HOME > RESEARCH > Areas > China-Russia > Content

China-Russia Relations Will Not Be Derailed by Questionable Murmurs

November 15 , 2021 04:37 PM by YANG Cheng

Russian-Chinese relations have always been seen in the official discourse and narrative of both countries as a model of post-Cold War great power relations, a model of strategic mutual trust, a guarantor of international stability, and an important force in deterring U.S. unilateralist actions. However, in both China and Russia, this group of "positive energy" in the international arena, which has had a crucial impact on the shift of international power, the transformation of the international system, and the reshaping of the international order, has been facing skepticism since the normalization of Sino-Soviet relations and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union. The voices of unreliability of the other side have accompanied the development of contemporary Russian-Chinese relations for almost the entire period. Although in reality, Russian-Chinese relations have been strengthened and sublimated amidst repeated rounds of internal and external doubts.

It should be said that it is not incomprehensible that there are forces within China and Russia that do not trust each other enough. Among them, the influence of historical memory may occupy a considerable amount of weight. Compared to the rising level of good neighborly cooperation between Russia and China in the post-Cold War period, the two countries have had a number of direct conflicts in their history, and both paid a heavy historical price. In the border negotiations, for example, the two sides had argued for decades over whether the historical border treaties were equal after the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations and the breakdown of relations between the two countries. The Chinese side insisted that most treaties since the Treaty of Nibchu were unequal, and only the Treaty of Nibchu was considered equal. The Soviet side, on the contrary, considered the Treaty of Nerchin as an unequal treaty imposed on Russia by the Qing Dynasty, while the Treaty of Peking and a series of other treaties that humiliated China were, on the contrary, equal. Some Russian experts have also demanded in public that the Chinese side remove relevant references to Russian invasion of China from history textbooks after the signing of the Treaty of the Century between Russia and China and the final settlement of the territorial issues left over from history. All facts show that historical memory is the backdrop that shapes our perception of the outside world. Although it may not directly determine the outcome of the perception of the Russian and Chinese elites and the general public, it constantly solidifies some selective memory fragments through complex psychological paths, thus influencing some people to systematically, objectively and neutrally examine Russian-Chinese relations.

The stage of development of Russia and China and its structural changes also tend to lead to changes in mutual trust in each other. At the beginning of Boris Yeltsin's rule, Russia considered itself a key player and victor in the end of the Cold War, and thus once expected the new world order to be rooted in Russian-American co-governance. At that time, both Russia and China were to some extent indifferent to each other, the former believing that the latter had betrayed communist ideals and deviated from the socialist path, and the latter believing that the former had a type of system that was not comparable to Russia, which had joined the Western democratic family. The expansion of NATO to the east and its "humanitarian intervention" in the FRY awakened Russia from the myth of the Great West, and a more balanced East-West policy became Russia's choice. This led to the formation of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership, which gained sufficient endogenous and exogenous momentum over the next 20 years. With China's overall growth, some in Russia are beginning to feel pressure, especially since the U.S. strategic community's "China-U.S. co-rule" concept, introduced in 2008-2009, has caused Russia to worry about its marginal role in international affairs. In recent years, issues such as the growing GDP of China and Russia have led some Russian academics, politicians, and business elites, who are full of a sense of crisis, to rethink the situation, and the sensationalist language used by some domestic scholars, such as "China as a teacher", has further stimulated Russia, whose overall power is in decline.

The strategic imagination of some Russian and Chinese people about the relationship is sometimes too idealistic, so that when the other side is unable to provide firm support in the way they expect in a given event, the accumulation of disappointment turns into a kind of suspicion. The Sino-Russian relationship is certainly not perfect, no different from other great power relations. China and Russia have more common or similar interests than other powers, but that does not mean that they can work together on all issues. Contemporary Sino-Russian relations have their origins in part in Sino-Soviet relations, so their initial orientation is based on "non-alignment," "non-confrontation," "non-targeting" and "non-ideological. The initial orientation of the relationship was therefore guided by the "four no's" of "non-alignment," "non-confrontation," "non-targeting of third parties," and "non-ideologization," and was guided by a clear understanding of each other's "no-no's" in order to achieve the transition from "doing something "The core feature of the Sino-Russian relations is the relationship between China and Russia. The core feature of Russian-Chinese relations is partnership and non-alignment, but when it comes to the critical moment, there are always people in both countries who demand their partners with the standards of alliance. Therefore, there are a few people in Russia who are indignant that China has not fully sided with Russia on issues such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Ukraine crisis, and there are also individuals in China who are suspicious of Russia for its recent lack of support for China in Russia-US relations and Russia-India relations.

The existence of many voices of mutual suspicion in China and Russia is also very much related to the insufficient supply of regional and country-specific knowledge about each other in both countries. There is a serious mismatch between direct information and knowledge transfer between Russia and China and the need to build a community of interests, responsibilities and destiny based on the principle of "friendship for generations, never enemies". In the context of the new generation of technological revolution, it is not surprising that the various reports and analyses of Russian and Chinese public opinion on the other side are often not supported by first-hand local knowledge, but more by translations of Western discourse, resulting in various distortions and biases.

It should be noted that in both China and Russia, those murmurs that are intentionally misleading or misjudged through ignorance are, after all, very marginal, and far from the extent to which the truth is obscured by the clamor of the crowd. Western circles seem to be highly skeptical of the unbreakable nature of Sino-Russian relations and are not optimistic about their development prospects, believing that strategic tensions and even strategic conflict are inevitable in the future. This view has been held since the period when Russia and China were initially seen as friendly countries to each other after the collapse of the Soviet Union and later during the establishment of a constructive partnership. But as a Polish scholar points out in the introduction to a monograph on Russian-Chinese relations since the 2008 financial crisis, the rapid development of Sino-Russian relations is quite different from the pessimistic predictions of the West. All of this shows that various scepticism in China and Russia extraterritorially, even with obvious motives to sing the praises of the past, cannot really dominate the fate of Sino-Russian relations.

Looking back, we can see that all the problems in the middle or in the middle of the Russian-Chinese relations were born out of development. Looking to the future, we can also be convinced that all problems can be solved through further deepening of relations. In the face of these different arguments, the best way to deal with them is to combine strategic defiance and tactical attention, and to cultivate the internal strength of Russian-Chinese relations. As long as China-Russia relations remain at a high level, all murmurs will eventually be washed away by the flood of history.