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The Troubled Russia–China Partnership as a Challenge to the East Asian Peace

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With the annexation of the Crimea and the engagement in confrontation with the West, Russia has embarked on a course of making the military force into a useful instrument of policy. Moscow has effectively sacrificed the goals of modernization and development for the sake of geopolitical ambitions. The question about the price of Russia’s revisionist enterprise is relevant for many states that are not satisfied with the unfair and often discriminating rules of the world order, first of all China. Russia hopes to inspire other states dissatisfied with the “unipolar” world order to challenge the West more boldly, but the result of its assault on the principles of nonintervention and territorial integrity might work in the opposite way. The states of East Asia could take a good measure of the risk inherent to embarking on the course of projecting power at the expense of modernization and become even more committed than before to upholding their unique prosperity-producing peace. China has a vested interest in Russian internal stability and must be worried by the prospect of a post-Putin crisis.

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  1. This argument is most forcefully made by Alexander Gabuev, one of the leading experts in the younger generation; see, for instance, Gabuev (2015a, 2016).

  2. A good example is Lukyanov (2015); on the cross-border impact of problems in China’s “rust belt”, see Zuenko (2016).

  3. We addressed this fundamental question in Baev and Tønnesson (2015).

  4. Niccolo Machiavelli (see Chapter XXXIX in his Discourses on Livy, 1517) derived this insight from the proposition on the constant character of human nature, which has «the same desires and passions» (Bondanella and Musa 1979). While this point has particular relevance for regimes empowering a strong leader, our reading of history seeks more to trace durable patterns and traditional perceptions.

  5. This phenomenon constitutes the focus of East Asian Peace research program at Uppsala University; for the most current research findings, visit the website (

  6. One useful concise analysis is Xiaoming (2002); a solid Russian-language source is Torkunov (2000).

  7. The most valuable source on that episode is the collection of documents published by the National Security Archive in 2013; see Jones (2013).

  8. This track record is examined in Buszynski (1986, particularly pp. 204–205); one noteworthy nostalgic Russian reflection is Kozlov (2009).

  9. One analysis (by the Stratfor group) was so confident that the deal was done that the bottom line was «Cartographers, warm the presses» . See “Russia–Japan island dispute looms on the horizon” (2000).

  10. The final settlement was achieved in the Complementary agreement (2004), according to which the Tarabarov island and a half of the Bolshoi Ussuriisky island were transferred to China in 2008; see Shcherbakov (2008).

  11. The first stage to Skovorodino was launched in May 2009, and the second stage to Kozmino was completed by the end of 2012, while presently nearly all oil flow goes directly to China; see Chow (2015).

  12. Typical disconcerted international commentary was Barry (2010); Russian experts sought to downplay the negative impact; see Lukyanov (2010).

  13. The command of the Russian Navy was initially skeptical about that bargain but then recognized the unique opportunity to add four major surface combatants to the much diminished combat order and developed far-reaching plans for the versatile Mistrals; see Daly (2014).

  14. On the mounting problems with implementing this program, see Baev (2015a).

  15. According to the most reliable of Russian opinion polls, the negative attitude to the USA reached 80% in early 2015 (the previous peak in autumn 2008 was 67%), and the negative attitude to the EU reached 71% (the previous peak was only 39%). The positive attitude to China was registered at a steady 75%. See “Western countries: Attitude, sanctions, cooperation” (2015).

  16. For an investigation of the scope of Russian military engagement, see Czuperski et al. (2015).

  17. One consise evaluation of its current status is «The withdrawal that wasn’t» (2016).

  18. The minimal assessment of the daily costs Syrian intervention amounted to $US 3.3 million; see Arkhipov and Meyer (2015). In mid-March 2016, the conservative total cost estimate was $ US 550 million, but the volume of direct military and economic aid to the al-Assad regime was probably of even larger magnitude; see Baev (2016).

  19. Vladislav Inozemtsev (2014), one of the independent-minded Russian experts, argued that because of the ideological reasons Russia «has focused exclusively on China ignoring the opportunities in Asia–Pacific» .

  20. One sound analysis of that deal at the initial stage was Grivach (2014).

  21. Gazprom still seeks to cover up the delays with upbeat declarations, but business analysts have adjusted their forecasts for the commercial deliveries of Russian gas toward the end of the next decade; see Sergeev (2015); Astakhova and Aizhu (2016).

  22. We have encountered this argument in the interviews with Chinese experts in October 2015 and October 2016.

  23. These deals are discussed in detail, respectively, in Kashin (2015a) and Safronov (2015).

  24. The problems with Russian arms export to China are scrutinized in Khramchihin (2016).

  25. On the impact of China–US relations on Russia’s position, see Ying (2016).

  26. One sharp reflection on this parade is Perlez and MacFarquhar (2015).

  27. Even Russian experts ventured opinion on impracticality of this negative attitude; see Stapran (2016).

  28. One competent analysis of Russia’s half-hearted pro-forma involvement with Asian regional institutions is Gabuev (2015c).

  29. A critical assessement of the high-level agreement to harmonize the Chinese initiative with Russia’s attempts to keep the Eurasian Economic Union on track is Korostikov (2016).

  30. A reasonably coherent elaboration of this thinking can be found in Rogov et al. (2013); a more recent sample is Koval (2015).

  31. One competent Russian assessment of the key parameters of China’s military reform is Kashin (2015b).

  32. The strategic priority of countering the US deployment of elements of strategic missile system was reiterated at Putin’s lengthy meeting with the top brass in November 2015 and strengthened further at the meeting of Russian Security Council in May 2016. On the former, see Felgengauer (2015); on the latter, see Latuhina (2016). On the THAAD dilemma, see Haenle and Sherman (2016).

  33. For a sober warning about the risks, see Arbatov (2015). This renown expert also warns that despite Putin’s pledges not to engage in a new arms race, this process is in fact gaining momentum; see Arbatov (2016).


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Support for our research from the Norwegian Ministry of Defense is deeply appreciated.

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Correspondence to Pavel K. Baev.

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Baev, P.K., Tønnesson, S. The Troubled Russia–China Partnership as a Challenge to the East Asian Peace. Fudan J. Hum. Soc. Sci. 10, 209–225 (2017).

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