||To observers who are not indifferent toward Russia, the trend of Russia’s foreign policy clearly is disquieting, if not alarming. The titanic efforts made by the Russian ruling establishment to enter the mighty G-7 club appear now to be a waste of time and energy. Feeling itself a stranger within the G-8, Russia seems to be trying to establish an international club (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) of its own with it at the head it (China-Russia military exercise in Central Asia) . |
There is nothing reprehensible in any country’s quest to normalize relations with its neighbors and from that point of view Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to China in 1989, this was a good start in the process of burying the past thirty years of open confrontation between the two countries. The hostility between the two nations saw, time and time again, armed border clashes and skirmishes. Boris Yeltsin’s government willingly took the baton from his predecessor but carried it in an unlikely direction. In 1992, Russian opened the flow of military hardware and know-how to China by selling 24 fighters Su-27s. 2 At that time, Russia did not appear to harbor any thoughts of China as a potential ally and regarded the giant neighbor as a very solvent buyer of its armaments – mainly of old Soviet surpluses rather than really new material. However, China soon made it clear that it wanted only first-rate merchandise, and proved to be a tough negotiator and shrewd buyer. 3
Historically, military contracts between Russia and China were implemented on the basic of more or less special agreements and could not be viewed as part of a larger political strategy although Boris Yeltsin’s proactive diplomacy toward China (armed largely at counterbalancing “NATO’s move eastward”) created a fertile field for what followed in the early 2000s. Trade was driven, on the Chinese side, by China’s willingness to acquire quite sophisticated weapons at a very reasonable price and by Russia’s willingness to sell anything to anybody just to keep the production lines going and to convince its highly-qualified specialists to stay put. Despite friendly rhetoric from both sides and the rather hefty military sales by Russia, immediate military cooperation was not on the agenda at that time. The whole picture of bilateral ties between Moscow and Beijing began changing with Putin’s rise. Naturally, along the path to the revival of Russia’s past “greatness” Putin chose a very definite company of fellow travelers and staked his presidency on an eventual estrangement from the West.
The turning point in Chinese-Russian relations came on July 16, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin, aspiring to forge a ``new international order' and offset U.S. influence, signed the first post-Soviet friendship Treaty for Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, between the two nations, cementing their decade-long partnership which opened the way to increase arms deliveries. Jiang said after the signing ceremony in the Kremlin, that “it was a milestone in the development of Russia-Chinese relations.' 4
The document comes at a time when the two giant countries were expressing mounting concern over American national missile defense plans and trying to attract more nations into their own orbit. In a joint statement, Putin and Jiang said “they were hoping for a just and rational new international order' to reflect their concept of a multipolar' world led by the United Nations, rather than Washington.” 5
Yet the treaty between Russia and China made it clear that the two countries had no immediate plans to form a closer alliance. The treaty was the first such document since 1950 when Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong created a Soviet-Chinese alliance that later soured into a bitter rivalry by the 1960s. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow and Beijing have put their disputes behind them and forged what they call a “strategic partnership”. This agreement opens the door to broad Sino-Russian cooperation with joint actions to offset long disputed border issues.
Some Russian scholars have voiced concern about Chinese migrants overrunning Russia's sparsely populated Far Eastern and Siberian regions bordering on China.6 When China and the Soviet Union were rivals, China raised territorial claims against Russia. Waves of Chinese migrants have settled there since the Soviet collapse and both Putin and Jiang have stated that the Russian-Chinese border from now on will become a border of “eternal peace' and pledged that the two sides will jointly resolve “the questions left by history.' 7
Official assurances by both parties that the Russia – China military treaty is not being directed against any third country, the agreement stops just short of being a military alliance. In official statements, the two sides stressed that they still viewed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty as the “cornerstone of strategic stability' which must be preserved. The two neighbors have also called for international talks that could curb missile proliferation and make space weapons free. Both Russia and China warn that a proposed American missile shield defense would upset the strategic balance and trigger a new global arms race. China's concerns are potentially even stronger; because its nuclear arsenal is tiny compared to Russia's and even a limited missile defense could erode its deterrent value. Russia and China say their “partnership' is not aimed against the United States and according to Chinese officials, the new friendship treaty does not contain any secret articles like the military alliance between Stalin and Mao.8
China has bought billions of dollars worth of Russian jets, submarines, missiles and destroyers during the 1990s, becoming the biggest customer for Russia's ailing military industrial complex. Military analysts say Russia is in a position to help Beijing speed its military building by providing even more sophisticated weaponry. Joint statements by both governments focus at length on future cooperation in the sphere of advanced technologies, space exploration and industries including electronics, telecommunications and nuclear energy production and called for Chinese companies to invest in Russia.9
A careful examination of this treaty leaders to the striking, but obvious conclusion that never during its post-Soviet history has Russia taken such an openly anti-American step.10
Nearly five years after the military agreement was signed by Russia and China, the results of the treaty (as well as preceding and subsequent agreement) are impressive. Since 1992, military sales by Russia to China have reached at least $20 billion. 11 Russia has managed to sell China enough military hardware to arm a medium-sized European country and 12 (ref. 4) most of these weapons are obviously directed against a rebellious island province – Taiwan.13
Likewise of concern for Taiwanese leaders as well as China’s other neighbors were the Russian-Chinese military exercises carried out in August 2005 – the first time in more than 40 years.14 The scale of the event was considerable; it encompassed 10, 000 military personnel as well as approximately 70 ships and submarines. While the Chinese participated mainly with personnel (around 8 000) and sea vessels (some 60 ships and submarines), the main contributions from the Russian side were advanced air assets, such as 2 Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers, 4 Tu-22M3 Backfire long-range bombers, Su-24M2 Fencer bombers, Su-27SM Flanker fighters, 10 IL-76 Candid transport aircraft, an A-50 Mainstay air warning command and control aircraft, and an Il-78 Midas air tanker.15
The public objective of the maneuvers was coordinating in the fight against international terrorism, but few missed the real implications for conventional warfare: Anti-terrorist military actions do not require the use of the strategic bombers and large scale amphibious operations. One may only surmise who proposed the scenario but the message sent by the exercise seemed clear enough: The Asian-Pacific region is a domain of Russia and China, and no one else should challenge their influence in the region.
It is possible that only one of the participants, Russia, wanted to send this message to the rest of the world and China, quite possibly, views this partnership in the Pacific as temporary and likely is playing its own game. Russia should be aware that the eventual loser can be the one who deals its partner the winning cards. According China’s nowadays strategy, China would like to enjoy and use all advantages of the USA-unipolar world if it restricts Russia’s international interests and it is not opposite to China’s interests. According Chinese resources China does not consider Russia as a strategic partner, China has interest in modernization of own military capabilities, but not to form the full-pledge alliance and even restrict USA’s international policy.16
China had become a major political factor in the world long before Deng Xiaoping set the country on the path of economic reforms that now have transformed China into second largest economy on the planet (measured by Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP).17 In the 1960’s, China’s joining the world nuclear club greatly boosted China’s influence on the world affairs as a whole, and its authority in the Third World in particular. For the past decade, China has demonstrated a 10 % annual economic growth, a pace that requires more and more energy resources. At present, China is the second largest consumer and the second largest importer of oil and is desperately seeking new sources of energy.18
The armed forces of China are a far cry from the vast formation of under trained men of the 1970s who were armed with poor copies of Soviet AK-47 assault rifles and flying inadequate copies of old Soviet airplanes. Today the nation of China has absorbed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with 2.5 million men. In addition, China has close to 5, 000 aircraft, and up to 2, 700 warships (not to mention hundreds of strategic and tactical nuclear missiles) – represents quite a formidable force. 19 Accordingly, the almost unanimous opinion of military experts believe that by 2025 or earlier, China will have all the necessary battle capabilities for invading Taiwan. Even now, China’s front line aviation has 400 fourth generation modern combat planes – more than Russia does.20
Still, theoretical capabilities and the ability to launch an aggressive planned assault are altogether different. The latter enterprise implies and requires firm determination and political will. Does the Chinese leadership posses that kind of will and determination? If China were a democratic country, then the answer definitely would be no. China, however, is not a democracy. It is a totalitarian, and to some, a fascist state21 with little regard for human life (as evidenced by the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June 1989). So, the answer is yes: China will attack Taiwan as soon as it feels prepared; not only to break Taiwanese resistance but to oppose, successfully, American forces as well.
With few doubts regarding the future of Taiwan a question arises whether Russia should beware of China’s intentions as well. The answer may depend on two aspects: the first of them is, if China sees something across its northern border that might be worth resorting to force in dealings with its neighbor; and the second, if Russia would be able to curb any dangerous impulse from the south. It is common knowledge that the natural resources of Siberia and the Russian Far East are enormous and diverse. To get protracted access to those riches at reasonable prices would be a coup for any serious aspirant and it might be easier to obtain the permanent possession of these resources by means short of military force.
The hard reality for the world and especially for China’s neighbors is that, with a current rate of growth that very likely will remain at 8-10% in the foreseeable future, the increasing demands of the economy and enhanced military muscle, Beijing might try its fortune in the North. It is true that the border disputes between China and Russia have been settled, presumably amicably. However, there are a few realities that have to be taken into consideration.
One issue is the belief in fairly important circles within China that in its modern history, China was robbed of 5 million sq. km of territory. For Russians, the worst part of this historical lesson, as it is written in Chinese school textbooks, is that Russia is alleged to have seized these Chinese lands (Primorskiy Krai and Sakhalin Island), and in place of today’s Russian cities of Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and Blagoveshchensk in the past they were the Chinese cities of Haishenway, Boli and Hailenbao.22
Another concern is with demography. The Russian Far East is one of the least inhabited regions of the country with only 6.7 million people living there. At the same time three adjoining Chinese provinces are crowded with about 120 million inhabitants.23 Illegal migrations of Chinese across the Russian border, a problem rooted deeply from the 19th century, have grown into a fairly large modern problem for Russian authorities. Estimates on the total Chinese Diaspora in Russia vary greatly, from an overly optimistic official 40,000 to a xenophobic figure of 10 million.24 However, it is safe to say that the Russian territories in question have at least 1 million Chinese.
This number shows a clear growing trend due to a variety of factors including expedited procedures of entry into Russia for Chinese citizens, many of whom choose to settle in Russia. It would be preposterous and a great overreaction to view all those re-settlers as a "fifth column," but this demographic situation could be used by the Chinese military to its advantage. As for Russia's ability to oppose a future advance by China, it has to be seen as questionable at best. For the past decade, the formidable rate of economic growth has been driving up Chinese defense expenditures. Estimated at around 90 billion dollars for the year 2005, they are expected to reach a figure of something between $120 billion and $150 billion in 2015 and from $225 billion to $325 billion in 2025.25
Russia has the tenth largest economy in the world (by PPP), with economic growth (5.9% in 2005) that lags far behind China and a probable total military spending of slightly over $30 billion in 2005. The best possible illustration of these trends consists of the statistics of production and distribution of Russian armaments in 1992-99 (the figures for 2000-2006 are most likely better), while the Russian Air Force received 7 aircraft during this period, 278 were sold abroad (101 went to China). The Russian Land Forces obtained 31 tanks whereas foreign clients received 435 (China received 140). And so on and so forth for all major weapons systems.26
The picture might not look so bleak if Russia held a decisive technological edge over China. However, even the most sophisticated combat assets that Russia currently has (although superior to Chinese assets) produced during the Soviet era when the military-industrial establishment was fully supported by the state. Now, Russia cannot afford to be a leader in all spheres of military research and development. However wide the gap that exists between Chinese and Russian military know-how, it is now only a matter of time before China catches up and perhaps even surpasses Russian development and production. China's willingness and ability both to bargain and to employ "total intelligence" to obtain advanced technologies in the West also provides a significant edge.27
Taking all these factors into consideration, Russia appears to have chosen the wrong priority of reanimating it’s mourned over past greatness by means of allying itself with a probable adversary. This decision is apparently prompted by a psychological tradition of hurt national pride and what can be formulated as 'civilization preferences' (which is the feeling among Russian leaders). In a decade or two the newly-found friendship with Russia's southern neighbor might take such a twisted turn that Russia will have to think more about survival as a sovereign entity than nurturing its great power status ambitions.