The Uncertain Future: Sino-Russian Relations in the 21st Century
"In 2001, Russia and China settled the border question and began a new era of cooperation," stated Herman Pirchner, Jr., President, American Foreign Policy Council, at a Kennan Institute lecture on 05 October 2009 on the current character and future status of Sino-Russian relations. The rapprochement was the end result of a tense relationship dating back to the early 19th century, when Russia took much of what is now Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East from China. Although the land grab was legitimized by treaties, Chinese claims to the territory created some level of animosity between the two states.
Pirchner outlined three reasons for Russia and China's recent rapprochement:
• Peace on the border
In the 1960s and 1970s, both countries kept large armies along their shared border. By the 1990s, Russia could no longer afford to do so, while China preferred to commit her troops elsewhere.
• Increased trade
Trade in Russian military equipment, technology, and raw materials was beneficial to both Russia and China.
• An anti-Western front
China welcomed Russian support on issues such as Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, while Russia benefited from Chinese support on issues ranging from Missile Defense to Russian policy in Chechnya.
Some border issues remain. Pirchner described Russia's fears that Chinese immigrants to the Far East and Siberia will eventually outnumber Russian residents. The Kremlin's solution to this problem has been tighter restrictions on Chinese immigration into Russia as well as efforts to repopulate these areas by encouraging Russian expatriates to return, developing Siberia's infrastructure, and using federal money to increase the quality of life in the Far East. If these efforts fail, Prime Minister Putin believes that "in a few decades, the Russian population will be speaking Japanese, Chinese, and Korean."
The Future of Sino-Russian Relations
Pirchner was optimistic about the near future, stating that the relationship will remain "quite vibrant" over the next ten years. However, he mentioned three factors that could cause significant shifts in the Sino-Russian relationship.
• Political developments
If Russia cannot stabilize the Russian population or control the Chinese population in Russia's Far East and Eastern Siberia, border tensions may rise.
A reunification between Taiwan and China may enable the latter to focus on its past territorial losses to Russia.
• U.S. Policy
U.S. bilateral relations with each state impacts their relationship with each other.
Written by Larissa Eltsefon