In the National Defense Strategy, there asserted claims as “The main problem of the United States is the re-emergence of the strategic race for welfare and security… by the revisionist powers in the long term. It is clear that Russia and China – gaining veto power over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions – want to shape the world according to their authoritarian models.”
While it is certain that the two countries are in competition with the United States, they both continue this race in different ways. The speech of Dan Coats at the United States Senate Intelligence Elected Committee  at the end of January 2019, explaining that the problems arising from the two countries are different, is remarkable in terms of underlining the issue.
Coats said, “While we have to worry about China’s systematic and long-term efforts… to match or become superior to our superior global capabilities, we should be concerned about Russia’s goals such as destabilizing ourselves by misleading and confusing and undermining our reputation in the world.”
Although Sino-Russian relations have developed in military, economic and political dimensions, their ability to quickly solve their problems against common conflicts is still not developed. Beijing and Moscow have long criticized the central position of the American dollar in global financial markets, and America’s almost complete exclusion from these two countries in the design of the post-cold war world order.
However, it would be much more difficult to define what the common Sino-Russian concept of world order would be; in fact, although both recognize the need for a multipolar system, they express different wishes like several other countries. A few of these countries include America’s longstanding alliances in Europe and Asia.
As Adrea Kendall-Taylor and David Shulman stated in October 2018, “While China and Russia act in a ‘synergistic’ way over their own problems, it is obvious that they are ‘different and apparently unplanned’.”
ChIna – RussIa ComparIson
The economic gap between China and Russia is growing rapidly. According to the World Bank, China’s nominal gross domestic product in 1992 is slightly less than that of Russia. (427 billion dollars versus 460 billion dollars) Only a quarter century later, in 2017, these figures increased approximately 8 times. ($ 1.6 trillion versus $ 12.2 trillion)
Despite the slowdown in economic growth, China’s growth rate continues to be four times higher than Moscow’s. This apparent power makes sure there is an imbalance between their capacities, while rapidly increasing the gap between their ability to fulfill their global ambitions.
By examining the table below, China and Russia can be compared in terms of population, PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), labor force, unemployment, import, export, oil production, oil consumption.
|Population||144.478.050 million||1,393 billion|
|PPP (Purchasing Power Parity)||3.986 trillion (＄)||25.362 trillion (＄)|
|Labor Force||73,613,697 million||788,440,346 million|
|Import (＄)||344.263 billion||2.549 trillion|
|Export (＄)||509.551 billion||2.656 trillion|
|Oil Production (barrel/per day)||3,228.375||13,524.977|
|Oil Consumption (barrel/per day)||10,527.370||3,781.022|
(Source: OEC, WORLD BANK, IEA)
As seen in the developments in the Belt Road initiative, China has the capacity to increase its global trade coverage and dreams of establishing China-based (Sinocentric) trade and investment zones in Eurasia.
With “Made in China 2025”, Beijing has ceased to be an imitator of world-class technologies, rather has proved its desire to be the inventor of these technologies with ambitious and growing companies like Huawei.
On the contrary, it is a well-known fact that Russia does not have sufficient economic resources to reach this level. Nevertheless, Russia ranked 12th in the world economy ranking in 2018, despite the under-population outlook, falling oil prices, the Ukraine invasion and the sanctions it has suffered for years after the annexation of Crimea.
While Moscow hoped to be an intermediary between the developing Western Europe and Asia-Pacific economies, it has now focused on more modest regions, aiming to expand in regions such as Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Russia.
While Russia is China’s tenth largest trading partner, China is Russia’s top trade partner. While Russia exports more energy products and raw materials to China, China exports equipment, machinery and consumer goods to Russia. Their strategic projects include the establishment of an airline company, energy and infrastructure projects. Economic cooperation developed within the framework of strategic alliance with defense; joint military exercises, arms trade and the wide-ranging plans of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (India and Pakistan have recently become members) and the Joint ASEAN Community have become characteristics that reinforce the alliance. Despite the fear of losing economic-political competition and control (especially in Eurasia), cooperation and negotiations continue by the two countries, albeit slowly and with difficulty. Although it is difficult to predict the extent of this convergence in the future, it is possible to predict which countries will be affected economically, politically or culturally in the future by the steps taken and joint projects realized. The reaction of a hegemonic power like America to this convergence is quite obvious. As a matter of fact, it is understood from the trade war waged by the Trump administration against China that it does not want to share its power. The irrational behavior of states that lose their power or feel such a danger is perhaps one of the greatest lessons history has taught us. The dream of becoming a regional and immediately afterwards a global power is a critical weakness that all states cannot give up, unfortunately, at all costs. We think that the pains of the multipolar system will continue in the coming years between these states in a power struggle.
- Eurostat, Russia-EU – International Trade in Goods Statistics, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Russia-EU_%E2%80%93_international_trade_in_goods_statistics
- Annual Threat Assessment Opening Statement Tuesday, January 29, 2019, Office of the Director of National Intelligence From the Office of StrategicCommunication, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/2019-01-29-ATA-Opening-Statement_Final.pdf
- OEC, Russia , https://oec.world/en/profile/country/rus/
- OEC, China, https://oec.world/en/profile/country/chn/
- World Bank, China, https://data.worldbank.org/country/china
- China’s Total Export & Import Values by Country/Region, December 2018 (in USD), General Administration of the Customs People’s Republic of China http://english.customs.gov.cn/Statics/a35889bb-1336-4a3d-a1af-55156eed4d3a.html
- White House NSS , https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf
- Andrea Kendall-Taylor and David Shullman, “How Russia and China Undermine Democracy https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-10-02/how-russia-and-china-undermine-democracy
- International Energy Agency, https://www.iea.org/
- Silvana Malle, “Russia and China in the 21st century. Moving towards cooperative behaviour”, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1879366517300052#bbib0070
- “Is Made in China 2025 a Threat to Global Trade?”, Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/made-china-2025-threat-global-trade
- The National Security Strategy is a document periodically prepared by the United States government’s executive branch for Congress. It outlines the main national security concerns of the United States and how the administration plans to deal with them.
- The Intelligence Elected Committee of the United States Senate, the committee of the United States federal government, consisting of members of the United States Senate to oversee the United States Intelligence Community.