China and Russia also have significant interests in cooperating in international institutions. The UN Security Council is especially important as it can act as a check on the U.S.-led Western world’s “strategic insanity.” More generally, Russia’s desire to retain its great power status makes it naturally opposed to any reorganization of the UN Security Council. Although less opposed in principle, China will be resolutely opposed in practice given that India and potentially other Asian countries would be among the countries gaining permanent UNSC membership status in any reorganization.
Although less significant, other multilateral institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and especially BRICS will generally lend themselves to strengthening Sino-Russian relations. Indeed, BRICS’ plans to establish a development bank and aid fund to serve as counterweights to the Western dominated World Bank and IMF is an additional impetus for Russian-Chinese cooperation.
The growing level of defense cooperation between the two sides is perhaps more surprisingly. This generally takes two forms.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The first is Russian arms sales to China, which continue despite repeated incidents of Beijing reverse engineering Russian designs. Although this has led Russia to push for greater assurances from China to discontinue this behavior, it has not prevented Russian defense companies from continuing to feed Beijing's growing appetite. To cite just one example, earlier this month Russian media outlets reported that the two sides are close to concluding a $4 billion deal that will see Russia sell China 48 Su-35 multirole fighters.
Russian-Chinese defense cooperation also takes the form of growing mil-to-mil ties. In June, for example, the two sides will undertake the “Peace Mission 2013” exercise in the Sea of Japan that will reportedly include at least 20 warships from the Chinese North Sea and Russian Pacific Fleets. The exercise will take place around Russia’s Peter the Great Gulf, which means the warships from China’s North Sea Fleet will transverse the La Perouse Strait near the Japanese island of Hokkaido en route to the exercise. Once there, the two sides will undertake air and sea drills that will focus on “early warning collaboration, communication, attack and defense, aerial defense, electromagnetic and logistics,” according to the Global Times.
This military cooperation is on less solid footing than other areas of Russian-Chinese cooperation, given the potential for the two sides to come to blows over China’s penetration of Russia’s Far East, the warming Arctic, or Central Asia.
That being said, although China’s military modernization is being closely watched in Moscow, it so far has concentrated on projecting power outwardly by sea. This is in contrast to its traditional focus on land-based threats, and indeed is only made possible by China’s secure land borders. In other words, Beijing’s military modernization suggests Chinese policymakers believe that tensions on their northern and western borders with Russia can be mitigated indefinitely, and conflict avoided.
This stands in contrast to the acute level of threat both sides perceive as emanating from U.S. and allied powers, partly due to some in Washington’s relentless campaign to revive Cold War tensions with Russia even as the U.S. pivots to the Western Pacific to contain China.
None of this is to suggest that Russia and China will spearhead a solid, cohesive counter-bloc to the Western world. As noted above, at the very least a high degree of mistrust will permeate the relationship. Still, the relationship likely has greater durability than has been predicted in the past, and the world ought to plan accordingly.
Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat. He is on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.