Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

Jan-Mar 2002 (Vol. XXVI No. 1)


Post-Cold War Sino-Russian Relations: An Indian Perspective
Jyotsna Bakshi * , Research Fellow, IDSA



The equations among the three large powers-India, Russia and China-are of immense significance for the whole region and the world at large. Beginning with the initial hitches and uncertainties in the post-Soviet period, Russia and China relations have gradually expanded to the level of strategic partnership directed towards the 21st century in 1996 and the 20-year Treaty of Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation signed on July 16, 2001. Growing military-technical cooperation between Russia and China and their cooperation in Central Asia within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) have a direct bearing on India’s security and strategic interests. Significantly, the growing curve of Russia-China multifarious ties has been accompanied by a certain improvement in India-China relations, too. Indeed, in the post-Cold War period, all the major powers are purusing a multi-vector and omni-dimensional policy aimed at enhancing their strategic space and manoeuvrability.


The relations between Russia and China have always tended to impact on the larger regional and global political scenario. During the historical process of formation and expansion of the two large empires or state systems, they came to share the largest land boundary running into 7,500 km. The fact that the two shared a long border, which was also disputed, inter alia generated nascent and actual apprehensions and distrust regarding each other’s motives and objectives. At the same time, the two were also compelled to extensively interact and deal with each other.

From the Indian perspective, the study of Sino-Russian relations and their implications for India is of particular importance as India shares a 4,700-km long and disputed border with China and the equation among the three large powers-India, Russia and China-is of immense significance for the whole region and the world at large.


The Soviet Legacy

Sino-Soviet relations were marked by sharp ups and downs in the second half of the twentieth century. In February 1950 the two Communist giants signed a 30-year treaty of friendship, alliance and mutual assistance. By the beginning of the 1960s, they were bitter ideological and political rivals and in 1969 there were military clashes between the two over Ussuri river islands. Their relations began to improve by early 1980s. By this time China was a relatively more satisfied power after having made up with the West and having occupied its permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Domestically, it was pursuing the four-fold modernisation drive launched in 1978 that required a peaceful external environment. China, therefore, was now in a mood to follow a more balanced policy towards the two blocs.

Soviet security model till the mid-1980s reflected the siege mentality of a country that had armed itself to the teeth against any potential threat posed by its adversaries from any direction either singly or jointly. It was estimated that the Soviet Union had about 50 divisions stationed on border with China and also in Mongolia amounting to one million men out of a total of 3, 705,000 armed forces. The cost of maintaining the troops facing China was estimated to be about two per cent of GNP in 1979. 1 The then Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, was reported to have remarked in 1991 that “by most modest calculations, the confrontation with China cost us 200 billion roubles”. 2 No wonder there was re-thinking in the Soviet circles regarding policy and approach to China.

The Soviet economic model of autarchy also did not stand the test of time. The young and dynamic General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU), Gorbachev, sought to bring about radical changes in the country’s domestic and foreign policies. He took bold steps to vastly improve relations with China, although the process of Sino-Soviet rapprochement had started before him.

Gorbachev’s visit to Beijing in May 1989 marked the completion of the process of normalisation between the two countries. During Jiang Zemin’s return visit in May 1991, the two sides signed their first boundary agreement regarding the eastern section of the border that forms the bulk of the present-day Russia-China border.


Russia and the People’s Republic of China: Initial Post-Soviet Period

There were apparent hitches in the initial post-Soviet period in Russia-China relations. The initiators of the aborted hard-line coup of August 19, 1991 had clear political and ideological sympathy for Communist China and the Chinese leadership also did not hide sympathy for the hard-line coup. The rise to power of President Yeltsin was viewed with some apprehension in China as he was seen as the ‘gravedigger of communism’. Also, there existed an inherent antipathy between the Russian democrats, who dominated the Russian foreign and domestic policies in the immediate post-Soviet period, on the one hand, and the Chinese leadership, on the other. The Russian democrats initially were quite hopeful in their enthusiastic belief that communist rule in China would also be overthrown by the tidal wave of democracy as had happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. They were critical of the human rights record of the Chinese State and the suppression of pro-democracy student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. On its part, the Chinese leadership viewed with misgiving and suspicions the pro-West orientation of the Russian democrats as well as their policy of ‘economic shock therapy’, which seemed to have resulted in complete dislocation of the economy.

In the initial Russian order of priorities, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was given a place behind the United States, Western Europe, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Russian Foreign Ministry even asserted that China was only of secondary importance in Russia’s foreign policy. 3 Pro-Western proponents defended the idea of a strong ideological, economic, and even military alliance with the West. Former Russian Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, for example, recommended “cementing a military alliance with the West and switching our deterrence potential to the Far East”. 4

Also, in the initial period pro-Taiwan lobby was also quite active in Russia. In September 1992, a close aide of President Yeltsin visited Taiwan and signed an agreement on exchanging semi-official representation. This greatly provoked Beijing. A compromise was subsequently reached with the PRC, whereby President Yeltsin issued on September 15, 1992 a decree pledging allegiance to “one China policy”. On its part, Beijing agreed that Russia could maintain unofficial ties with Taiwan. 5

Disenchantment with the West and the Western aid in Russia began to set in by the end of 1992 and the beginning of 1993, but there was no 180-degree turn away from the West. There were shifts in emphases and priorities, but no sharp turns in the policy. Moscow was neither in a position, nor willing to confront the West in the old Soviet style. However, Russia began to pay greater attention to its neighbours in Asia. Ties with great Asian countries-China and India-were consolidated through Presidential visits in December 1992 and January 1993 respectively. These visits were projected as imparting greater balance to Russian foreign policy between the West and the East.


President Yeltsin’s Visit to China

The phase of initial uncertainty ended after the visit of President Yeltsin to China in December 1992. The joint declaration signed during President Yeltsin’s visit, included the basic principles of mutual relations.

Russia-China relationship during the Yeltsin years persistently grew from the initial stage of ‘good neighbourliness’ during 1992-94 and ‘constructive partnership’ during 1994 to 1996 to “strategic partnership directed towards the 21st century” from 1996 onwards. 6

From the very beginning both the countries agreed that their relationship would not be one of alliance directed against third states. A relationship of alliance was seen as constraining the freedom of the sides which neither of the two countries wanted.

To some extent it seemed that the wordings and formulations adopted in the statements issued by Russia and China during Yeltsin’s visit, were similar to those adopted in India-Russia parleys also at that time. Thus, with both India and China, Russia signed an agreement not to enter into any alliances or commitments with the third countries directed against the security interest of the sides.

However, owing to the fact that China was a bordering country and nature and character of Sino-Russian ties impinged on direct Russian interests in Asia-Pacific region as well as on Russia’s relationship with the Western powers, China figured more importantly in the calculus of the Russian policy-makers in comparison with India. As the events unfolded, Russia and China displayed a stronger impulse and greater diplomatic activism in cementing ties and evolving a structure and mechanism of expanding multi-faceted cooperation. Both needed each other for counterbalancing the more dominant West, even as for each of them individually, the West remained the more important partner in economic terms. In contrast to India, which was visited by President Yeltsin only once, Russia’s summit meetings with China became an annual feature. The two countries forged what can be termed a strategic partnership in Central Asia through the grouping of Shanghai Five-now Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). 7 The leaders of Russia and China also met additionally in the annual summits of the Shanghai Five. The meetings at the level of Prime Ministers, foreign, defence and other ministers and the two-way exchange of delegations between Russia and China have been much more numerous in the past decade in comparison with India-Russia exchanges.


Convergence of Russian-Chinese Interests

A much weakened Russia after the Soviet collapse is no longer a threat to China. In fact, China is more apprehensive that powerful elements in the USA and Japan would want to isolate and contain it. A strong Chinese partnership with a recovering Russia is seen as a preferred countermeasure. In 1990s, China faced the Western challenges on the issues of human rights and Taiwan. Russia has its own difficulties with the West. The Russian and the Western objectives differ on issues like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Baltic nations, etc. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO’s) eastward extension has prompted Russia to move closer to China. Pavel Grachev, former Russian Defence Minister was reported to have remarked: ”If NATO goes East, we shall go East, too”, meaning thereby move closer to China.

The new Russia has no other alternative but to continue to seek good-neighbourly relations with all because of its much reduced economic and military capabilities and geopolitical clout. Also, agreement on troop reduction and other confidence building measures (CBMs) helped Moscow to cut down costs on military presence on the border with China when it could not afford it. China, on its part, treated Russia with due respect and sensitivity befitting a great power. The Russian analysts more favourably disposed towards China particularly highlighted the fact that in contrast to the West, China did not take advantage of Russia’s current difficulties.


Jiang Zemin’s Moscow Visit

President Jiang Zemin of China paid a return visit to Russia in September 1994. The joint declaration issued during the visit expressed the determination of the two sides to take their relations on a qualitatively new level towards the twenty-first century. Thus a long-term vision was imparted to developing cooperation. The two sides agreed not to target strategic nuclear weapons at each other and pledged “no first use” of nuclear weapons on each other. 8

Jiang Zemin’s visit took place at a time when economic reforms had floundered in Russia. The country faced all-round decline and multiple crises. In contrast, China was experiencing a period of sustained growth. It has been pointed out that in the 1990s, Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by 47 per cent while China’s grew by 152 per cent. The Russian intelligentsia apparently must have been in a more chastened and receptive mood to listen to the Chinese reform experience called “building socialism with Chinese characteristics” and promoting modernisation in the Chinese agriculture, industry and defence forces. Jiang’s speech in Moscow demonstrated this sense of Chinese confidence. 9

The following figures show: a) drastic reduction in the share of Russia in the global Gross National Product (GNP) among the four powers of the Asia-Pacific region, b) rapid increase in the share of China c) mild decrease in the share of USA and Japan. The Chinese share of global GNP in 1997 was about half that of the USA.

Table-1: Shares of Global Gross National Product (%)

  1980 1990 1995 1997
USSR/Russia 7.0 5.6 1.9 1.7
USA 22.3 22.5 20.8 20.6
China 3.3 6.6 9.7 10.7
Japan 8.1 9.0 8.0 7.7

Source: Pavliatenko, “Russian Security in the Pacific Asian Region, The Dangers of Isolation”, in Gilbert Rozman, Mikhail G. Nosov, and Koji Watanabe (eds.), Russia and East Asia, The 21st Century Security Environment (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1999), p. 20.


The following table shows the Share of Russia in global industrial production has drastically reduced, the shares of the USA and Japan have marginally reduced, and the share of China has rapidly increased:

Table-2: Shares of Global Industrial Production (%)

  1980 1990 1995 1997
USSR/Russia 9.0 7.0 2.0 1.8
USA 18.7 17.4 16.9 16.6
China 3.0 8.0 14.1 15.3
Japan 7.3 8.7 7.1 6.9

Source: Ibid. p. 21


Russia’s Apprehensions and Concerns

If there were difficulties and problems in mutual attitudes, they were on the side of certain elements and forces in Russia. In the last years of the Soviet Union and the early post-Soviet period a large-scale border trade or shuttle trade flourished between Russian Far East and the neighbouring Chinese provinces. Cheap Chinese goods of mass consumption flooded the border regions and helped in warding off acute shortages of food and consumer goods in the region. Subsequently, however, a sharply negative sentiment grew in the Russian Far Eastern provinces over uncontrolled flow of Chinese traders and laboureres in the region. The Chinese demographic threat was widely named as the “yellow peril”. There were reports of ”Mafia links” of the Chinese traders and the Chinese poachers and smugglers trying to plunder the forest wealth of the Russian Far East. Negative attitude also developed about the poor quality of cheap Chinese goods and the ”unfair” trade practices of the more organised and experienced Chinese traders cheating the more gullible and inexperienced Russian traders and customers. Sino-Russian trade that had peaked in 1993 reaching $7.7 billion mark, substantially declined. In 1997, Russian export to China was about $4 billion, while import was just $1.3 billion. 10

In the face of growing concern at the illegal immigration of the Chinese in the Far East, aided and abetted by widespread corruption and crime in the region, the Russian government strengthened its border controls in 1994. 11

Addressing Russian concerns during his 1994 visit to Moscow, President Jiang Zemin emphasised that “the Chinese Government is always against illegal emigration and will firmly crack down on criminals engaged in illegal emigration.” But at the same time stressing the importance of Sino-Russian economic interaction, he said that there is a Chinese saying that “one does not stop eating for fear of choking”. He also expressed the hope that the “Russian side will take effective measures to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizens engaged in lawful economic activities and trade”. 12

There is no doubt that there is a marked difference in the approach of the Russians and the Chinese. As the Japanese Prof. A. Iwasita has remarked, even such experienced politicians like Aleksei Arbatov and such prominent specialists on China like Prof. Mikhail Titarenko, despite their disinclination for ‘alarmism’, have expressed concern with contours of interaction between the two countries and the growth of the Chinese influence in the Far East. According to Iwasita, in Russia the debate continues whether China will belong to the category of “friends” or ”foes”. He remarks that in this connection we cannot find a ”common denominator”. 13

While the Russians are, thus, uncertain and concerned, there is little doubt in the Chinese minds regarding Russia. They take note of the Russian concern over illegal immigration. But after referring to the measures taken by the concerned agencies of the two sides, they prefer to conclude, “since then the situation has improved substantially” and add, “further cooperation on border control and migration is needed”. At the same time, they caution, “any exaggeration of the issue is not in the interest of either country”. 14

Some regional leaders in the Far East, particularly, articulated the Chinese threat. Thus, Governor Evgenii Nazdratenko of Primorskii krai opposed in January 1995 the boundary agreement with China. He said that “handing over to the PRC parts of Russian territory is unjustified and impermissible”. He remarked, “the agreement on Soviet-Chinese state borders in its eastern part was prepared in 1991 by people who had never been to the Far East and had no idea as to what they were going to hand over voluntarily to the other side”. 15

On the state level also the call by the government for strengthening Russia’s strategic partnership with China at times was combined with statements of obvious anti-Chinese character. The Secretary of the Russian Federation Defence Council, Yury Baturin was reported to have remarked that “neither Russia nor the United States want to see China as a dominant power in Asia. 16 In fact, neither the scenario of China becoming a super power, nor the latter becoming unstable is welcome to Russia. It is feared that if China is destabilised or faces acute crises and shortages, more and more Chinese may cross over to neighbouring Russian regions and Central Asia in search of work, food and other necessities. From the Russian perspective it appears that the Chinese drive towards the south in the near future is more likely and even desirable than Sino-Russian conflict.


Expanding Ties

By 1995, meetings and dialogues of leaders at the highest level had acquired a regular character; cooperation between the Ministries of Defence had been growing with the purpose of achieving mutual security and adopting CBMs in the military field; trade-economic, scientific-technological as well as diplomatic-political cooperation was regulated by Russian-Chinese Commission through corresponding treaties and agreements and systematic consultations at the level of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs for discussing bilateral as well as global, regional and international problems. 17

In May 1995, the Chinese President Jiang Zemin again visited Moscow to participate in the celebrations of the Fiftieth anniversary of victory over Fascism. He was emphatic that there did not exist any problems in the relations between Russia and China. In view of the growing resentment in the Far Eastern regions against the boundary agreement of 1991, 18 President Yeltsin assured his Chinese counterpart that the boundary agreement between the two countries was solemn and unchangeable, which Russia would fulfil without doubt. 19 In the face of local opposition, President Yeltsin’s government took a strong stand and confirmed that it would go ahead with the implementation of the border agreement reached in 1991 under Gorbachev. The demand for review of the agreement was rejected by President Yeltsin and foreign Minister Kozyrev. The local opposition, however, was reported to have delayed the work of demarcation.

Soon after President Jiang Zemin’s visit, the Chinese Premier Li Peng visited Moscow from June 25 to 28, 1995, and met all the Russian leaders. The development of relations in trade-economic and scientific-technological fields was in the focus during his visit.

It is widely agreed that Russia-China relations began to ‘seriously warm up from 1994-95’. 20 It has also been pointed out that while in the early post-Soviet period there were several question marks regarding the future of Russia in the Chinese minds, by 1995, the Chinese writings about Russia became somewhat more optimistic. From the Chinese perspective, partnership with Russia could both help in promoting a multi-polar world as well as help China in realising the goal of attaining great power status by getting access to modern military equipment and technology.


Change in the Stewardship of Russian Foreign Ministry

In January 1996, President Yeltsin appointed Yevgeny Primakov, an Academician Orientalist and the head of the external intelligence service, as his Foreign Minister with a view to silence his foreign policy critics. Primakov laid particular emphasis on a balanced foreign policy towards the West as well as the East and a stout defence of the national interests of Russia taking due cognisance of the country’s capabilities and limitations. In contrast to his predecessor Kozyrev, Primakov was more acceptable to both the nationalists and the leftists as well as other elements on the wide spectrum of Russian political opinion. As Sergei Troush had remarked, Primakov’s approach was essentially a “centrist approach”. 21 The replacement of pro-West Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev by Primakov was regarded in China as a repudiation of Russia’s heretofore ”bankrupt pro-West foreign policy”.


NATO’s Eastward Expansion Plans

The projected eastward enlargement of NATO threatened Russian security. The gap between the military capabilities of NATO and Russia had immensely increased. Politically, economically and militarily NATO enjoyed overwhelming advantage over Russia. 22 NATO’s eastward extension was an anathema to Russia. The Chinese also feared that the presence of NATO in Central Asia on the very doorsteps of China would directly impinge on the Chinese security. Also, both Russia and China did not welcome the possibility of the West getting an unrestricted access to the fuel and energy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. China, therefore, viewed with sympathy and understanding Russia’s strong opposition to the eastward enlargement of NATO. However, on the issue of NATO expansion Russia, and to some extent China, adopted a more nuanced and flexible response in view of the complex interplay of various factors.

According to Sergei Troush the ”centrist” opinion in Russia, whose representative was Primakov, did not favour an “excessive pro-China tilt” also. While playing the ”China card” in countering NATO extension, Russia hoped to keep room for manoeuvre by relating to the “US-centred” security structure in Asia-Pacific. 23 Moreover, Moscow did not want to enter into head-on confrontation with the West over the issue of NATO expansion. In early1994 a formula was devised whereby Russia and other former Soviet republics could cooperate with NATO under a Partnership for Peace programme (PfP).

At the US-Russian summit in New York in October 1995, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin had reportedly agreed that Russian cooperation in Bosnia with the NATO forces would delay NATO enlargement decisions. However, in January 1996 the US Congress passed Public Law 104-107 endorsing the principle of NATO enlargement, though the candidates for admission and time were not mentioned. This led to a hardening of Russian approach. On February 29, 1996 Primakov declared, “We are not against speedy NATO expansion, we are against expansion”. 24 On its part, China was also facing tensions in its relations with the USA over the issues of Taiwan, human rights, Tibet, etc. It was against this background that President Yeltsin made the high profile visit to China in April 1996.


Equal, Trust-Based Partnership

The joint declaration issued on April 25, 1996 proclaimed their determination to develop relations of “equal, trust-based partnership directed towards strategic interaction in the 21st century”. The initiative for upgrading the bilateral relationship to the level of “strategic partnership directed towards the 21st century” had reportedly come from the Russian President, to which his Chinese hosts had cautiously but affirmatively responded. President Yeltsin, who was facing a strong Communist challenge in the forthcoming Presidential elections wanted to send images back home of strengthening ties with the great Communist neighbour.

During the visit, President Yeltsin also proposed to the Chinese a target of $20 billion trade turnover in next five years, which the Chinese side, accepted. 25 However, as the subsequent developments proved this figure proved to be rather unrealistic and could not be attained.

The joint declaration decried ”hegemonism”-an indirect reference to the USA, resort to pressure and the politics of force. But the USA was not mentioned by name. It said that new signs of bloc politics were emerging. 26 Significantly, there was also no direct mention of NATO in the Joint Declaration. However, following President Yeltsin’s talks with the Chinese leadership, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Shen Guofeng told the reporters, “President Jiang Zemin expressed understanding and support for Russia’s stand on the issue of NATO”. He was reported to have remarked that, in the post-Cold war era, any eastward expansion of NATO was “not in keeping with the times”. 27

The press reports suggested that President Yeltsin was more upbeat about the Chinese support, while the Chinese side was more cautious and preferred to hedge expression of support. President Yeltsin told the reporters, “As far as NATO expansion is concerned, Chairman Jiang Zemin resolutely joined Russia’s view that NATO’s expansion toward its borders is impermissible”. 28 It is likely that the joint declaration that was probably prepared in advance did not mention NATO expansion directly. However, as a consequence of President Yeltsin’s talks the formulation that the Chinese ”understand” the Russian concern on the issue was subsequently added in a briefing to the press. Speaking to the reporters President Yeltsin was more ebullient than his traditionally cautious Chinese counterpart. In his speech in the Great Hall of the People, President Yeltsin said, “I can’t name a single question on which we would have different opinions”. He added, ” . . . We want relations between Russia and China to mature so that they can withstand any twists and turns”. Echoing President Yeltsin’s optimism, President Jiang Zemin remarked, “ Sino-Russian friendly relations have entered into a new stage”.

It appears that the Chinese caution in openly criticising NATO was probably aimed at extracting more favourable terms for China in the on-going negotiations on border demarcation and mutual force reduction issues. The progress of demarcation work of the Sino-Russian border was reported to have been stalled because of the opposition of the local governors of Primorski (Maritime territory), Khabarovsk, Amur and Chita regions. It was only after the due efforts of the central government in 1996 that the demarcation work was reported to have been resumed. Similarly, the negotiations on the issue of the troop reduction in the border areas were going on for seven years, but it was during the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Peng in December 1996 that a breakthrough was reported to have reached. Russia’s growing concern at NATO enlargement appears to have prompted it to reach a compromise with the Chinese, which was criticised in some circles in Russia. 29

The Russia-China summit had taken place shortly after the G-7 (Group of 7 industrially advanced Western countries including Japan), in which Russia took part as an associated guest. At Beijing, President Yeltsin sought to play the role of broker between the G-7 and China on the issue of China joining the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He was reported to have promised the G-7 that he would impress on Beijing the need for early adherence to the treaty. 30 At the meeting China confirmed its decision to join the CTBT.

The two sides agreed to hold regular summit level meetings -not less than once in a year. It was decided to create a large joint commission at the level of the Prime Ministers. The commission was to be on similar lines like the one which Russia had with the USA at the level of US Vice-President and the Prime Minister of Russia called Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.

The most important achievement during the visit was the agreement signed on April 26, 1996 at Shanghai by the Presidents of Russia, China and the three bordering Central Asian republics-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on forming a grouping called Shanghai-5. 31 The Agreement signed at Shanghai on Confidence-Building Measures in the military sphere in the border areas is a highly specific document that provides for the minutest details regarding the mechanism of sorting out any misunderstandings or disagreement between the sides to preclude any possibility of border incidents and clashes.


Russia and China Endorse the Multipolar World

In April 1997, the Chinese President Jiang Zemin paid another visit to Moscow. On April 23, the two countries issued a ”Joint Statement by the People’s Republic of China And the Russian Federation on the Multipolarisation of the World and the Establishment of a New International Order”. 32 The statement rejected “hegemony and power politics”. Though there was no mention of either USA by name or the projected extension of NATO, the statement rejected the bloc politics. Significantly, in the face of the challenge posed by the projected extension of NATO, the two sides agreed on the issue of strengthening the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). According to the joint statement, “Both sides are of the view that the Commonwealth of Independent States is an important factor making for stability and development in Eurasia”. The statement is a declaration of general principles of international norms. It calls for respect for state sovereignty, equality of states, eschewing of pursuit of hegemony, non-interference in internal affairs of other states, an equitable and just economic order and the strengthening of the UNO. What is of particular interest is the fact that Russian-Chinese joint statement seeks to coopt the Non-Aligned Movement and champion the cause of the developing countries.

It may be said that through a clever move, China forged a “strategic partnership with Russia”, avoided frontal criticism of the Western bloc, and advocated its own vision of the world while maintaining extensive trade and economic ties with the countries of the Western bloc. What was more, it advocated the cause of the subaltern majority comprising the non-aligned and the developing countries. Thus, China hopes to emerge as truly the “middle kingdom” whose word will count without having a shot to be fired.

The shape of the desired “multi-polar world” remained unspecified in the documents signed by the two countries.


Agreement on Mutual Reduction of Military Forces

During Jiang Zemin’s visit, the leaders of Shanghai-5 also signed an important agreement on mutual reduction of military forces within a 100-km zone on both sides of the border. The agreement was hailed by the two sides as “a new model for the achievement of regional peace, security and stability in the post-Cold War world”.

Russian opinion on the agreement signed by the Shanghai-5 on the “Mutual Reduction of Military Forces” was quite divided. As Sergei Troush had pointed out, the details of the agreement were not disclosed to the public. But they were discussed by the Russian analysts. The analysts of the pro-Western orientation argued that the agreement would weaken Russia’s military posture in the Far East as the Russian ground troops would have to be reduced on a larger scale than the Chinese ground troops. It was argued that the bulk of the Chinese ground forces deployed on Russia-China border, were deployed beyond the 100-km zone in the depth of the Chinese territory. But the analysts of the “leftist” orientation did not share this view. They argued that the strategic missiles, air defence missiles, long range air force and fleet were not scheduled for reduction. Therefore, the overall military balance in the Far East would still remain favourable for Russia. 33 One thing was clear the pressure of NATO enlargement forced Moscow to speed up the agreement with China on border CBMs.


Russia-NATO Founding Act

Ariel Cohen of Heritage foundation described Primakov as a ‘flexible tactician’, who is “skilled in dealing with setbacks”. Just a month after Russia-China joint declaration endorsing the “multipolarisation of the world and the establishment of a new international order” and after much bluster regarding NATO enlargement, Russia signed on May 27 the Russia-NATO Foundation Act in Paris. The Russia-NATO agreement did not grant Russia the right to veto the decisions of NATO, but it provided for the formation of a Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Council, whereby a mechanism was provided for consultations between Russia and NATO. As Russia was not in a position to halt NATO advance, it tried to sweeten the bitter pill somewhat by trying to bargain hard and extract from the West the best terms in return as were possible in the circumstances.

China sought to develop its own ”constructive strategic partnership” with the USA during President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Washington in October 1997. Thus, although Russia and China had joined hands, still both of them were also seeking accommodation and cooperation with the West.

In November 1997, President Yeltsin again visited China. The high point of the visit was the announcement that the demarcation of the eastern section of Sino-Russian border running into 4,200 km has been completed for the first time in history. It was decided to demarcate the small western section of the border within stipulated period and resolve few remaining border problems on a “fair and reasonable basis”.

On August 17, 1998, Russia was rocked by a huge financial and banking crisis that completely destroyed whatever macro-economic stability was achieved in the country following the Soviet disintegration. The economic crisis was also accompanied by political crisis and uncertainty. President Yeltsin’s public image and authority appeared to have been greatly eroded. It was in such a situation that President Jiang Zemin visited Russia in November 1998 and held an informal sixth summit meeting with President Yeltsin in the latter’s hospital room. The joint statement issued was in the spirit of continuation of the earlier joint statements and lacked any new and powerful impulse. Meanwhile both continued to diversify ties and assiduously sought to reach an understanding with the dominant West also.


Sino-Russian Rapprochement and Partial Improvement of Situation on India-China Border

Beijing is interested in rapidly increasing the country’s economic and military power and its global clout through its vastly enhanced comprehensive national power (CNP). An open pursuit of assertive and ambitious policy of national aggrandisement could only scare the neighbours and other big and small powers and encourage a trend towards the formation of anti-China coalitions. It is also likely that Moscow impressed on the Chinese side the need to improve ties with India, as the Russian scholars told the author in course of conversations. Apparently, Russia does not want to be in the embarrassing position of having to choose one of the two Asian giants. Both India and China happen to be the two major customers of Russia’s arms exports. Moreover, coming closer of the three large countries-Russia, China and India-can help in countering the Western pressure. It is in this context that one may see the informal proposal put forth by Yevgeny Primakov during his visit to India in December 1998 regarding the formation of Russia, India, China ‘strategic triangle’. However, neither India, nor China enthusiastically responded to the proposal at that time, as there remain numerous problems and an unsettled border dispute between the two.

Nonetheless, the strengthening of Moscow-Beijing ties and the resolution of Russia-China border dispute, were accompanied by partial improvement of the situation on India-China border areas as well. On September 7, 1993, India and China signed the agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas along the line of actual control (LAC). In December 1996, the two countries signed the agreement on CBMs in the military field along the line of actual control.


NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia and The Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade

It is believed that in the beginning of the year 1999, both Russia and China were separately seeking to improve relations with the USA. However, the decision by the US-led NATO to resort to extensive bombing of Yugoslav targets without getting any authorisation from the UN Security Council, sent shock waves in both Russia and China and tended to bring the two together in joint opposition of the NATO action. The precedent set by NATO interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country in the name of “humanitarian intervention” was an ominous development. NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was opposed in unambiguous terms by India also. Indeed, the Russian commentators derived satisfaction from the fact that although there was no formal agreement between the three, still all the three countries criticised the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

What aroused further Russian and Chinese concern and even the concern of countries like India was the enunciation of new strategic doctrine of NATO (April 1999) that permitted use of force in regions beyond the area of its traditional responsibility.

The “accidental” bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, further strained relations between Beijing and Washington. In the wake of these developments, Moscow and Beijing demonstratively came together. And there was a marked upgradation of their military and military-technical cooperation. 34 The Russian and the Chinese Presidents met in Bishkek in August 1999 at the fourth summit of the Shanghai-5. President Yeltsin told the reporters at the airport that he was ready for a battle “especially with the Westerners”. At that very time, the Sino-Russian commission for economic cooperation was meeting in Beijing. The Russian delegation was headed by the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of defence industry complex Ilya Klebanov. At Bishkek Presidents Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin had a long meeting. They were reported to have discussed military-technical cooperation. They highly appraised the work of the negotiations being carried by Ilya Klebanov in Beijing.

The Bishkek summit declaration underscored the commonality of Russian and Chinese opposition to National Missile Defence (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) projects and their insistence that 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty be respected as the basis for maintaining strategic stability in the world.

Special attention was devoted to the growing menace of Islamic extremism and militancy in the region afflicting all the countries of the Shanghai grouping. At the very time of the Bishkek summit on August 25, 1999, Islamic militants reported to be based in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had indulged in a number of militant acts in the southern Batken district of Kyrgyzstan. 35 In Russia the problem of Islamic extremism and militancy was heating up in Chechnya that precipitated the second Chechnya war. Russia’s use of force in Chechnya aimed at establishing the Federal control over the breakaway rebel republic invited strong Western criticism. But China supported Russia on Chechnya considering it as the country’s internal affair.

On his return from Bishkek summit, President Jiang Zemin met the Russian delegation led by Ilya Klebanov on the last day of its visit. Ilya Klebanov was reported to have said that the Russian delegation had brought “several new, very serious proposals, including on military-technical cooperation”. Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s international cooperation department, was reported to have remarked that military cooperation between Russia and China would soon expand considerably in all aspects. During the visit a protocol for cooperation between the space agencies of the two countries was also signed. 36

There exists an opinion among some Chinese scholars and analysts that events in Kosovo and Chechnya may lead to the speeding up of Russian military reforms and ultimately military recovery of Russia. Russians, on their part, have repeatedly asserted during the past couple of years that in case the USA violates the 1972 ABM treaty and goes ahead in building its National Missile Defence (NMD) system, Russia’s response would be “asymmetric”. Russia can resort to new technologies to counter the challenge. 37


Yeltsin’s Beijing Visit, December 1999

On December 9, 1999, President Yeltsin arrived in Beijing for the second informal (coatless) and the seventh actual summit with his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin. During the visit the two foreign ministers signed the border protocols marking the completion of demarcation of the border and formally putting an end to their border dispute. Yeltsin-Jiang Zemin meeting took place against the backdrop of a shrill criticism in the West of Russia’s military action to re-impose the federal rule over the rebel republic of Chechnya. In contrast, China extended full support to Russia on Chechnya and Russia reiterated its support to China on Taiwan. President Clinton had warned that Russia would have to pay a “heavy price” for its actions in Chechnya. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had suspended the expected loan tranche to Russia. Some members of the European Union had hinted that sanctions might be imposed on Russia for its heavy-handed military action in Chechnya. Stung by the Western criticism, President Yeltsin made use of his meeting with the Chinese leaders to send a strong impromptu message to the West. He declared, “Yesterday, Bill Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia. It seems he has for a minute, for a second . . . forgotten what Russia is, that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons . . . No one person, including Clinton, has and no one will dictate the whole world how to live, how to work, rest and so on”. 38 However, it is significant that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who took over the reins of power from President Boris Yeltsin after three weeks, promptly issued a statement in Moscow to soft-pedal Yeltsin’s warning to the USA. Putin asserted that ”Russia has very good relations with the USA and its leaders” and that it was not correct to give an impression of “a cooling of Russian-American relations”. 39 Thus, the first sign of the foreign policy course of the new President was to avoid antagonising the West and pursue the country’s national interests with greater practicality and pragmatism.


Putin Presidency

On January 1, 2000 the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, took over as the acting president. Following his election in March 2000, Vladimir Putin became the powerful president of Russia. On December 31, 1999, Rossiskaya Gazeta published a landmark article by Acting President-Designate, Vladimir Putin, entitled “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium”. 40 The article drew a grim picture of the Russian economy. It emphasised that the first and foremost requirement of the country is to ensure fast and stable economic growth and to work for the integration of Russian economy in the world economy on non-discriminatory terms. It was with this agenda that Vladimir Putin took over the reins of power in the sprawling but impoverished former super power.

As a former officer of the country’s external intelligence agency, by training and aptitude Putin is inclined to be practical, pragmatic, calculating and shrewd. As regards Russia-China relations, he inherited an elaborate structure and mechanism of multi-faceted and expanding cooperative ties that had evolved over the years and seemed to correspond to the national interests of both the countries. Any abrupt changes were not likely. However, the Chinese, as everyone else, watched with great interest as well as concern the first moves of the new man in the Kremlin. Within two months after Putin’s takeover, China’s defence minister and foreign minister visited Moscow to familiarise themselves with the situation under the new Kremlin chief as well as to establish early contacts with him.

President Putin continued with determination the military campaign in Chechnya despite strong Western criticism. However, he abstained from entering into a verbal duel with the West over the issue. He insisted that Russia was fighting against international terrorism in Chechnya on behalf of the entire world community. In response to a question by David Frost of BBC telecast on March 5, 2000 whether Russia would join NATO, Putin replied, “I don’t see why not”. He added, “I would not rule out such a possibility. Russia is a part of European culture and I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and the civilised world”. 41 Thus, the initial move of Putin was to send a conciliatory message to the West. The Chinese leadership and strategic community must have taken due note of it.


Initial Caution

From 16 to 18 January, the Chinese Defence Minister Chi Haotian visited Moscow to confer with his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeyev for expanding the framework of Russian-Chinese military cooperation. Chi Haotian was warmly received by Putin. But the press reports indicated that the Russian officials displayed caution in committing anything in the military-technical field beyond what was agreed in August 1999. Defence Minister Sergeyev was reported to have insisted that Russia was interested in cooperation in the field of civil aircraft-building and China’s possible participation in Russia’s civilian space project, GLONASS. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov was reported to have made it clear that Russia would “not allow a tilt in our relations . . . only in the field of military-technical cooperation”. 42 Russia reportedly showed interest in selling not only military equipment and military aircraft to China, but also civilian aircraft. China, on its part, seemed to prefer Western civilian aircraft to Russian Tupolovs.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan paid a visit to Moscow from February 28 to March 1, 2000. On his return Tang referred to his talks with the Russian Foreign Minister as “very candid as well as constructive”. Common opposition to Washington’s moves to alter the 1972 ABM Treaty united Moscow and Beijing. Earlier, on April 14, 1999, Russia and China had issued a press communiqué in Moscow stressing the need to preserve and strengthen the 1972 ABM (anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty. On October 21, China supported a Russian resolution in the UNO for preserving the ABM Treaty. China was also reported to be trying to make the bilateral 1972 ABM Treaty between the Soviet Union and the USA a multilateral accord. 43 At the same time, Chinese have made it clear that China would not enter into an arms race with the USA. 44 China is acutely aware of the fate of Soviet Union which entered into an arms race with the USA . Reports have appeared from time to time to the effect that Russia and China may cooperate in jointly developing a missile defence system to counter the US plans. However, in response to a question in March 1999, the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji denied such a cooperation between the two and remarked that the “time has not come for that”. 45

It appears that in the initial period after Putin’s coming to power, when the new President was trying to test the ground and chalk out his broad strategy towards the major powers, the overall Russian attitude to China was one of caution. Russia tried to confine itself to the implementation of existing agreements and not immediately enter into new ones.


Arms, Broader Economic Cooperation and Energy Links

In March 2000, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister and the minister in charge of military-technical cooperation with foreign countries, Ilya Klebanov visited China. He reportedly showed interest in broadening economic ties, that included the Russian proposals to build new generation civilian aircraft, possible sale to China of passenger airplanes, joint manufacturing of energy equipment, cooperation in oil and gas production and transportation, and Chinese construction of 45 ships for Russian shipping companies. Agreements were signed on Russian fuel exports for a nuclear power plant in southern China and a joint programme of cooperation in navigation, manned space missions, and space and communications and research. China invited Russia to join the Chinese State Planning Committee in developing its western provinces. 46


Dushanbe Shanghai-5, July 2000

President Putin and his Chinese counterpart had an opportunity to meet in the course of Dushanbe summit of Shanghai-5 on July 5, 2000. The accent at Dushanbe summit was on jointly combating international terrorism, illicit drugs and arms trafficking, separatism and religious extremism. All the leaders agreed to coordinate their actions against these evils. It was decided to set up an anti-terrorist centre in Bishkek. President Putin suggested that the name of Shanghai-5 be changed to Shanghai Forum and even hinted at the possibility of opening the membership of the grouping to other neighbouring countries.

Central Asia is regarded by Russia and China as their strategic hinterland and both of them are interested that the region is not rocked by turmoil and instability that would inevitably spill over to Russian and Chinese neighbouring areas.

President Putin had inherited from his predecessor the framework and mechanism of Shanghai-5 ensuring peace, confidence-building measures and stability in the entire border area of the former Soviet Union and China. It is only natural that he would value and preserve these gains. However, if China’s comprehensive national power (CNP) continues to grow at the rate at which it is growing, China would be in a position to dominate the Shanghai forum by the sheer weight of its size, population and economic strength. The campaign to develop the less developed western regions of China launched in the beginning of 2000 with much fanfare and promise of scores of billions of dollars of investment can add to China’s capability to enhance its influence further west in the neighbouring Russian regions, the Central Asian states and even in the troubled Transcaucasian region. An increase of the Chinese influence in these regions would be at the expense of traditional Russian influence and would not be welcome to any authority in Moscow. Significantly, especially since taking over by President Putin, both Russia and China are vigorously trying to consolidate their hold over their respective parts of Central Asia.

In this context, the question assumes significance whether Russia would like India-and also possibly Iran-to join the Shanghai Forum to balance the Chinese power? It is significant that at the Dushanbe summit of Shanghai-5, the hints of possible extension of the grouping came from the Russian President. At the same time, it is clear that Moscow would not be averse to joining hands with Beijing in restricting the Western designs and influence in the inner Asian region.

In the beginning of January 2001, Pakistan made a formal request for the membership of Shanghai-5, to which Tajikistan and Russia have made their opposition known. It has subsequently been made clear that any decision for admitting new members to the grouping shall be taken by consensus among all the members. In June 2001 Uzbekistan formally joined the grouping as its sixth member and the grouping has been renamed as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The June 2001 Shanghai declaration keeps open the possibility of admitting new members by consensus. However, it is generally believed that except for Mongolia new members may not be admitted in near future.


President Putin Visits Beijing

Shortly after Dushanbe summit of Shanghai forum, President Putin made his first visit to China on 17-18 July, 2000. President Putin stuck to the main themes that have become a well-known platform of Russia-China coming together, like multi-polar world and “joint effort of the two countries to preserve global balance”. 47

The highlight of the visit was the joint statement issued by the two Presidents on July 18. Emphasising their joint opposition to the attempts to alter 1972 ABM treaty it was entitled: ”Joint Statement by the Presidents of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Anti-Missile Defence”. 48 The statement emphasised that “The maintenance of and strict compliance with the ABM Treaty is of paramount importance”.

The joint statement said that US Government’s programme to establish the national Missile Defence System (NMD) is “aimed at seeking unilateral military and security superiority.” It will trigger off another round of arms race. Instead of scrapping the ABM Treaty, said the statement, the best way is to establish “a new, just and equitable international political order, do away with the practice of power politics and the abuse of force in international affairs and further strengthen regional and international security.” They refuse to accept the logic that the NMD was only aimed at defending the USA against the so-called rogue states. The joint statement stressed the need for Russia and the US to continue to deepen the process of reducing offensive strategic weapons on the basis of strict compliance with the ABM Treaty, and engage other nuclear weapons states in such a process in due course in the future.

The joint statement also opposed the programme of deploying non-strategic missile defence system in the Asia-Pacific region (meaning thereby TMD) and the inclusion of Taiwan in such a system.

The proposed NMD system of the USA is expressly aimed at providing defence against the ‘rogue’ states, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. The launch of Pyongyang’s rocket over Japan in 1998 provided justification for such apprehensions. Russia and China, therefore, have sought to minimise the perception of the North Korean threat. They favour a rapprochement between North and South Korea and one between the USA and North Korea. Soon after his visit to China and before G-8 meeting at Okinawa, President Putin visited North Korea with this end in view.

Thus, while in the economic field the Western countries remain major partners of both the countries, in the security field the two countries seemed to increasingly gravitate towards each other.

The two also signed the Beijing Declaration calling for a multi-polar world, upholding the basic norms of international law, against pressure exerted by force, or interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. The two decided to further expand their cooperation. The possibility of the two signing a treaty on friendship and cooperation was mooted during the visit. It is significant that the proposal for treaty reportedly came from President Jiang Zemin and President Putin accepted it. 49


Russian Proposals for a European Anti-Missile System

Moscow has no other alternative but to balance between the East and the West. As economically, politically and militarily the much weakened Russia faces the direct pressure of NATO enlargement towards its borders, it is also not in a position to adopt a posture of uncompromising confrontation. Through a policy of “flexible response” and keeping its options open, Russia also kept some room open for accommodation and compromise with the USA and European powers on the tactical aspects of ABM Treaty. The hallmark of the present day Russian policy is an omni-directional policy in order to maximise space to manoeuvre and keep its policy options open rather than adopt rigid postures and enter into a confrontational mode. Thus, despite Russia’s staunch opposition to any abrogation or revision of the 1972 ABM Treaty, President Putin made an overture to European Union and NATO to reach some compromise solution on tactical ABM system. He called upon the European Union and NATO to join forces with Moscow and set up a joint anti-missile shield during a visit to Rome on June 5, 2000. He said at a news conference that such a system “will avoid creating problems linked to an imbalance in the equilibrium of forces, and ensure 100 per cent security to European countries, with the obvious involvement of our American partners”. 50

The very next day China hinted that it would object to Russia and Europe developing a joint anti-missile system to balance a similar system proposed by the USA. The spokesperson of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs, said that China had taken note of President Putin’s proposal, but was not clear on details. She reiterated China’s strong opposition to any violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty. “Any efforts to amend the ABM treaty or to withdraw from it, would not only threaten the nuclear disarmament process but would also shake the basis for nuclear non-proliferation and would give rise to a new round of arms race, including an arms race in outer space.” It would disturb the global strategic balance and stability and do good to no country. 51

China would apparently not welcome any agreement between Russia on the one hand and the USA and Europe on the other hand keeping China isolated and out in the cold. Indeed, the greatest worry of China is the possibility that Russia may ultimately compromise with the USA on the revision of the ABM Treaty. China is also aware that Russia can penetrate the NMD system by “MIRVing” its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Indeed, Chinese opposition to NMD plan is more stringent than the Russian response as China fears that the NMD system would degrade China’s small nuclear deterrence arsenal of about 20 ICBMs. Any increase in the Russian arsenal as a response to the US going ahead with its NMD plan is also seen as a cause of worry for the Chinese. 52 It should not be ruled out that in such an eventuality, China might also reach some compromise solution with the USA and the West. Indeed, both Russia and China are pursuing a twin-track policy. They are strengthening ties with each other and projecting joint opposition to attempts to revise the ABM Treaty. The reports have been appearing in the media from time to time of the possibility of Russia and China building a joint ABM system, if the USA violates the 1972 ABM Treaty and goes ahead with the building of an NMD system. Both of them have threatened to respond to Washington’s NMD challenge through “asymmetric” means. On the other hand, each of them individually has kept channels of accommodation with the West open.

If the developments of the recent past are any guide for future trends, they demonstrate that for Russia the test lies in details. The bottom line is that Russia is never again going to slide into a Cold War with the West. But with its huge resources, vast territorial expanse and skilled manpower, Russia cannot become totally a supplicant country too. The initial phase when Russia tried to work in close cooperation with the USA meekly always saying “yes”, is over. At the same time, Russia does not want to be in a position of having to say “no” always. It has now entered into a phase when it is saying “let us talk” about the details of the arrangements and work out mutually agreed solutions. Russia’s skill would lie in working out the details. Naturally, in the present conditions edge will have to be given to the dominant power. But while working out the details, Russia would like to ensure that it gets the best possible deal in terms of present and future gains.

As concerns Indian position on the NMD issue, it may be pointed out that the present de jure nuclear order is not to the liking of India, (the latest nuclear weapons power along with Pakistan). India hopes to gain from being on the right side of the dominant power in terms of getting admission in the coveted big power league. Russia and China cannot help India in acquiring this position. At the same time, India cannot surrender its cards even before the negotiations start. India has to move step by step in the long journey protecting its legitimate and ‘core’ interests at every step in the course of negotiations for elaborating the rules of the game. One thing is clear, there cannot be ‘exclusive’ relationships in today’s world even among the allies as is the case between the USA and European countries and the USA and Japan, etc. What is more, it is in India’s interest to have peace and stability along the borders and in the region and the world at large-in that order-so that she can concentrate on economic development. The skill lies in synthesising engagement with the neighbouring countries to ensure peace along with due containment of their actual and potential aggressive and ambitious designs at the expense of legitimate Indian interests.

Significantly, neither Russia nor China has allowed its relations in the recent past to enter into a blind alley on any issue. Both have consistently looked for compromise solutions. Thus it was reported on February 28, 2001 that Russian Deputy FM Georgy Mamedov and Chinese Ambassador to Moscow Wu Tao discussed the possibility of using the ideas of Moscow’s proposed European missile defense system in the Far East and the Asian-Pacific region. As China could not prevent Russia from making overtures for a join tactical ABM system with Europe and NATO, it sought to benefit by applying the same ideas to its region. 53

The view is widely shared by several circles in the West that Washington’s policies and approach have contributed to Moscow and Beijing coming closer to each other. These also include some initial moves made by President Bush. At the same time, both Moscow and Beijing are deeply conscious that none of them can afford to do without extensive economic ties with the prosperous West in general and the USA in particular. China has a more than a hundred billion-dollar trade turnover with the USA with a huge trade surplus in China’s favour. For Russia the biggest trading partner is Europe. But $10 billion Russian-US trade in the year 2000 is more than its $8 billion trade with China in the same year.


Russia-China Treaty

On July 16, 2001, During Chairman Jiang Zemin’s visit to Moscow, the two countries signed a 20-year Treaty of Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. 54

The two countries have been diligently working on the draft of the treaty for past one year. It is significant that China which has been opposed to signing any treaty with any major power for past three decades, has showed a particular interest in signing the treaty with Russia. Both the sides have emphasised that the treaty is not a treaty of alliance. The Russian side has broadly bought the argument that in view of the impending change in the Chinese leadership at the forthcoming 16th CPC congress, when the leadership is expected to pass on to technocrats trained in the West, the current Chinese leadership is keen to put the gains of Sino-Russian cooperation on a long-term and formal footing. 55

It would appear that by signing this treaty both the countries have sought to consolidate their flanks comprising the long border between the two in order to be able to negotiate with the West from a position of relative strength. In the treaty both the sides have endorsed each other’s unity and territorial integrity. The border issue is by and large settled. The two have committed themselves to settle the remaining issues peacefully. Meanwhile, they have agreed to maintain the status quo regarding the disputed areas and that goes in Russia’s favour as Russia is in possession of these areas. In Article 5 of the treaty Russia has recognised that “there is only one China in the world, that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The Russian side is against the independence of Taiwan in whatever form”. It is clear that Russia would prefer that if China must expand it should do so in the direction of Taiwan and the south and southeast and not towards the north.

Of particular importance from the Indian point of view is the Article 9 of the treaty, which ironically is very similar to the article 9 of Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971 and which has not been included in the Indo-Russian Treaty of January 1993. Article 9 of Russia-China Treaty reads:

“In case of a situation, which one contracting side thinks can threaten peace, break peace or infringe on its security interests, as well as in case of a threat of aggression against one of the contracting sides, the contracting sides shall immediately enter into contact with each other and hold consultations with the aim of removing the threat”.

Article 9 of Indo-Soviet Treaty of August 9, 1971 reads:

“In the event of either party being subjected to an attack or threat thereof, the high contracting parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such a threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and security of their countries.”

The circumstances necessitating consultations are wider in scope in the case of the Sino-Russian Treaty. Both the treaties provide for consultations for “removing the threat”. The Indo-Soviet Treaty stipulated “appropriate effective measures”, but such words are absent in the case of the Sino-Russian Treaty. It is widely agreed that the Chinese were particularly enamoured of Indo-Soviet ties and even jealous of them. Is it a message to New Delhi-which is seen as assiduously courting the USA-that China is now closer to Moscow than New Delhi? Significantly, China-which was initially cool to the proposal of Russia-China India triangle which was first informally mooted by Prime Minister Yegeny Primakov during his visit to New Delhi in December 1998-is evincing some interest in the idea now.

Article 8 of the Sino-Russian Treaty commits the sides “not to take part in any unions or blocs, . . . not take any actions, including the signing of treaties with third countries, that can do damage to the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other side”. Could this article be interpreted as precluding the possibility of Russia joining NATO at some future date? Indeed, in such an eventuality, the very character of this institution will undergo a radical change. In fact Russia wants NATO’s very character to change from a military-political bloc to political-collective security organisation.

All the main themes evolved in the course of development of Sino-Russian relations in the past decade find expression in the treaty, including the multipolar world and strategic stability. Article 12 says that the sides “shall take joint efforts to maintain global strategic balance and stability and shall energetically promote compliance with the fundamental agreements that ensure the maintenance of strategic stability”.

The sides agree to develop cooperation in trade and economic, military-technical, research-technological, power engineering and aviation spheres, etc.

Russia and China have put their ties on the footing of long-term peace and cooperation and predictability. Commenting on the treaty Svetlana Babayeva and Yekaterina Grigoryeva have remarked that coming together of Russia and China “is a defensive, and not an offensive reaction” with Russia and China trying to protect their interests from the US onslaught. 56 The authors-duo emphasise that Russia and China are not ganging up against the USA. Both of them want to maintain their respective strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the dominant USA.

During the visit, both Chairman Jiang Zemin and President Putin reiterated their opposition to the US plan to build NMD, which they said would be a destabilising force and an obstacle to world peace. Jiang and Putin also reportedly agreed to share information regarding each side’s talks with U.S. leaders on major strategic areas.

A section of the Western media has commented that there was more to the Putin-Jiang summit in July 2001 than what was told to the press by the two sides. It is opined that the two sides agreed on “pooling resources” in view of Bush administration’s decision to deploy the NMD. 57 However, on July 18, two days after the signing of the treaty, President Vladimir Putin made it clear at a Kremlin news conference that Russia has no plans for a joint response with China to the latest US moves on building a national missile defense system. He said, “We have enough means to respond to any changes ourselves.” 58


Russia-China Economic Ties

It is clear that economic ties between Russia and China have lagged far behind the strides made by the two in political, diplomatic, strategic and military spheres in the course of the previous decade.

It is apparent that the two countries are also to create economic interdependence. The economies of the two countries are mutually complementary. Russia is a major producer and supplier of energy while China is energy hungry and its needs are growing. Russia’s main exports to China include fertilizer, steel, timber and machinery, while its main imports are consumer goods and food items.

Russia and China share a common interest in laying oil pipeline from Siberia to China. During Zhu’s visit to Russia in February 1999 Russia Petroleum and China National United Oil Corporation signed an agreement to prepare a feasibility study for the Kovykta gas project. The project envisages installation of a 2,300-mile pipeline between the Kovykta field north of Irkutsk, and China’s Shangdong province to carry 20 billion cubic metres of gas annually. The original project included undersea links to South Korea and Japan, but this was scaled down due to the Asian crisis and brought the cost estimates down to $4 billion from the earlier $10 billion to $12 billion. There have been debates on whether the Kovykta field contains reserves big enough to justify a pipeline. The financial problems also plagued the project.

Following Klebanov’s visit to Beijing in March 2000 the Russian and the Chinese companies signed several agreements. It was reported that projected oil pipeline will start pumping Siberian oil to China as early as in 2004. Once the pipelines are constructed to China, they could be further extended to Japan and South Korea. Two pipeline routes were reported to be under consideration, one, 2,500-km long pipeline from Angarsk in Russia through Mongolia to Beijing, and the other, 2,300-km long pipeline from Russia through Altai territory directly to northwestern China. It was reported that the Chinese leadership has included this pipeline construction project into its regular five-year economic plan. In the meanwhile, it was reported that Russia has been already delivering crude oil to China by railroad. 59

In November 2000, South Korea’s state-run Korea Gas Corporation signed an agreement with Russia and China to begin a feasibility study on the route and construction of a natural gas pipeline from east Siberia to China and then to South Korea. The study is expected to be completed in mid-2002. The Russian Kovyktinskoe field is also reported to be holding a proven gas reserve of 1.200 trillion cubic meters, which is enough to provide China and South Korea with gas for the next 30 years. Once the pipeline is complete, the gas field will deliver 20 billion cubic meters to China and 10 billion cubic meters to South Korea. The 4,000-kilometer pipeline is estimated to cost of US$10 billion and is expected to be completed between 2008 and 2010. 60

In September 2001 during the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to Russia, an outline deal was signed between Russia’s largest oil producer Yukos, state pipeline monopoly Transneft and China’s National Oil Company to build the pipeline from Angarsk in eastern Siberia by 2005. It is expected that major energy deals would boost bilateral trade between the two countries. China was also reported to have agreed to buy five Tu-204 passenger jets from Russia, the number of which could subsequently go up. 61

Russia has also signed a deal for the supply of electricity to China. Russia’s Irkutsk region is now mulling the construction of a 500-kw power line to export electricity to China. 62

Russia-China trade ties have steadily improved of late. In 1999 their bilateral trade amounted to only $5.72 billion. However in the year 2000, Russia-China trade reached an all-time high figure of $8 billion. Two-way trade between China and Russia grew significantly in the first six months of the year 2001. 63 It is estimated to reach $10 billion mark in the year 2001. The two countries have also agreed on streamlining border trade, by improving banking services. At the same time, the fact remains that Russia accounts for just two per cent in China’s trade. 64

What is of particular significance is that both Russia and China have sought to address important issues in their bilateral ties one by one and seek mutually advantageous solutions to them. In November 2000, the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji visited Moscow for the purpose of boosting the practical implementation of the various projects aimed at enhancing cooperation between the two. Zhu Rongji and Russian Premier Mikhail Kasynov signed 14 new pacts and set up sub-committees on space and banking and to promote high-tech military transfers from Russia to China and boost sluggish bilateral trade. “I believe Sino-Russian relations are enjoying their best period ever,’’ Mr Zhu said before the talks. Both sides reportedly discussed the possibility of jointly developing forestry, gas and oil resources in Russia, setting up Chinese supermarkets in Russia and also reaching an agreement on limited, temporary Chinese immigration. 65

Russian scholars are increasingly appreciative of China’s success in managing an independent foreign policy, arguing with the USA on various issues, but at the same time attracting huge Western investments, including US capital into the Chinese economy. It is being suggested that Russia could learn from the experience of the Chinese. 66


Further Expansion in Russia-China Military-Technical Cooperation

Following the initial caution, Putin’s Russia has proceeded to expand ties with China in all spheres, including in the military-technical field. It was reported that during the visit of President Putin the sides discussed a two-stage, 15-year cooperation plan in the military-technical field. During the first five years (2000-2005), China would purchase from Russia upto $15 billion of new generation weapons or licence to produce them. Sino-Russian military cooperation would be further expanded in all areas, including joint exercises and military training. The long-term cooperation would focus on joint research and development and production of military equipment. 67

The concept of short-term and long-term military-technical cooperation was further elaborated when the defence officials of the two countries met in Moscow on February 20 to 22, 2001 for the eighth session of the Russian-Chinese inter-governmental committee for military and technical cooperation. It was reportedly agreed to categorise their expanded military-technical cooperation into short (2001-02) and mid-term (2001-07)frameworks for both research and development in military technology and weapon sales. An annual growth rate of 20 to 25 per cent in such sales was reported to have been agreed. Chinese General Zhang Wannian, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, joined the military-technical subcommittee. It was reported in the Western media that the two sides agreed to regularly exchange defence intelligence and it was seen as a major step toward the forming of a quasi-defence alliance. Russian Deputy Premier in charge of military-technical cooperation with foreign countries, Ilya Klebanov, ruled out the sale of Russian nuclear submarines to China. But it was reported that Russia would sell five Russian A50 early warning radar planes (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) to China. 68

During his visit to Moscow in February, 2001, General Zhang Wannian was received by President Putin. Both of them stressed that the two countries should strengthen their partnership of strategic cooperation to ensure global stability and security. 69 Indeed it has become a recurring theme in Sino-Russian parlance. Earlier, the Chinese side preferred to emphasise the need to improve Russia-China bilateral ties. Of late, however, the cooperation of the two is also projected by Beijing as strengthening global strategic stability and security.

Currently China has emerged as the single largest purchaser (40 per cent) of the Russian military equipment. Russian press has reported that in private the Russian military leaders are worried as the Chinese side is concentrating on buying the modern weapon systems some of which have not even been supplied to the Russian armed forces. However, it is generally believed in Russia that the military modernisation of China is taking place largely keeping the potential conflict with Taiwan in view. Besides, it is realised that paradoxically it is due to the large-scale Chinese purchases that Russia is able to keep its cash-starved MIC and R&D facilities going and its ability to supply the Russian forces also with modern weaponry. 70 It seems Russia hopes to gain from competitive buying of modern Russian military equipment by both India and China.

On their part, the Chinese analysts have expressed the view that the acquisition of 310 T-90 tanks and 140 Su-30 MKI jet fighter bombers would make the Indian military even better equipped than its Russian counterpart in conventional terms by 2010, a situation Russia would never allow to occur in relations with China. 71 Russia’s arms sales to Vietnam also are generally seen as aimed at restraining China.


Acquiring Leverages vis-à-vis Each Other

During his recent visit to Moscow President Jiang Zemin spoke in Russian, sang Russian songs and declared that China would never harm Russian interests. But the fact remains that both Russia and China are pursuing their respective national interests in relation to the third countries and even seeking leverages that can be potentially used as pressure points against each other. Thus, Central Asia is not only a region of their strategic partnership, but also one of competition. At present both of them are vigorously trying to consolidate their influence in their respective part of Central Asia. 72 The following instance amply highlights how China is seeking to acquire a foothold in Transcaucasus, which Russia regards as an area of its traditional influence.

Russia wants to emerge as the transportation and transit corridor and a bridge between the East and the West and North and South. It is seeking to connect the two Koreas, China and Japan through Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway to Europe. The European Union’s Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) is one such project besides Baku-Ceyan pipeline, which Russia views as being detrimental to its interests as it plans to revive the Great Silk Road from China to Europe bypassing the Russian territory. Russia wants to turn Trans-Siberian Railroad into a real alternative to TRACECA, which is seen by Moscow as aimed at further weakening Russia’s geopolitical position in the region. Nezavisimaya Gazeta (February 6, 2001) noted that until recently such plans did not cause much alarm in Moscow because neither Turkey nor Georgia interested in the TRACECA had money for building such projects. Moreover, the presence of Russian military bases in Georgia made the project unattractive for potential foreign investors. However, in the Istanbul summit of OSCE in 1999, Moscow agreed to withdraw its troops from Georgia. Recently returning from his visit to Turkey, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia declared that China has expressed a desire to help build the railroad between a Georgian capital Tbilisi and the Turkish city of Kars. The railroad would bypass Armenia and link Turkey with south Caucasus and Central Asian region. It will be a part of the larger TRACECA project. China’s interest in and contribution to the project would definitely undermine Russian interests in the region, especially in a situation when the railroad linking Transcaucasus with Russia via Abkhazia has been idle and Baku-Moscow running through Chechnya is rather vulnerable. According to the author, if TRACECA project has to succeed, various ethnic conflicts in the region shall have to be resolved. 73

Recently reports have appeared of China and Pakistan developing the Indus Basin corridor that would provide the latter an access to Central Asia. Reports have also appeared regarding the possibility of China and Pakistan joining the pro-West grouping of former Soviet republics called GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova). If Russia enters into some understanding with the West on missile defence and NATO enlargement issues, it is likely that China may also try to enter into a deal with the West and comply with the Western design of promoting ‘geopolitical pluralism’ in former Soviet space.


Post-September 11 Developments

The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and subsequent military action against Taliban-Osama bin Laden-Al Quaeda network in Afghanistan by the US-led international anti-terrorist coalition have radically altered the geopolitical situation in the region. Owing to their geographical location bordering on, or in close proximity to Afghanistan and the past experience of involvement in that country, Russia and the Central Asian states have acquired a prominent place in the US military strategy in Afghanistan. The interests of Russia, the Central Asian states the and the USA have broadly converged on joint action against religiously motivated cross-border terrorism radiating from Afghanistan-Pakistan belt that threatens to destabilise the entire region.

Initially there was some opposition within the Russian establishment to the entry of US troops in Central Asia, an area of traditional Russian influence. Defence Minister of Russia, Sergei Ivanov himself was reported to have expressed opposition to the appearance of NATO troops in the region. However, subsequently, Moscow decided to allow air corridors, the use of its bases for search and rescue operations as well as sharing of intelligence regarding the terrorist networks operating in Afghanistan. It was left to the Central Asian states to extend whatever facilities they wanted to give to the USA in the war against terrorism. Russia even claimed to have encouraged the CARs (Central Asian Republics) to do so. Reports suggested that Uzbekistan, the most independent minded of the CARs, offered its airspace and bases to the US troops ahead of others. Moscow, on its part, preferred to maintain the façade of coordinated stand of all the CIS states. Uzbekistan has been conducting a heavy-handed and determined campaign against Islamic extremists fighting under the banner of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) believed to be operating from bases in Afghanistan. In return for facilities extended to the US war effort, Uzbekistan has sought security guarantees from the latter. Being members of Russia-led collective security treaty, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are bound to coordinate their stands with Russia. Moreover, Russia has its 201 Motor Rifle division deployed in Tajikistan. Turkmenistan has been pursuing a policy of neutrality. However, the possibility of USA further extending and strengthening its military presence in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan cannot be ruled out. Prolonged US/Western military presence in Afghanistan and in some of the Central Asian states is likely to have wider repercussions for the new great game being played by the major powers and various regional actors in the region. During her visit to Central Asia in October-November 2001, the author got an impression that post-September 11 developments in the region are seen there as a set back to the SCO, where China, along with Russia, is the dominant player. The presence of the US troops in Central Asia would certainly not be to the liking of Beijing.

In the post-September 11 period, Moscow itself appeared to have demonstratively gravitated towards the West. The Chinese must have viewed these developments with considerable consternation, although they have been careful not to show it. On its part, China has also extended support to anti-terrorist coalition but without specifying the nature of its support. On September 19, President Putin and President Jiang Zemin held telephonic conversation. The two “reaffirmed their tough stance against ”terrorism in all its forms.” At the same time the two stressed the need to work out international “mechanisms” in conjunction with the UN, its Security Council and together with other international organisations. 74 The two have sought to ensure that in the changed international environment, their own efforts to eradicate Islamic separatist movements in Chechnya and Xinjiang get due international understanding and the Western criticism in the name of human rights violation there is stopped.

On the other hand, the Chinese must have derived some satisfaction from the fact that involvement with the anti-terrorist campaign has deflected the USA from targeting China as its future rival in the global arena as was increasingly becoming evident prior to the September 11 events.

Behind the façade of joint anti-terrorist struggle an intense new great game has started among the great powers for influence and leverages in Central Asia and Afghanistan. At the heart of the scramble is also oil and gas pipeline politics, particularly the proposed pipeline from Central Asia across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Russia apparently would disfavour pipelines bypassing the Russian territory. Nonetheless, the current thinking in Moscow seems to be in conjunction with the dictum “if you cannot oppose them, join them”. If a pipeline were to be constructed towards the south, Moscow would like to ensure that it also has a share in it. 75 Unlike Russia, which is actively backing the Northern alliance in Afghanistan, China is not an active player in the developing Afghan scenario, but China maintains very close strategic ties with Pakistan, the chief creator and supporter of Taliban.

The elaborate architecture of the post-Cold War Sino-Russian partnership, evolved over the years has imparted stability and predictability to their relations, which none of them would like to disturb. Thus, the show of Sino-Russian cooperation goes on despite all the vicissitudes and twists and turns of world politics. On September 14, 2001 the heads of governments of the SCO met in Almaty. They adopted a joint statement condemning acts of terror in the USA. The member countries agreed to develop trade and economic relations in keeping with WTO rules and expand investments.

On October 27, 2001, the Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, who is expected to succeed President Jiang Zemin visited Moscow to have extensive discussions with President Putin on recent developments in Afghanistan and prospects for post-Taliban government there. Welcoming him, President Putin remarked, “We are delighted to affirm the high level of Russia-China relations’’, and that, “We have today a high level of cooperation in the political, economic and military areas as well as in our coordination in the international arena.”. 76

Russia is deftly pursuing a multi-vector or multi-dimensional policy whereby close ties with China would not be permitted to come in the way of Russia’s relations with other powers or vice versa. However, within this broad framework there may be tilts to one side or the other in keeping with the imperatives of national interests in the foreseeable future.


Relevance for India: What Can India Do?

As a major supplier of military equipment and technology to both India and China, Russia has a deep interest in ensuring that a clash of interests and rivalry between the two major Asian powers is contained and narrowed down so that Russia is not forced to choose one or the other between the two. The informal suggestion made by the then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov during his visit to New Delhi in December 1998, regarding a ”strategic triangle” between Russia, China and India did not at that time evoke enthusiastic response either in India or in China. The Russian side also realised that all the three angles of the proposed triangle are not equal, as mutual apprehension and difficulties between India and China do persist. Moreover, individually each of these three countries has economic and trade transactions with the Western countries on a much larger scale than with one another. It appears that the idea enjoys wide support in the Russian strategic community as a means of resisting the pressure of the dominant West. It is believed that even if these three major countries do not enter into a formal agreement and only take similar positions on major issues independently and informally like on opposing “humanitarian intervention” in the affairs of sovereign states, their joint weight cannot be totally ignored. In the Russian formulations it is repeatedly asserted that the purpose of the ”strategic triangle” is not to form any formal alliance or grouping directed against the West.

The strategic triangle of Russia, China and India is a far cry from the point of view of present day political reality and the West would go to any extent to spoke spanners in the wheels of any such arrangement. Nonetheless, in the military-technical field, Russia’s strategic planners have already made it a fait accompli to an extent by turning Russia into the largest supplier of military equipment and technologies to both India and China. Significantly, hints have emanated from Beijing recently of a more favourable appraisal of the “triangle” idea. It is in India’s long-term interests to promote goodneighbourly relations with China. At the same time a discreet policy of due containment coupled with engagement would best serve India’s interests and defeat the Chinese policy of keeping India confined to South Asia in a stand off with Pakistan.

India can seek to expand its international linkages to be able to play its due role at the regional and world stage at a time when a new balance of power is evolving among the major players. Both Russia and China are vigorously pursuing what they call an ”omni-directional” or multi-dimensional policy. There is no reason why India should be inhibited from pursuing a similar policy in order to pursue its own geopolitical interests.

It would be in India’s interest that exclusive and mutually hostile alliances are not formed in the post-Cold War world. Undue pressure from the West can force Russia to move closer to China, which would not be in India’s or Russia’s own interest. In fact continued multi-dimensional friendship between India and Russia now formally raised after President Putin’s visit to the level of “strategic partnership” serves India’s and Russia’s long-term as well as short-term interests.

The leitmotif of Russian-Chinese discourse is the call of a just and equitable “multi-polar” world order against the attempts to enforce “unilateralism” and a unipolar world order dictated by the sole-surviving super power. The two countries have not as yet defined the shape of the multipolar world they have in mind. However, they both regard each other as part of several great powers or power centres that would form the basis of the multipolar world order. Of particular interest from the Indian perspective is the fact that while Moscow has shown a certain readiness to accept India as one of the great powers in the multi-polar world, China would prefer to ensure that India remains at best a regional power confined to South Asia and does not emerge, and is not recognised, as a great power in Asia or the world as a potential rival of China. From this point of view the current status quo, when China is the only Asian power in the Security Council appears to suit China. Through various statements of Russian leaders from time to time, and in India-Russia joint statements, Russia has repeatedly committed itself to supporting the case of India for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Similar support has not been coming from Beijing. It is not unlikely that Beijing opposes New Delhi’s bid for the permanent membership of the Security Council when the issue of reforming and further expanding the Security Council comes for decision at some future date. Any such decision can only be taken by mutual consensus among the present five permanent members. The consensus, or absence thereof, would depend on the emerging power equations among the P-5 and a number of other factors, including unpredictable factors.

No doubt, India is interested in getting the permanent membership of the UNO. It appears that this particular interest of India can best be served in a cooperative and not a divisive world order where no current permanent member would veto India’s bid for permanent membership.

There is no doubt that China would accord greater respect to a strong, pragmatic, economically growing and politically cohesive India than would be the case otherwise. Just now China is reluctant to recognise India as one of the ‘poles’ in a much-heralded multipolar world. But if India is having close multifaceted and growing ties with all other great powers, it would become imperative for China also to recognise the reality of India’s due geopolitical weight and importance.

India’s objective in the new great game being played by the great powers on the world arena is the growing international recognition of the country and its acceptance in the league of big nations. India’s hour is arriving if not arrived as yet. It should play its cards deftly and astutely. In the process, it may contribute to the greatest good of greatest numbers because of its well-entrenched democratic institutions and liberal and pluralist traditions.

There do exist areas of convergence of Russian-Chinese and Indian Interests. Russia has forged ‘strategic partnership’ with both India and China. All the three countries are facing the challenge of Islamic terrorism and extremism radiating from Afghanistan-Pakistan region. All three of them call for the establishment of a multipolar world.

It is in everybody’s interest to have peace, stability and calm on the borders. In the era of globalisation, information technology, free movement of goods, peoples and ideas and growing regional cooperation, the boundary issue is not already the central issue in modern day geopolitics. What is of particular importance is the level and rate of economic growth, the level of technological development, integration into the world economy and domestic socio-political cohesiveness. Together all these determine the comprehensive national power of a country. At the same time, it is crucially important that India exerts its utmost to ensure a settlement of the boundary disputes with China, or the demarcation of the LAC on the ground, in a manner that is favourable to the long-term interests of the country. India should insist on quid pro quo with China while recognising “one China” in terms of-endorsement and speedier demarcation by the latter of LAC; the recognition of Sikkim as India’s part; and the principle of strictly peaceful bilateral settlement of Jammu &Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Of late China-India relations have somewhat improved. India and China have initiated their own “security dialogue”. India has been urging China to expedite the process of demarcation of the LAC. As a first step in this direction, the two countrie have exchanged maps on the least controversial middle sector of the LAC.

Russian arms and technology transfers to China do add to the latter’s military muscle and threaten India’s security interests. India can impress on the Russian side to ensure that the equipment is not used against India, the achievements of joint Indo-Russian R&D in defence projects are not directly or indirectly passed on to China, and also Russian defence equipment and technology given to China are not transferred to Pakistan.

During the visit of Foreign and Defence Minister Mr. Jaswant Singh to Moscow in June 2001, it was decided to promote joint R&D in defence sphere, joint production and even sale to the third countries. Russian side committed itself to fulfil India’s need for defence spare parts and agreed to provide exhaustive catalogue of spare parts along with price lists to ensure easy availability and smooth and transparent transactions. Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Moscow from 4 to 6 November 2001 has further strengthened the bilateral ties. The highlight of the visit was the signing of Moscow Declaration on International Terrorism. As the Russian and Chinese leaders have been frequently meeting, the decision to hold annual Indian and Russian summits also, is a welcome development.

Russia, China and four Central Asian members of SCO the have evolved a structure and mechanism of jointly combating the threats of terrorism, extremism and separatism. There is no harm in India taking the initiative to cooperate with the SCO on the issue of countering the threat of cross-border terrorism, drugs and arms- trafficking even if India did not formally join the grouping. It has been decided to set up an anti-terrorist centre in Bishkek with which India can closely collaborate. Indeed, India can develop a mechanism of both bilateral as well as multilateral security cooperation with Russia and the CARs on the issue of combating terrorism. India and Russia have already formed a joint working group on Afghanistan. There can be greater cooperation and mutual sharing of experiences and exchange of intelligence between security and law enforcement agencies of India, Russia as well as the Central Asian states. However, here a word of caution may be added. Since Russia, China and the CARs have already joined hands in the battle against terrorism and if they succeed in smashing terrorism in their region the entire brunt of religious terrorism currently emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan, will be diverted to India and will have to be borne by India alone. So in case India remains isolated it is imperative for India to take energetic initiatives to join these countries in the common struggle.

The defeat of the Taliban in the US-led military action in Afghanistan in October-November 2001, and the subsequent inclusion of India in the group of 21 countries under the UN aegis to facilitate post-Taliban peace process in Afghanistan are eminently favourable developments for India. However, there is a need to further incessantly pursue India’s legitimate interests in the region.

India can also activate the North-South transport corridor via Iran to southern Russia and Central Asia. Indian interests demand that an effort is made to promote interdependence and enmeshing of Indian and Iranian economies as Iran can provide an access to Central Asia and southern Russia. India should not be isolated from the activity in its ”strategic neighbourhood” aimed at forming regional groupings for economic cooperation in mutual advantage. Indeed India can also seek to be linked with Central Asia through the proposed Indus basin corridor and whatever other transport and communications networks are being developed in the region on commercial basis.

If feasible, India, Russia, Iran and Central Asian states can float an economic grouping of India and Caspian Sea littoral countries. With a view of acquiring alternate leverages, India can activate cooperation with Turkey, Japan, South Korea and other important economic players in Central Asia. India, Russia and China can also have cooperation on economic and trade issues.

It is crucially important for India to ensure that the emerging balance of power in inner Asian region does not get tilted in favour of the forces that are inimical to India. Owing to its geographical and geopolitical location, India is best suited to play the role of a “balancer of power” in the region by siding with the weaker side. In the nineteenth century the British rulers of India sought to contain the growing power of the Tsarist Russia by upholding the nominal claims of a weak China over far-flung provinces. Now Russia has become weaker and the comprehensive national power of China is growing and is bound to spill over in the adjoining areas in the form of geopolitical weight and influence. India should play its cards deftly without entering into frontal confrontation with any country or by keeping all its eggs in a single basket. It would seem the world is moving towards a phase of ‘cooperative geopolitics’ with ample sprinkling of competitiveness among the major players. The former Soviet space comprising the vast Eurasian land mass is rich in fuel and other mineral resources, major trade and transit routes and pipeline network pass across the region. India should seek access to these resources, get connected and be present with its best foot forward through expanding ties of multifarious cooperation along with other major players. Cementing India-Russia strategic partnership can provide a stable and predictable anchor to Indian policy framework in the former Soviet space. But in the changed post-Cold War environment, even Russia is not and cannot seek exclusive role in the region. It is seeking integration with the wider world economy along with the new republics.



Note *:   Dr. Jyotsna Bakshi is a Research Fellow specialising in Russia and Central Asia. She has spent two-years at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow. She has published a book, Russia and India from Ideology to Geopolitics, 1999. Dev Publication, Delhi and many research articles. Back.

Note 1:   R.K. I. Quested. Sino-Russian Relations: A Short History. 1984. George Allen & Unwin; Sydney, London, Boston. p.164. Back.

Note 2:   Cited in Charles E. Ziegler. Foreign Policy and East Asia: Learning and Adaptation in the Gorbachev Era. 1993. Cambridge University Press; Cambridge. p. 58. Back.

Note 3:   The Moscow Times, May 14, 1997. Back.

Note 4:   Viktor N. Pavliatenko. Russian Security in the Pacific Asian Region: The Dangers of Isolation. In Gilbert Rozman, Mikhail G. Nosov, and Koji Watanabe, Eds. Russia and East Asia: The 21st Century Security Environment. 1999. M.E. Sharpe; East West Institute, New York. p. 27. Back.

Note 5:   Eugene Bazhanov and Natasha Bazhanov. Russia and Asia in 1992: A Balancing Act. Asian Survey. January 1993, 33 (1) 95. Back.

Note 6:   A. Iwasita. Moskva-Pekin: ‘strategicheskoe partnerstvo’ i pogranichnie peregovory. Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnie otnosheniya (Moscow). November 2000, (11) 92. Back.

Note 7:   Jyotsna Bakshi. Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership in Central Asia: Implications for India. Strategic analysis. May 2001. Back.

Note 8:   Text of Joint Russia-China Declaration, September 3, 1994. In Sbornik Rossisko-Kitaiskikh dogorov, 1949-1999. 1999. Terra sport; Moscow. pp. 271-273. Translated by the author from Russian. Back.

Note 9:   Text of Jiang Zemin’s speech in Beijing Review, September 19-25, 1994, pp.7-13. Back.

Note 10:   Viktor B. Supian and Mikhail G. Nosov. Reintegration of an Abandoned Fortress: Economic Security of the Russian Far East. In Gilbert Rozman, Mikhail G. Nosov, and Koji Watanabe, Eds. Russia and East Asia: The 21st Century Security Environment. 1999. M.E. Sharpe; New York. pp. 83-85. Back.

Note 11:   See, for instance, Chen Qimao. Sino-Russian relations after the break-up of the Soviet Union. In Gennady Chufrin, Ed. Russia and Asia: the Emerging Security Agenda. 1999. Oxford University Press; SIPRI, Stockholm. p. 297. Back.

Note 12:   Jiang Zemin’s speech, no. 9. Back.

Note 13:   A. Iwasita, no. 6, p. 93. Back.

Note 14:   Chen Qimao, no. 11, p. 297. Back.

Note 15:   Viktor N. Pavliatenko, no. 4, p.26-27. Back.

Note 16:   Ibid. p. 27. Back.

Note 17:   Prof. Mikhail Titarenko, Ed. Kitaiskaya Narodnaya Respublika, politika, ekonomika, kultura 1995-96. 1997. Institute Dalneva Vostoka; RAN, Moscow. p. 213. Back.

Note 18:   A. Iwasita, no. 6. p. 97. Also, Alexander Lukin. “Perception of China threat in Russia and Russian-Chinese Relations” at The Governor of the Primorski Krai (the Maritime Territory) had been repeatedly voicing his opposition to the concessions being made to China under the 1991 boundary agreement. Back.

Note 19:   Mikhail Titarenko, no. 17. p. 214. Back.

Note 20:   See, for instance, Peter Ferdinand. China and Russia: A Strategic Partnership? China Review, Autumn/Winter 1997, (8), passim. Back.

Note 21:   Sergei Troush. Russia’s Response to the NATO Expansion: China Factor. 1999. On Internet; NATO Democratic Institutions Fellowships 1997-1999, Final Report, Moscow. p. 3. Back.

Note 22:   Michael Pillsbury. China Debates the Future Security Environment. January 2000. National Defence University Press (On the Internet); Washington DC.

It was noticed that the GNP of NATO member states was 20 times that of Russia. In conventional arms NATO was believed to be three times superior to Russia. After the entry of new members NATO’s relative strength vis-à-vis Russia would have further increased. Back.

Note 23:   Sergei Troush, no. 21. p. 6. Back.

Note 24:   Ibid. Back.

Note 25:   Mikhail Titarenko, no. 17. pp. 223-224. Back.

Note 26:   The text of Joint Russia-China Declaration, 25 April 1996. In Sbornik . . . , no. 8, pp. 333-337. Translated from Russian by the author.

Chinese side promised to support the admission of Russia in Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). Back.

Note 27:   Oleg Shchedrov. China, Russia Warn West Against Seeking Hegemony. Reuters dispatch in Electronic Telegraph. April 26, 1996. Also, Mikhail Titarenko. no. 17, p. 221. Back.

Note 28:   Reuters dispatch from Beijing in World Tibet Network News. April 25, 1996. Back.

Note 29:   Sergei Troush. no. 21, pp. 10-11. Back.

Note 30:   Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1996. Back.

Note 31:   SWB, SU/2598 B/10-11, April 29, 1996.

ITAR-TASS (26 April 1996) gave details of the agreement. The document was called Agreement on the enhancement of Confidence in the Military Field Along the Border Areas. It was decided to turn a 100-km zone on each side of the long border between China and the former Soviet Union into a zone of reduced military activity with a view to put an end to past suspicion and hostility and promote peace, stability and friendly cooperative ties among the signatories. Back.

Note 32:   The text in Beijing Review, May 12-18, 1997. pp. 7-8. Back.

Note 33:   Sergei Troush, no. 21. Also, Sherman Garnett. Challenges of the Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership. The Washington Quarterly. Autumn 2001, 24 (4) 43.

It has been reported that in keeping with the agreement, Russia agreed to reduce the size of its forces in the 100-km border zone by 15 percent and place limits on “a wide range of ground, air defence and frontal aviation equipment and personnel”. However, Sherman Garnett has expressed the view that “these lower levels probably reflect actual holdings -not future reductions-on the Russian side, given the unilateral reductions in force structure that have been taking place since the early 1990s”. Back.

Note 34:   For details see, Jyotsna Bakshi. Russia-China Military-Technical Cooperation: Implications for India. Strategic Analysis, July 2000, passim. Back.

Note 35:   SWB/SU/3623 G/3. August 26, 1999. Back.

Note 36:   SWEB/SU/3627 H/4. August 31, 1999 Back.

Note 37:   Michael Pillsbury, no. 22.

Indeed, some Chinese analysts even believe that Russia may surpass the USA in RMA (revolution in military affairs). Russia’s General Staff Military Academy and other military learning organizations are believed to be focusing on new RMA efforts. Back.

Note 38:   Izvestia. Moscow. December 10, 1999. Back.

Note 39:   Kommersant. Moscow. December 10, 1999 in The Current Digest of Post-soviet Press. January 12, 2000, 51 (50) 1-4. Back.

Note 40:   Rossiskaya Gazeta. Moscow. December 31, 1999.

The article drew attention to the reality that the country’s GNP that sharply declined following Soviet disintegration is today ten times smaller than in the USA and five times smaller than in China. Putin stressed that the country needed no new revolutions and upheavals. He emphasized the need for evolutionary, gradual and prudent methods and above all the maintenance of political stability. Back.

Note 41:   Jonathan Power. Putin Wants Russia in Europe. The Statesman. New Delhi. March 10, 2000. Back.

Note 42:   Bin Yu. “New Century, New Face and China’s ’Putin Puzzle’”. Comparative Connections, Pacific Forum CSIS. April 2000 at http//www.pfejournal Back.

Note 43:   Financial Times. January 13, 1999 cited in “China’s Opposition to US Missile Defence Program”, Factsheet, Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, USA, at copyright 2000 Back.

Note 44:   Xinhua. November 25, 1999, cited in “China’s Opposition to US Missile . . . .”, no. 43. Back.

Note 45:   Ibid. Back.

Note 46:   Bin Yu. No. 42. Back.

Note 47:   RIA Novosti Daily Review. Russian Information Centre, New Delhi. July 18, 2000. Back.

Note 48:   Text in Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at Back.

Note 49:   Yu Bin. “Putin’s Ostpolitik and Sino-Russian Relations: July-September 2000 ” Comparative Connections at Back.

Note 50:   See ”Lateline News” at June 7, 2000.

The US defence secretary, William Cohen found in Putin’s proposal for a Russian-European defence system a recognition by Russia of a missile threat and a “step forward”, but added that the proposal was “quite vague”. Back.

Note 51:   “Chinese Opposition to the US Missile Defense Programs” at Back.

Note 52:   “China-Russia Relations January-March 2001,” at Back.

Note 53:   Ibid. Back.

Note 54:   Text of the Treaty in Rossiskaya Gazeta, July 17, 2001. Back.

Note 55:   Sergei Luzyanin. China Seeks Continuity in Ties with Russia. The Statesman, July 23, 2001. Back.

Note 56:   Izvestia, July 17, 2001 in The RIA Novosti Daily Review. July 17, 2001. Back.

Note 57:, July 17, 2001 Back.

Note 58:, 18 July 2001. Back.

Note 59:   Trud, March 29, 2000 in The RIA Novosti Daily Review, March 30, 2000 Back.

Note 60:   “Russian gas for China, Koreas”, Russia Journal, November 4, 2000 at Back.

Note 61:, September 9, 2001 Back.

Note 62:, March 11, 1999. Back.

Note 63:   “Trade between China, Russia on Upward Trend” at Also,

Figures released by the General Administration of Customs show that trade between the two giant neighbors hit US$3.56 billion for period from January to June, up 31.5 per cent from the same period last year. China’s imports from Russia, mainly fertilizer, rolled steel, refined oil, aluminum and timber, reached US$2.68 billion, up 22.4 per cent from the same period last year. On April 30, 2001, Pravda reported that Russia is ninth among the foreign trade partners of China. Back.

Note 64:, July 16, 2001. Back.

Note 65:   Fransco Sisci, “Russia-China Military Transfers Get Boost After Talks” Straits Times, Nov. 4, 2000 at Back.

Note 66:   See, for instance, the article by Alexei Pushkov. Nezavisimaya Gazeta. July 18, 2000. Back.

Note 67:   “China-Russia Relations July-September 2000” Comparative Connections at Back.

Note 68:   “China-Russia Relations January-March 2001” Comparative Connections at Back.

Note 69:   “China, Russia to boost strategic cooperation” Xinhua, February 22, 2001 . Back.

Note 70:   Yekaterina Grigoryeva and Dmitry Safonov. Russia’s Reasons for Selling Weapons to China. Izvestia, June 15, 2001 in The RIA Novosti Daily Review, June 20, 2001. Back.

Note 71:   “China-Russia Relations . . . ”, no. 68. Back.

Note 72:   See, for instance, Jyotsna Bakshi. Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership in Central Asia: Implications for India, Strategic Analysis, May 2001. Back.

Note 73:   Armen Khanbabyan. New Players Enter the Transcaucasus Geopolitical Arena. N.G., February 6, 2001, in The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press. March 7, 2001, 53 (6)19-20.

The author points out that Russia retains leverages in the region and at least leverages to obstruct the project. For instance, the part of Georgia from which the proposed railroad would pass borders with Armenia and is entirely populated by Armenians. These Armenians have economic ties with the Russian military base and are opposed to dismantling it. Certain circles in Russia can hope to use the local Armenians for opposing the projected railroad. Back.

Note 74: News September 19, 2001. Back.

Note 75:   The RIA Novosti Daily Review, October 2, 2001. Back.

Note 76: News 27 October 2001. Back.