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Sino-Russian Alliance Not All That Solid, Experts Say

Friday, 18 May 2001 12:00 AM

"The idea of a Russian-Chinese strategic partnership that Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin first proclaimed five years ago, in April 1996, evokes memories of the Sino-Soviet alliance of half a century ago, but it is actually nothing of the sort," reported the Kennan Institute's Joseph Dresen, quoting University of Montana professor Steven Levine. The institute co-sponsored a panel discussion of experts April 11 with the Wilson Center's Asia Program.

The panel, Dresen reports, agreed that rather than being a relic of the Cold War, the strengthening relationship between China and Russia is driven by a complex set of shared interests and different priorities that draw them together and at the same time keeps them at arm’s length.

At the heart of those shared interests is the two nations’ mutual desire to limit U.S. influence in Central Asia, as well as maintaining political stability in these new states.

The economic forces unleashed by globalization have played a big part in drawing China and Russia together, professor Aleksei Voskressenski, head of Department of Asian Studies, MGIMO-University, Moscow, told the panel.

Both nations have economic concerns provoked by the advantage Western nations enjoy from globalization and want to partly overcome their disadvantage in the area by increasing trade between themselves. China, for example, benefits from increased access to Russian energy supplies and Russia benefits through greater integration of the Russian Far East into the Pacific economy.

Another aspect of the economic relationship between Russia and China is one that strongly concerns the United States - Russian arms sales to China, according to Jeanne Wilson, a political science professor at Wheaton College. She noted that 70 percent of Russia's arms sales went to China in 2000. For Russia, these sales represent a very important source of export earnings that also keep parts of Russia's defense industry afloat.

Cut off from arms sales from the West, China also relies upon Russia for sophisticated arms and military technology, she added.

Alexander Lukin of Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, Brookings Institution, told the panel that the main motivation behind the partnership "is international politics,” which he said throws Russia and China together with the greatest urgency and public fanfare.

Both nations are alarmed by the economic, political, and military dominance of the United States in global affairs. In their eyes, Lukin stated, they are defending an international order rooted in the United Nations, where each holds veto power in the Security Council, from a United States bent on changing that order to its own advantage.

He cited NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia over Kosovo as being particularly important in convincing Moscow and Beijing of the need to strengthen their security ties. Both are multinational countries, Lukin noted, and they wonder why the U.S. felt it could bomb Yugoslavia and not China and Russia, or even Turkey, for the same reasons.

But if the status of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower with all that implies is the motivation that draws China and Russia together, the panel agreed that it is also the greatest source of problems in their relationship, because, in the end, both nations see their own bilateral relations with the United States as being more important than their developing strategic partnership.

Each also suspects the other of being willing to cut separate deals over vital security matters. While Russia values China's cooperation in voicing opposition to U.S. hegemony, it is also aware that China would not endanger its economic ties with the West simply because of another round of NATO expansion, an irritant that greatly upsets Moscow but is a matter of no real strategic concern to Beijing.

And while trade between Russia and China may have reached a record $8 billion in 2000, this figure is a mere 1.7 percent of China's trade volume and is dwarfed by China's over $80 billion trade advantage over the United States. China may feel drawn to Russia for other reasons, but it has no desire to kill the goose that lays such golden eggs.

For their part, China’s leadership worries about any form of U.S. missile defense, given its limited nuclear deterrent and its desire to intimidate Taiwan with missiles based across the strait. China suspects that Russia may be willing to cut a deal with the West on missile defense that would negate China's deterrent without damaging Russia's.

The Sino-Russian partnership will never become a genuine military alliance and will always be based upon how each nation views its own interests as opposed to those they share in common, the experts concluded.

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The idea of a Russian-Chinese strategic partnership that Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin first proclaimed five years ago, in April 1996, evokes memories of the Sino-Soviet alliance of half a century ago, but it is actually nothing of the...
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2001-00-18
Friday, 18 May 2001 12:00 AM
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