Sino-Russian relations find uneasy accord

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am

With a common strategic interest in counterbalancing the West, China and Russia have presented a united front in major international issues, but analysts noted that long-term divisions between the two major powers still exist as they jostle for leading roles in global affairs.

The analysts say that Moscow's mistrust of Beijing has deepened because of China's rapid economic development and military advances, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that the development of ties with China would be a priority because of Russia's own economic needs and aversion to the West.

On the sidelines of last week's Shanghai Co-operation Organisation summit, Putin declared that no international issues could be resolved without the participation of Beijing and Moscow.

Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, also said in a statement following their bilateral talks that they opposed the use of threats and the imposition of unilateral sanctions against Iran. On Syria, the two countries said they supported the efforts of the United Nations' special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, while opposing a forced change in the Syrian government by the UN.

Putin's visit to China for the summit came after he decided to skip the G8 summit in the United States last month.

'Putin found that Russia is not on the same page with the West,' said Zhang Jianrong, a Russian affairs expert at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. '[Russia and China] want to create an axis that engages these two powers in critical issues, conveying a message that they should not be ignored.'

Jonathan Hoslag, head of research at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, said both China and Russia distrusted the West.

'It is Russia's growing aversion to the West that is the main impetus of the close relationship between Moscow and Beijing,' he said.

Moscow believes Washington does not pay it sufficiently high regard, and feels it has not been consulted on the handling of international issues such as Afghanistan. The recent deployment of a Nato missile defence system in Europe further irked Moscow, which said such a system could intercept all missiles launched from Russia.

Meanwhile, US efforts to advance ties with East Asian countries, as well as its involvement in South China Sea disputes, have evoked strong reactions from Beijing.

'China and Russia are trying to say that the West is not the only player in the international community,' Zhang said.

Analysts also said that, in addition to international influence, Putin's attraction to China may be driven by the economic needs of his country.

Russia aims to develop the east Siberian region that borders China, and closer Sino-Russian ties would be conducive to bilateral border trade, Zhang said.

Putin vowed in April that Russia would become one of the world's top five economies in the next 10 years, with a per capita GDP of US$35,000.

'China's economy is on the rise, while Europe and the US are following a downward trend. Russia probably needs a reliable economy in order to boost its own. It is a practical consideration,' said Tian Chunsheng , a Russian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Zhang said that Dmitry Medvedev, who served as Russian president from 2008 until this year, wanted to partner with Europe in his plan to promote Russian innovation and creativity.

'But Medvedev did not get much of a response,' Zhang said. 'Putin has realised that relying on the West is unrealistic.'

However, despite the warming bilateral ties between China and Russia, tensions exist between them. The Strategy 2020 report commissioned by Putin when he was still prime minister said the main risks his country faced were rooted in the growth of China's economic potential and international status.

The report said China's processing industry was becoming highly competitive, and that it was likely to edge Russian counterparts out of the Russian market.

'There is mistrust among some Russians that China will overshadow Moscow internationally, economically and militarily,' Hoslag said. 'There are complaints that China is mistreating Russia and stealing its intellectual property.'

Meanwhile, the countries failed to complete a huge natural-gas-supply deal due to pricing disagreements.

Beijing also doesn't like the fact that Russia has been selling arms to countries such as Vietnam for years. Just four months ago, Vietnam and Russia announced that they would jointly produce an anti-ship missile.

'Beijing fears that its negotiations with neighbouring countries on the South China Sea disputes will be affected by the arms sales, which will create obstacles for Beijing,' Zhang said.


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