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Russia-China strategic alliance overshadows traditional mistrust, analyst tells RFI

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov meet in Moscow on 7 April, 2015 Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow to prepare a meeting between the presidents of the two countries in the beginning of May. Chinese President Xi Jinping is to visit Russia on 9 May to commemorate the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The visit comes at a time when Russia and China are increasingly moving closer together. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, the head of political science at Baptist University in Hong Kong, sees the international environment as one of the causes for this.

“(It is) because of the tensions between China and the US on the one hand, between Russia and Europe on the other — specifically on Ukraine, Crimea and other issues,” he said.

“So clearly they have many reasons to cooperate and to demonstrate that the path of development and political regime and international stance are credible alternatives to what the West can offer.”

As a result, Russia is increasingly looking at China as a market for its raw materials, signing a 400-billion-euro gas deal with Beijing last November.

While Beijing looks to Moscow to modernise its army, it also looks for support in the international arena.

When it comes to making international decisions — in, for instance, the UN Security Council — China and Russia are more often than not siding with each other.

Moscow and Beijing agree on the policy line to be taken on Syria, Iran and the Korean Peninsula.

But relations between China and Russia have not always been easy.

After centuries of mutual suspicion between Czarist Russia and Imperial China, the countries finally found common ground in Communism.

In the 1930s the Soviet Union served as a school for Chinese revolutionaries who learned the basics of Marxism in Moscow’s learning institutions.

But after the death of Stalin and subsequent criticism made by his successor Chroestjev, Beijing broke with Moscow, and the Soviet Union became Chinese enemy number one.

Skirmishes were fought along the 4,000km long border.

A train passing the Border crossing from Zabaykalsk in to Manzhouli in China Wikimedia Commons

After the US established diplomatic ties with China in 1978, Beijing allowed Washington to establish listening posts along the Sino-Soviet border to monitor Russian troop movements.

It was only after the start of China’s reform policy in the late 1970s and then-USSR Communist Party Secretary Michael Gorbachev’s Perestroika in the 1980s that relations started to ease again.

Cabestan says that old fears remain.

“Russia’s far-eastern region is under-populated and we have a large population in north-eastern China, and they are worried about a possible transfer of population,” he said.

“Now most migrants tend to go to western Russia, the big cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Some have been expelled, like the Chinese operating at the big markets in Moscow.

So there are tensions, but at the same time they are eased by the belief of both sides to stay together and to cooperate both in economics, military and international fields.”