As a global player China has a possibility for independent actions following its interests. Due to its economic and military power, the country can choose the most favorable foreign policy development with no regard to most of the other states. China is considered to be one of few supporters of Russian latest foreign policy, however, the statement is very controversial and need to be carefully analyzed.
The latest history of Sino-Russian relations
History of Sino-Russian relations was rather a road of confrontation than partnership and cooperation. 20th century was not an easy time as well. Although, China and the Soviet Union were both communist, apart from the first years of collaboration in the name of the world proletariat revolution, conflicts were inevitable part of their relations. After the ideological tensions following Stalin’s death and border wars in 1960s, China was viewing Russia as a bigger threat than the USA and the USA also decided to ally with China against the strong USSR. Sino-Russian relations began to normalize in the beginning of 1980s and finally after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they became warmer. In 1996 a “strategic partnership” was established and in 2001 a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation was signed. In September 2016, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi proclaimed that “the depth and scope of coordination between both countries are unprecedented.”
However, for China the fall of the Soviet Union was the betray of communism ideas, in which China still believes. Therefore, the Chinese interest in Russia could not be in the form of common strategic vision, but rather in a good tactical calculation.
Nevertheless, China and Russia have similar goals in changing the American leadership into multi-polar world with old spheres of influence. Consequently, China would concentrate on Asia and Russia on Eastern Europe. Both countries have already shocked the world by their aggressive latest actions. Russia annexed Crimea and started the separatist campaign in Eastern Ukraine, China resurrected maritime territorial disputes in Chinese Sea and often makes military exercises to show its power. Noteworthy, the smaller countries in the Chinese Sea region like Vietnam and Philippine are looking at the USA to rescue them from the old Chinese hegemony the same way as Ukraine from the Russian one.
In the beginning of 2017 world news were discussing the appearing of Chinese mobile nuclear missiles close to Russian borders. However, officially Russian federation does not see it as any threat because of the ‘strategic partnership between the countries’. Importantly, it is Russia that is mostly interested in economic and political cooperation between the countries due to the Western sanctions imposed on it. China chooses only variants preferable for its longstanding goals. For example, when Russia suggested an export of oil to China, China did not agree for such a big amount and a high price. Russia had to accept Chinese conditions, considering the absence of any other buyer.
Geographically, Russia could become the future Chinese ‘pray’. Russian far East is already demographically and economically controlled by China. Many see a perspective of Chinese returning its old territories to win more space and natural resources for its growing population.
If we look at the triangle of world superpowers, China, Russia and the USA make double alliances to confront the strongest side of it. The Chinese-American cooperation against the Soviet Union was changed to Chinese-Russian partnership against the powerful USA. Now, with the rise of its economic and military potential China is becoming every time more powerful. Due to objective reality and the latest leadership change in the USA, it is very possible that Donald Trump will ally with Russia to balance the strong Chinese expansion.
Therefore, both China and Russia undermine the present world order, and could really cooperate on some matters, still it does not make them strategic allies. From Chinese side, partnership with Russia looks like a good calculation not as a cordial alliance.
The Ukraine crisis
Some would claim Chinese pro-Russian position in the Ukraine crisis. The country did not impose sanctions on Russia and did not condemn Russian annexation of Crimea with military aggression in Eastern Ukraine. Chinese response to the events were simple words calling for the rule of law and the end of violence. While not supporting any side in the conflict, China continues making business with both Russia and Ukraine. While Ukraine fights the war with Russia, the West states in confrontation with Russia, bringing down its and Russian economies, China keeps good relations with everyone and grows its economic potential.
To start from the Euromaidan, a few things should be clarified. With all the modern political and economic innovations in the country, China stays communist and human rights are not much respected there, protests are not welcomed. Therefore, China could not support revolutions in other countries, otherwise, it would send the wrong signal to its own population.
From the other side, China stays pragmatic and after careful analysis decided that cooperation with Russia is much more important than the one with Ukraine. Cooperation with China was a solution for Russia isolated by the West. China used the chance to make deals on best conditions. Chinese import of Russian state-of-the-art weapons is very important for Chinese growing military. While Russia has trade war with the EU, China started filling Russian market with Chinese goods, previously supplied to Russia from the EU.
However, Chinese interest in Europe is rising. During the last economic crisis Chinese investment rescued a number of European countries, including Ukraine. Now, when the EU is busy with its problems and most foreign investors are afraid to enter Ukrainian market, Chinese investment into the country is growing every year. Chinese trade and investment in Russia is falling. It could be stated that Chinese economic support saved the Ukrainian economy from the collapse. The New Silk Road project should be mentioned, as it gives a huge chance for Ukraine to become a first European country in the rout but overcomes Russia. China is not hiding with the idea, although the project beats Russia in the heart of its core strategic interests.
According to the policy “China’s peaceful rise”, China promotes peace around the world and avoids intervening in international conflicts. If we remember, the country usually is calm and careful in any use of force in the world, mostly it calls all the sides for peaceful solutions.
Lately, China together with Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Syria using chemical weapons. One of the reasons of the veto vote China named its policy of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.
To make it clear, China could not and did not support Russian annexation of Crimea at least due to the fact that Russia had taken a number of Chinese territories in the past. China does not support Russian way of doing foreign politics. Although, the governments cooperate in a number of economic affairs, ordinary Chinese could not be called pro-Russian in any way. China is right when thinking that it did not start the conflict in Ukraine, so is not responsible for its solution. Realistically speaking, the Chinese government is avoiding conflict also because it could mean devastating consequences to economic infrastructure.
China rules a big territory and has a number of issues as well. Taiwan, Hong Kong or ethnic problems in Xinjiang and Tibet are only a few examples. Therefore, the country could not support Crimean referendum and separatist tendencies in Eastern Ukraine as it might create a precedence for its own sovereignty. However, China did not strongly oppose it. The country sees the Ukrainian crisis as a conflict between Russia and the West. It understands Russian fears as for NATO expansion, because China also keeps its sphere of influence in East Asia.
To conclude, China is eager to stay closer to Russia to counter re-balance the USA. Sino-Russia economic relations contain a number of crucial for both sides contracts. All these influenced Chinese careful response to the Ukraine crisis. After the analysis of its own strategic goals, economic gains and future development, the country had chosen such unclear but reasonable way of action.