Sino-Russian relations to grow stronger in Putin’s new term

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for the fourth time in a landslide victory on March 18. Putin has been in power for 18 years. During his terms in office, China-Russia ties have grown steadily in political, economic, military and cultural spheres and delivered enormous benefits to the two countries. Bilateral relations are expected to move forward in Putin’s new term.

Despite confronting grave challenges such as fluctuations in international politics, regional turbulences and anti-globalization, China and Russia have reached a strategic consensus on many regional and global issues, as well as worked together to safeguard regional and global order.

For example, Beijing and Moscow have ramped up efforts to combat terrorism and oppose US double standards since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As the Arab Spring propelled Syria into chaos and the US and some European states attempted to topple the Bashar al-Assad administration, China and Russia vetoed such a move several times at the UN to prevent the Syria crisis from spiraling out of control.

Russia has gone through confrontation with the West because of terrorism in Chechnya, the Russia-Georgia military conflict in 2008 and the Ukraine crisis in 2014. China has been beset by the South China Sea territorial dispute, the Diaoyu Islands dispute, the North Korean nuclear issue and East Turkestan Islamic Movement. China and Russia are committed to mutual understanding and partnership. They can seek mutual support like allies and play important roles at a critical juncture, but can also be flexible so as not to grapple with each other due to some disputes and contradictions.

China and Russia will beef up efforts to build themselves based on their own blueprints for further development. The China-proposed Belt and Road initiative and Russia-initiated Eurasian Economic Union strive to make a difference in the region. Undeniably, the two countries will likely compete in resources, regional influence and appeal. However, the Belt and Road and the economic union share natural synergy as the former is designated to achieve common prosperity and the latter economic cooperation. Backed by political mutual trust, Beijing and Moscow need to consistently communicate and negotiate on details and work on where it is most needed.

China-Russia ties can head in a positive direction despite changes in the global order. The US listed China and Russia as its major strategic competitors in its National Security Strategy published on December 18. Whatever happens, Sino-Russian ties will not be affected substantially.

The reality facing China and Russia is that business ties are not close, people-to-people exchanges remain inadequate and Chinese people lack a comprehensive understanding of Russia and its culture. This indicates bilateral ties have enormous room for improvement.

China-Russia relations, underpinned by a firm political foundation, will enjoy sound development under new historical conditions. Bilateral ties will grow deeper and wider. Non-governmental communications will improve and shift the focus from the political front to the economic and cultural sectors. By doing so, the two states can cement their comprehensive strategic partnership and better address challenges caused by changes in international politics and global issues.

China and Russia have maintained stable relations for over 20 years. Ensuring bilateral ties develop on the right track is a boon for the global community as major-power relations are the key to world peace and development. Big powers in history ended up falling into the Thucydides Trap or engaging in a zero-sum game. Rising powers are inevitably riddled with rounds of suspicion or conflicts. Therefore, developing major-country relations takes more time and effort.

As Sino-Russian ties have witnessed great vicissitudes over the past 20 years and drawn rich lessons both in theory and practice, they set a good example for major-power relations. China and Russia will navigate pressing challenges to friendly relations and forge ahead into the future.

Wu Sai is a PhD candidate at the School of Government, Beijing Normal University. Li Xing is a professor at the School of Government, Beijing Normal University.


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