Despite common views on international affairs and economic interests, the Russian-Chinese relationship is weak—even in the sphere of energy trade—and needs to be strengthened.

A presentation held jointly by the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Centre for European Reform (London, United Kingdom) analyzed the challenges facing the Russian-Chinese relationship in the near future. Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, and Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Centre for European Reform, presented three reports on Russia-China relations. These reports were published by Centre for European Reform in English and then translated into Russian by the Carnegie Moscow Center. Alexey Voskressensky of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Vasily Mikheev of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and Mikhail Krutikhin of the RusEnergy commented on the presentations.

Russia, China, and Global Governance

Both Russia and China believe that the current system of global governance is not good enough, explained Grant while presenting his report, “Russia, China and Global Governance.”

  • Reasons for Russian-Sino Cooperation: According to Grant, Russia and China need to cooperate in global governance, since the United States is getting relatively weaker and is not going to act to strengthen multilateral institutions. Furthermore, Grant said, the European Union is not economically and diplomatically strong enough to reshape global governance and many developing countries lack faith in multilateralism, as they consider it to have been created by the West and for the West. Therefore, Grant said, if Russia and China want to build up new multilateral institutions and to ensure mutually beneficial cooperation between countries, they will have to work together.
  • Common Ground: According to Grant, Moscow and Beijing share similar views regarding global governance:

    • Western Concept: Both believe that global governance is a Western concept created for the benefit of the West;
    • Interventionism: Both are opposed to Western interventionism;.
    • A Specific Form: Both have a similar concept of the type of multilateralism required for global governance—one that seems to have no rules or powerful institutions, Grant added;
    • Concept of Sovereignty: Both subscribe to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, Voskressensky said.
  • Different Views: However, there are several factors that inhibit cooperation between the countries, Grant said. He suggested that one key difference is the weight placed on economic and security issues: China places more importance on economic issues, while Russia focuses more on disarmament and other factors of international security.

True Partners? How Russia and China See Each Other

Trenin emphasized that cooperation between Russia and China is a principle element of Asian stability in the presentation of his report, “True Partners? How Russia and China See Each Other.”

  • Evolution of Chinese-Russian Relations: Trenin pointed out that the evolution of relations between Russia and China “has been nothing but a miracle.” The bilateral relationship is becoming more stable now. Russians recognize China as a rising global power and make efforts to establish a closer relationship with its neighbor. However, Trenin added, Russian foreign policy is still focused on Western countries, which can supply the technologies required for the modernization of Russia.
  • Russia as a Euro-Pacific Country: The biggest challenge for Russia in the near future is China’s growing influence in the Far East, Trenin noted. He argued that Russia should think of itself as a Euro-Pacific country and develop its eastern provinces in order to keep up with the development in the world’s fast growing region.
  • Potential Problems: There is the potential for problems in the relationship between Russia and China, said Mikheev. Despite the fact that Russia is a good economic partner for China, Chinese authorities tend to see Russia as unreliable since it opposes the idea of a free trade agreement (FTA) in Asia. Furthermore, Mikheev suggested that Russia has a rather outdated perception of China, and, despite Russia’s hopes, China cannot buy all Russia’s natural resources.
  • Multipolar World Order: Trenin stressed that the modern world has a “rough version of multipolarity,” resulting from economic progress in countries such as China and India. In this new order, China is a far bigger pole than Russia, and Russian authorities have to take this into account when cooperating with China. Also, in the Sino-Russian relationship, there is always a third party—the United States. Mikheev added that although Russia and China have similar goals in terms of multilateralism, unlike China, Russia does not have the resources to uphold these ideas.

Russia, China, and the Geopolitics of Energy in Central Asia

Valasek presented the third report, “Russia, China and the Geopolitics of Energy in Central Asia,” written by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Alexandros Petersen and the Centre for European Reform’s Katinka Barysch. According to Valasek, despite all efforts, bilateral energy trade between Russia and China is still underdeveloped.

  • Cooperation in Energy Trade: Valasek pointed out that energy cooperation between Russia and China is mutually beneficial, as Russia takes into account the EU reductions in its dependency on Russian natural resources and China seeks to diversify its sources of energy. However, according to Valasek, strategic imbalance in the Russian economy, as well as a lack of cross-border pipelines, economic disagreements, and rent-seeking interests in Russia, prevent fast-growing energy trade between the two countries. Krutikhin added that China may dispense with Russian resources, since it has many other suppliers. As a result, Russia is not able to set conditions when negotiating with China.
  • Resources in Central Asia: As China’s influence in the region of Central Asia rises, Central Asian countries can benefit from a great game between Russia and China. Valasek said that, according to the authors of the report, Central Asian countries will seek to diversify its export of energy resources, and Chinese authorities are assisting them by building pipelines to China as well as establishing political and economic cooperation with these countries. Meanwhile, Valasek noted, Russia seems to have lost its dominance in the region.