The collapse of the Soviet Union meant that the defacto US-China alliance ended and set a stage for China-Russia rapprochement to begin.
In 1992, the two countries declared that they were pursuing a ” constructive partnership” and in 1996, they progressed to a strategic partnership which ended with the signing of a treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation in 2001.
While the west has termed China-Russia relations as being strong because of their shared opposition to the US-led world order but is clear to everyone that the relations between China and Russia are much more than what is described in western capitals.
China and Russia share a long land border which was demarcated in 1991 before the fall of the Soviet Union from which the two countries fought a war in 1969 for seven months but was never made public or declared war.
After the war had ended, China approached the US and formed an alliance against the Soviet Union which led to its collapse in 1991.
Western analysts usually overlook the compatibility of both China and Russia in other fields that serve their national interests both countries share a long border of 4209km which they all need to be stable and their shared interests on many international issues not forgetting trade between the two countries and political systems which don’t oppose each other.
China is now the closest diplomatic partner of Russia and according to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China, the two countries enjoy a friendship that knows “no limits”.
This means that Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine has the backing of China diplomatically on the International scene but this could also strain the relations between China and the west, especially with the EU.
Many analysts overlook a very important fact when it comes to China, ” China only cares about its own national interests predominantly”, and those interests include a solid partnership with Russia, which is a giant neighbor and a nuclear power and a friendly power and at the same time, China doesn’t want its relationship with the west to be impacted by Ukraine war.
That’s why you hear two versions of the argument from Beijing at one hand saying that unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia are wrong and China doesn’t support them when talking to Russian leaders but on other hand, China says that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected under International law when talking to western leaders
China doesn’t do stupid sh**t, former US president Obama remarked in 2014 as a warning to other world leaders especially in the western world who underlook China’s actions. China is now trying to maintain equitable distance and when the time comes, China will intervene to help Russia legitimately as it’s doing now in the background.
China has been trying all it can to make sure it supports Russia legitimately without triggering secondary western sanctions and that’s why we hear statements like this” China will continue to do legitimate or normal trade relations with Russia”.
When guns fall silent and the kinetic war between Russia and Ukraine is over, we expect China to come very quickly and try to look for Russia’s sectors of the economy to support like oil and gas which don’t only help Russia but will also help China access Russia’s energy resources on cheap.
China knows very clearly that the real contest is between itself and US and knows when all this is over, all US resources will be pointed toward China which means it sees the Russia-Ukraine war as just part of the US containment strategy against China as it has helped to bring together Europe which had been rebellious against the US when it comes to China.
This means that no matter what, China can’t afford to drop a valuable partner like Russia knowing what is coming for itself in the future.
Another area of cooperation is in military technology.
Of recent, we have seen some reports released by the US about Russia requesting Chinese weapons to be used in a war in Ukraine but I think the US has missed a point because even if China wanted to give Russia weapons like drones, such weapons would take months to ship to Russia and even take more months to train the operators of such weapons which means if such request was made, it may not have been intended to use in Ukraine war but as a way of acquiring China’s more advanced technologies which Russia don’t currently have like drones where China is a leader.
There is also natural economic complementarity between the two countries, China has a need to import natural resources, it has cutting edge technology and a lot of capital, and Russia at the same time is currently backward in terms of technology, it needs a lot of capital and has rich vast natural resources.
They are a good match but those who think that China will use its relations with Russia to pressure Moscow to stop its special military operation in Ukraine should think again because there is no good reason why China should interfere in Russia’s internal affairs.
One of the things president Vladimir Putin of Russia hates most is a certain country using their economic or military or diplomatic might to tell a country like Russia what to do and I think China’s leaders also don’t like other countries interfering in China’s own internal affairs know that clearly which means China will not in any way talk to Putin about ending the war in Ukraine unless Russia requests for help.
Both China and Russia hate it very much when a leader of a certain foreign country tells them what to do or what’s in the best interest of their countries.
China knows that the Ukraine war is about defending the long term interests of Russia and China would also be naive to think that it can stop president Putin of Russia when all sanctions imposed on Russia and hundreds of military supplies from the US and its allies have failed.
China’s economic relations with Russia have been growing at an unprecedented rate.
In the 1990s, the trade volume between Russia and China was between 5-6 billion dollars which grew up to 100 billion dollars in 2008 before the financial crisis where it dropped to 60 billion dollars in 2013 before picking up again starting in 2017 and has reached 146 billion dollars in 2021 with a target of reaching 200 billion dollars before 2025.
No matter how things turn up after the Ukraine war, China can’t afford to lose Russia as it would be a dangerous enemy if the west manages to bring Russia into their orbit which is the US’s aim of forcing Russia to attack Ukraine and then apply sanctions to force Russia to make concessions and go back to US-led word order but I think the Americans did underestimate Putin’s opposition to such arrangements and China’s ability to stand its ground and also mobilize other countries against the west.
Ukraine war is a sign that the world order is changing and it means more tensions will follow especially between China which many countries think is likely to replace the US as the dominant power in the world by the 2030s and US-supported by its allies.
This decade is a decade of great uncertainty (living dangerously).