Some reflections on Sino-Russian relations after the visit of President Xi Jinping to Russia

 Runyu Zheng

 Ph. D., Researcher of the Russia Research Center, East China Normal University.


In 2013 President Xi Jinpin, as the core of the new generation of the Chinese leadership, makes debut on the international stage. In the new complex international context, China – which already became the second largest economy of the world – will answer the questions about what is it the “Chinese dream”?  To carry this work a step forward, not only Chinese, but also international patterns should be carefully investigated. Although it is obvious that China’s foreign strategy will have a relatively stable trend, but at the same time international environment and the Chinese environment itself went last time through numerous changes, so the Chinese foreign strategy also has to undergo corresponding adjustments. Certainly, this will exercise an important influence on the future development of the world politics patterns.

For Chinese foreign policy, Russia has always been a very important factor; the trend of Sino-Russian relations is important not only for both countries themselves, but also for Eurasian continent and even for the whole world. From the fact that Xi Jinping, only one week after his official appointment, visited Russia as the first state on his first many states international visit, is a very good start for the future; from many points of view this makes even more favorable the constructive development of Sino-Russian relations and will help in many complex issues.

Usefulness of commonly secure environment creation

China’s current diplomatic guidelines stress the “great powers are the key, borders are primary, developing countries are foundation, multilateral politics is the main stage of play”, at the same time Chinese leadership emphasizes the following orientation of its international pattern: “all-round, wide-area, multi-level diplomatic setup”. Using this core idea, China tries in highest degree to harmonize its own state interests in the framework of multi-angle multi-level all-round cooperation towards world’s great powers, and of course towards its most important neighbor, Russia. At the same time, despite China’s economic output has reached the status of the world’s second largest economy (in absolute numbers), but it is obvious that China’s international image is lagging behind its total economic growth, so China’s national image could need some support from Russia’s, as China’s strategic partner, and so attain the level of the internationally recognized ethical power. At the same time, the security environment on the Chinese borders continues to worsen, also there is necessity to jointly cope with the pressing problems emerging from the U.S. financial crisis in Europe and its consequences, this all even more makes necessary deeper strategic cooperation between Russia and China, and both countries could win on the international stage even more dignity.

In some important matters directly related to China’s national unity and security Russia has been playing an important role, especially in the aerospace, military and the field of energy, Russia cannot be substituted as the most important partner for China. The recent visit of President Xi to Russia, as Taiwanese scholars emphasized, continues the active development of Sino-Russian relations, with particular emphasis on China and Russia in-depth cooperation in the military field, this will probably change the existing situation on the two coasts of the Taiwan strait, also further deepening of the Sino-Russian strategic cooperation will have a big impact on many aspects of the whole East Asian region, for example, will directly affect the Chinese territorial waters disputes with Japan and other East Asian countries, and also will influence the selection of the variants for the Chinese strategic behavior.

If speaking from the Russian perspective, Russia following the China’s state strength development, not very deliberately changed its attitude on “looking down upon” towards China’s thinking standards, Russia changed its orientation because of China’s active development, but still there are areas where the Sino-Russian cooperation could become deeper. Meanwhile, having as background many changes on international stage, for Russia’s foreign strategic layout it is obvious that coordinating with China’s international policy could have positive effects. Besides, if looking on the Russia’s internal economic development and understanding that its many trials to achieve a long-term sustainable development based on the “conception of the great power” leaded to serious budget shortfalls, so having now as the background the international financial crisis, it is quite understandable that Russia needs to increase the cooperation with China to achieve a new momentum.

The common strategic cooperation improves Sino-Russian relations

     Freely, the crystallization and development of the China’s strategic cooperation relations to Russia as a starting point is connected to common needs for favorable internal development, but at the same time pressure from external source, the United States, has been an important stimulating factor for Sino-Russian relations. Following the US implemented “strategic transfer into Asian-Pacific” which is US strategy for the Eurasian continent and goes together with the US “new balance” policy, looking on policy, economic, military, diplomatic multi-level composite, both China and Russia have jointly felt pressure from the United States and tried to build a jointly positive strategic environment; at the same time, USA created in Afghanistan the so called international tug-of-war “field” situation, which makes from Afghanistan a kind of black hole, the involvement of world’s great powers energies not only didn’t solve the original problem, but contrary exacerbated drug problems, following this the problem of terrorism became even more complex, this escalated risks for regional security. Russia’s and China’s direct security interests have been threatened. In recent years USA also tried to divide China and Russia by persuading China come along with USA, so weakening or even regressing to tensions Sino-Russian relations, however, necessity to deal with the US pressure once again return China and Russia to cooperation a common attitude. In the context of a common willingness for cooperation necessary to deal with the challenges coming from the United States, China and Russia are most concerned about the anti-missile issue, the problem of conventional disarmament in Europe, the problem of borders security, democracy and human rights issues, between Russia and China constantly exist deep mutual understanding of necessity to maintain the greatest degree of tacit cooperation; through China is more concerned about the North Korean nuclear issue and some other issues, China and Russia try to maintain a maximum degree of uniformity. Besides, because of the recently by USA created pressure environment, in response to international disputes, China and Russia again choose to fight side by side against these threats, for example there was a good orchestra-like coordination in the Syria question, though because of internal disagreements in Russia there was not so good coordination between Russia and China in the Libya question, but nevertheless also in the Libya question the US interests suffered one of the biggest changes.

Misunderstandings and questions

As contrast to the good cooperation between China and Russia on the highest political level, the Russian-Chinese cooperation on the lower levels, between public and ordinary people (civil level of cooperation), through continuously developing, still obviously has deficit of moving forces (deficit of impetus). Freely the research institutes of both countries has a many centuries including history of mutual research, but in the reality in both countries the deficit of mutual understanding on the level of public and ordinary people is existing, ideologically subjective speculations and often unconscious prejudices could be realized, the deficits in mutual perception, lack of a common code of conduct, this all creates bride and deep limits for cooperation between Russia’s and China’s public and ordinary people.  How is it possible to give impulse for overcome these barriers? During Xi’s visit to Russia, both President Putin and President Xi stressed the necessity to overcome the deficits of the cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, especially, to improve the contacts and mutual understanding between young people of both countries. Some scholars express the meaning that using the benefits of good relations between governments, the implementation of the NGO of both countries could promote the cultural, public welfare multifaceted cooperation and exchanges; this could really breathe a new life to the real long-term cooperation and let it accumulate a reserves of good will for the future.

Besides, in the world of now, on the one hand the Internet mass-media could go out of borders of governments control possibilities, on the other hand China’s – Russia’s mass-media regarding the improvement of China-Russia relations could play an important role, but still don’t do this. The contrast between the ways Chinese and Russian mass-media are speaking about news is obvious. In contrast to the comprehensive tracking reports of China’s mass-media speaking on President Xi’s visit to Russia, Russia’s mass-media coverage regarding President Xi’s visit was slightly lower. For example, during the President Xi’s visit to Russia, because Russia’s economic benefits were strongly linked to Cyprus banking system crises, Russia’s major mass-media basically focused on this, at the same time issues regarding President Xi’s visit to Russia were covered with much weaker weight, the information about President Xi’s visit in the Russia’s mass-media was presented as an ordinary event, together with the information about currency swap between the BRIC countries, as well as the internationalization of RMB. The Russia’s mass-media covering, to emphasize for the ordinary audience the good image of China, reported a lot about First Lady of China. If it is impossible to effectively inspire more vigor and attention from the media, which then deliver more qualitative information, the non-governmental transfer of information and mutual understanding between Russia’s and China’s public and ordinary people are then inevitably restricted.

During President Xi’s visit to Russia, Russia’s and China’s multi-domain multi-level cooperation intentions come together in one, there is necessity for step by step improvement of coordination based on common strategy and pragmatic interests. Top strategic cooperative partnership platform already established good environment for the political cooperation between Russia’s and China’s governments, but also for civil, economic and cultural cooperation. In this framework, if both sides will really give impulse to the young people of both countries to be a driving force for deep cultural exchange, if will really give impulse to the mass-media to pay more attention to the real and important part of other’s country life, this will add a new spirit and truely benefit both countries’ long-term sustainable development.


In fact, if China and Russia want to have truly good mutual interactions and sound development, they need to look more directly on the existing problems, and also pragmatically take collective action to address them. For example, because of the issues in the economic cooperation between Russia and China, Russia often makes from economic problems political question, at the same time the mass-media’s judgments (especially Internet blogs) were based on prejudices, have had not positive influence on the real Russia-China cooperation.  In fact, as long as there is economic cooperation, having problems is normal. Like during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia were clearly and with high importance discussed practical aspects of cooperation issues, so economic cooperation needs further moving forward, speed and rhythm of it could be correspondingly adjusted. Regarding Central Asia, many scholars estimate they could become the beginning of Russian-Chinese contradictions and conflicts, this point of view echoes to certain degree already existing difficulties, but at the same time the seriousness of them is to high degree exaggerated. At the moment many Chinese scholars also discuss how rationally improve the growing China – Central Asia economic cooperation and preserve Russia’s dignity and benefits.  For the solution of Chinese-Russian issues, China’s position needs to be in some ways and means adjusted, at the same time Russia’s position adjustment must be rather of psychological nature.  In the framework of deep and many levels including cooperation between China and Russia, China often hoped that after the discussion of specific issues they would be solved, but Russia’s attitude of continuous adjustment is difficult and lacks of stability, this makes a lot of unofficial level cooperation between China and Russia necessary, and makes progress become slow or become not pleasant.

Overall, on the one hand, we can see the importance of Sino-Russian relations, at the same time, between China and Russia exist many specific problems to be solved. Between China and Russia existing issues are not easy to look at, but these issues are not so that they are irreconcilable, these issues also are not confrontational. Diverse perspectives exist on issues in Sino-Russian relations, so it is reasonable and legitimate to take specific issues and step by step solve them, this will be a great blessing for the Sino-Russian strategic partnership as well as the entire world.

Translated by Vladislav Savin.

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