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Deepening Sino-Russian Collaboration: A Strategic Alliance Reshaping Global Dynamics

Introduction:

In the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the strategic partnership between Russia and China has intensified, expanding into critical domains such as aerospace, military cooperation, and cyber capabilities. This collaboration has not only raised concerns among Western nations but has also significantly altered the geopolitical landscape. As the alliance deepens, the implications for the United States and its allies become increasingly apparent.

Background:

The roots of the Russia-China collaboration date back to 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In response to Western sanctions, the two nations found common ground in political, economic, security, and diplomatic spheres. Western sanctions, viewed by Russia as an attempt to weaken the country, accelerated the deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing.

Economic Cooperation:

Economically, the collaboration has flourished, with significant investments and trade agreements. The imposition of Western sanctions led Russia to turn to China to fill the investment gap, resulting in a substantial gas supply deal, a rail link agreement, fighter jet sales, and the integration of China’s UnionPay payment system into Russia’s banks.

Russia and China share strategic interests rooted in a common challenge posed by the perceived dominance of the U.S. and its allies in the global order. The aspiration to counterbalance Western influence and assert their own geopolitical standing forms a fundamental basis for their collaborative efforts.

Perceptions in Moscow and Beijing of Western pressure have driven both countries to coordinate on various fronts. NATO accusations of Russian troop buildup near Ukraine and the Biden administration’s decision not to send officials to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing have further solidified the alliance. Both nations aim to counterbalance Western influence and protect their respective interests.

BRI and Eurasian Economic Union Integration:

Additionally, the economic interdependence between the two nations plays a pivotal role, with China’s formidable economic strength complemented by Russia’s abundant energy reserves and raw materials. This interdependency establishes a mutually beneficial relationship, where China’s resource needs are met by Russia, fostering a codependent dynamic that further solidifies their strategic partnership.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Russia and China have strengthened their economic ties, with projects like the Russia-China Regional Cooperation Development Investment Fund aiming to promote collaboration. Additionally, the integration of the BRI with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has facilitated diplomatic coordination and standardized trade facilities, fostering a common market for mutual benefit.

Energy Partnership:

Russia has become China’s primary oil supplier, and ambitious gas delivery plans underscore the energy partnership between the two nations. The historic $400 billion gas deal signed in 2014 solidifies Russia’s position as a crucial energy provider for China, securing their energy cooperation for decades.

Chinese-Russian cooperation has experienced substantial growth over the past 30 years, driven by collaborative efforts in energy trade, politics, and official visits, according to a study conducted by Maria Papageorgiou from the University of Exeter and Alena Vysotskaya Guedes Vieira from the University of Minho. The analysis reveals that Sino-Russian cooperation intensity was “limited” in 1992–1995 but steadily increased until 2007, showing consistent growth without abrupt changes. The study employed a “Bilateral Cooperation Intensity” index, measuring military, economic, and political cooperation between 1992 and 2019.

The research indicates that after 2008, energy trade assumed increased importance in Sino-Russian cooperation. Political cooperation reached a “comprehensive” level in 2000–2003 and remained at this level, serving as the driving force behind the bilateral relationship. Military cooperation exhibited varied patterns of evolution, with a more diverse trajectory than gradual strengthening. Economic cooperation, while limited in the early 1990s, experienced fluctuations before reaching “enhanced” intensity in 2016–2019.

Dr. Papageorgiou noted that bilateral cooperation has strengthened gradually since the early 1990s, emphasizing the structuring role of political cooperation in the Sino-Russian relationship. The BCI Index, aggregating military, economic, and political cooperation measurements, provides an overall score indicating the progression of bilateral relationships.

Key findings of the index include the progression of joint military exercises from “limited” in the 1990s to “enhanced” in 2016–2019. Energy trade cooperation, initially low in the 1990s, grew to “comprehensive” by 2016–2019. Voting similarity in the UN General Assembly evolved from “moderate” to “enhanced” from 2000–2003 onwards. The frequency of official visits between the two countries increased significantly, reaching a consistent “comprehensive” level since 2008.

Dr. Vysotskaya Guedes Vieira highlighted the significant strengthening of Sino-Russian relations, progressing from a rapprochement in the early 1990s to a strategic partnership in the mid-1990s. This development continued with the 2001 Treaty of Friendship, culminating in a comprehensive strategic partnership in the 2010s.

Emerging Technologies and Innovation:

Both countries recognize the importance of emerging technologies for economic development and competitive advantages. The technological collaboration between Russia and China extends beyond the naval domain. Cooperation in areas like artificial intelligence, 5G, space research, and biotechnology has intensified, with the joint construction of the Sino-Russian Innovation Complex reflecting their commitment to joint research and development.

In October 2014, an agreement was signed between China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation and Rostec to foster joint development and production of dual-use technologies, including electronic components, information technology, and new materials. Plans for telecommunication equipment capable of countering cyber attacks underscore the depth of their cooperation. Furthermore, high-tech collaboration, including artificial intelligence (AI), has become a highlight. The two nations are leveraging their strengths, with China excelling in AI sub-categories such as connected vehicles and recognition technologies, while Russia demonstrates expertise in industrial automation and AI applications in defense and security.

Biotechnology:

Biotechnology plays a pivotal role in China’s strategic development, as highlighted by the Made in China 2025 Initiative. This initiative aims to propel the nation into manufacturing high-tech products, with a particular focus on innovative medicines. Chinese pharmaceutical firms are tasked with advancing biotechnological innovation and increasing exports, with approximately half of the industrial parks in China dedicated to pharmaceutical development. By 2018, China had established 111 biotechnology science parks. Although China is still behind the U.S. in biotechnology innovation, analysts acknowledge its rapid progress in closing this gap.

In contrast, Russia, with abundant natural resources, faces challenges in its biotech sector, as over 80% of biotech products are imported, and its global market share is below 0.1%. Brain drain after the Soviet Union’s breakup led to a loss of biotech expertise. However, Russia recognizes biotechnology as a strategic priority. Initiatives like PHARMA 2030 underscore a shift towards an innovative production model. Notably, Russia and China’s joint efforts face challenges due to concerns over espionage incidents, reflecting tensions in their collaboration.

Passenger Plane:

Russia and China are collaboratively developing a new long-haul, wide-bodied airliner to rival Boeing and Airbus. United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) are spearheading this project, with the plane expected to enter serial production by 2025, accommodating between 250 and 280 passengers. The estimated cost of $13 billion emphasizes the scale of this joint endeavor, with significant investment expected from China. This initiative aims to challenge the dominance of established players in the aviation industry.

Space:

China and Russia are strengthening ties in space technology, with Russia offering rocket engines to China in exchange for Chinese microelectronics. China heavily relies on Russian liquid fuel technology for its rocket engines, and a potential deal involving the RD-180 engines could enhance China’s lift capacity. While China has its orbital station, it has shown interest in the Russian part of the ISS. The two countries are also exploring joint lunar exploration, unveiling a roadmap for the International Lunar Research Station in 2021.

Rocket Propellants and Hi-Tech Cooperation:

Energomash, Russia’s rocket engine producer, and the Sixth Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation are collaborating on the development and manufacture of liquid rocket propellants. This joint effort signifies a strategic partnership in space technology, with a focus on advancing liquid rocket propellant technology. Additionally, Russian state firm Rostec is actively promoting technological cooperation with China across various sectors, including modernizing China’s chemical industries, contributing to natural gas pipelines, and collaborating on energy-efficient technology, aircraft manufacturing, and communications systems.

Military and Cyber Cooperation:

The road map for military cooperation between Russia and China, approved in 2021, underscores their commitment to joint military patrols and exercises. The alignment of security interests is particularly evident in the joint military exercises conducted in the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Furthermore, the collaboration extends into the cyber domain, where both nations are accused of engaging in cyber espionage and enhancing offensive cyber capabilities.

Constructive relations between Russia and China are important for international stability and security, the head of Russia’s General Staff of the Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Fang Fenghui and Vice Central Military Commission Chairman Fan Changlong in Beijing.

Ukraine War

In the context of the Ukraine war, the relationship between Russia and China is intricate, characterized by cautious support and underlying tensions. China’s official stance involves refraining from condemning Russia’s invasion, attributing it to NATO expansion and emphasizing the need for a peaceful resolution through dialogue. However, China maintains a neutral public position to avoid international backlash and reputational damage, carefully balancing relations with both Russia and the West. Economically, trade between the two nations has surged amid Western sanctions on Russia, making China a vital economic lifeline for Russia while raising concerns about China’s potential leverage and vulnerability to sanctions.

In terms of military and security cooperation, although China hasn’t directly supported Russia militarily, it has intensified its own military exercises and deepened defense collaboration, including joint naval drills and intelligence sharing. This collaboration raises concerns in the West about potential Chinese ambitions in regions like Taiwan or the Indo-Pacific, posing a challenge to the existing international order. Despite their cooperation, Russia and China harbor long-term competing interests and historical disagreements, such as territorial disputes and differing global visions. The Ukraine war exposes these tensions, creating a short-term alignment but potentially causing friction in the future. The trajectory of their relationship will be influenced by the war’s outcome, with potential scenarios ranging from strengthened cooperation to increased strain, contingent on factors like the war’s duration, impact on Russia, and the West’s response. Navigating this complex relationship is essential for understanding the evolving geopolitical landscape and fostering international cooperation and security.

Military Cooperation:

Military collaboration between Russia and China within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization provides mutual benefits. Russia, facing international sanctions, seeks foreign investment, while China aims to enhance its status as a global power through access to advanced weapons. Arms imports from Russia to China have grown, and joint ventures, such as LED production, highlight the depth of cooperation. The two nations have conducted 30 major joint military exercises since 2003, showcasing a rare camaraderie. The Vostok-2018 exercises and joint air and missile defense drills indicate active military collaboration.

Joint Military Drills:

The joint military exercises between Russia and China include extensive air and missile defense drills, demonstrating a level of military collaboration that goes beyond a mere political relationship. Notably, they have simulated air-defense scenarios without deploying military units, emphasizing their mutual support in security matters. The joint exercises serve as a platform for sharing sensitive information, particularly in missile defense, highlighting a unique level of trust and cooperation.

40-ton Class Heavy Helicopter:

Russia and China’s joint development of a 40-ton class heavy helicopter signifies a significant partnership in the defense industry. China’s expertise in avionics systems complements Russia’s experience in transmission systems. The helicopter, scheduled for delivery by 2032, aims to improve the PLA’s capabilities for transport and evacuation operations in challenging terrains and weather conditions. This project, described as the “contract of the century,” underlines the depth of technical, management, and business-related cooperation between the two nations.

S-400 Missile System and Su-35 Fighter Jets:

China’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and Su-35 fighter jets showcases the strength of their military collaboration. The S-400’s extended range enhances China’s air defense capabilities, while the Su-35 introduces advanced features and capabilities. This collaboration not only impacts the regional balance of power but also provides insights for the Chinese military’s ongoing development. The successful delivery of these assets solidifies Russia’s position in foreign markets, with potential buyers like Indonesia expressing interest in the Su-35.

LADA-Class Submarines:

In December 2012, Russia and China laid the foundation for a joint production agreement involving four LADA-class submarines, with two to be manufactured in each country. The deal, signed in March 2013, marked a significant milestone in their strategic collaboration. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the focus is on developing a new advanced conventional submarine based on the LADA-class. These submarines would enhance the PLA Navy’s underwater combat capabilities, offering improved stealth and advanced sensors compared to China’s existing KILO-class submarines. Additionally, this collaboration enables China to absorb advanced Russian technologies, integrating them into its current and future defense systems.

Military Equipment Exchange:

Recent reports suggest that Russia has sought military equipment from China since the Ukraine invasion, highlighting the growing closeness between the two nations. This collaboration is seen as a response to Western pressure on both countries over human rights and other contentious issues. China’s reluctance to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its call for a negotiated solution underscore the alignment of interests between the two nations.

Strategic Concerns for India:

The collaboration between Russia and China has also heightened tensions in India, particularly concerning the supply chain of arms spares. With Western sanctions on Russia and concerns about hardware diversion to Ukraine, India faces the risk of disruptions in the supply chain for crucial military equipment, including T-90 tanks, Su-30MKI fighters, and the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.

Conclusion:

The deepening collaboration between Russia and China, spanning military, economic, and technological domains, is reshaping global dynamics.

This strategic alliance extends beyond traditional defense cooperation, encompassing cutting-edge technologies that are crucial for the future of both countries. The ongoing efforts in AI, aerospace, and space technology underscore the depth and potential of this collaboration, shaping the landscape of global technological advancements.

As the alliance strengthens, it presents strategic challenges for the United States and its allies. Navigating this evolving landscape requires a nuanced understanding of the motivations driving this partnership and a strategic response that safeguards Western interests in an increasingly multipolar world.

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://warontherocks.com/2020/08/the-resilience-of-sino-russian-high-tech-cooperation/

https://www.fpri.org/article/2022/05/the-rise-of-sino-russian-biotech-cooperation/

https://phys.org/news/2023-11-chinese-russian-cooperation-significantly-years-analysis.html

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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