A Relationship Poised for a New Start
No. 2 2012 April/June
Xiong Guangkai

Xiong Guangkai, General, is former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and former Chairman of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Qinghua University, Beijing University and other institutions. 

Promoting the Solid Development of China-U.S.-Russia Relations

The world has been beset recently by political turmoil, constant violence and unrest, and a strategic landscape subject to continuous and intricate changes. It is against this background that trilateral relations between China, the United States and Russia have continued to demonstrate steady development, with the three countries engaging each other to augment interaction on vital international issues. This cooperation has given rise to several novel trends in the development of relations. In the future, China-U.S.-Russia relations will definitely face new opportunities and challenges that will require an active response from all those involved.


China, the U.S., and Russia have expanded reciprocal contacts and cooperation, thus setting the stage for the stable development of trilateral relations.

China-U.S. relations have demonstrated steady growth in the past few years. Despite negative factors influencing relations between the two countries, such as U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, this bilateral relationship is continuing to develop. Chinese President Hu Jintao paid a successful state visit to the U.S. in 2011, which was followed by an equally successful exchange of visits by U.S Vice President Joe Biden to China and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to the U.S.

Since early 2011, China and the U.S. have met twice to discuss Asia-Pacific affairs, and have held the first strategic and security dialogue between the two countries. These meetings have helped to further expand the groundwork for mutual dialogue and exchange. Trade between China and the U.S. has reached a new high and is expected to exceed $500 billion this year. Tellingly, this achievement took place amid the global economic slump. Moreover, the two countries have established and promoted a cooperative partnership highlighting mutual respect and mutual benefit.

The expanded cooperation in all spheres between Russia and China has been beneficial. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Russia in June 2011 where it was agreed that the two countries would remain committed to a comprehensive strategic and coordinative partnership. During a trip by then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to China in October 2011, the two countries signed a cooperative memorandum on economic modernization. Trade between the two countries has hit a record $83.5 billion, with an annual growth of 40 percent. For two consecutive years, China has been Russia’s largest trade partner.

The China-Russia partnership, exemplified by the joint promotion of equality and trust, mutual support, common prosperity, and friendship, has set a course towards developing relations between the two countries for the next decade.

U.S.-Russia ties have continued to improve since the two countries “reset” their relations. Despite serious differences between the U.S. and Russia over plans by NATO to set up a missile defense system in Europe, the new START treaty signed by the U.S. and Russia officially came into force early last year. The leaders of the two countries have signed a battery of joint statements on cooperation in fighting terrorism and promoting regional security. Through the mediation of the U.S., Russia and Georgia eventually signed a bilateral agreement, thus clearing the last hurdle to Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). One cannot underestimate the significance of Russia’s membership in the WTO for the country’s increased involvement in the global economy.

The U.S. and Russia have increased their strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, thereby merging the interests of China, the U.S., and Russia in this region in a far-reaching way. Over the past year, the U.S. has increased its strategic involvement in that part of the world. U.S. leaders regard the Asia-Pacific region as a strategic priority and want to uphold the country’s vital interests there. The U.S. is doing so by consolidating ties with its allies in the region, strengthening relations with new partners, getting involved in multilateral mechanisms, promoting trade and investment, building up its military presence in the region, and guiding the agenda of regional economic and security cooperation.

For its part, Russia has redoubled its involvement in Asia-Pacific affairs. Russia’s top political leaders have stressed on many occasions that the Asia-Pacific region is one of the top priorities for its foreign policy. Furthermore, Russia has unveiled its action plan for enhancing its position in the region. In the diplomatic domain, Russia has promoted bilateral relations with China, India, Vietnam, and Mongolia, and has taken active part in multilateral mechanisms in the region. Moreover, Russia is expanding trade with China, Japan, and South Korea, and deepening cooperation in the energy sector with countries in the region. The accession of the U.S. and Russia to the East-Asia Summit is an important sign of the two countries’ stepped-up involvement in Asia-Pacific affairs. China welcomes these efforts to play a constructive role in the region and maintains that all the parties involved should commit themselves to ensuring peace and stability in the region, to making this region more prosperous, and to promoting mutual beneficial cooperation among the major powers. A prosperous and stable Asia-Pacific region is in the fundamental interests of all parties involved.

Although mutually beneficial cooperation between China, the U.S., and Russia is growing progressively, there is still an imbalance in trilateral relations. Three sets of bilateral relations shape interaction between the countries. Strategic cooperation in each of the three sets has continued to increase recently and the level of mutually beneficial cooperation has grown. However, we cannot help but notice that the three bilateral relations have developed unevenly. A lack of strategic mutual trust between the U.S. and Russia has been major hurdle hindering the advancement of bilateral relations. Immediate interests underpinning U.S.-Russia relations can hardly serve as solid foundation for cooperation. Bilateral trade and the level of reciprocal investment do not conform to the two countries’ economic potentials. Trade between the U.S. and Russia last year was just under 1/10 the level of trade between China and Russia. The insufficient level of economic cooperation between the U.S. and Russia accounts for the lack of a sound economic foundation for political dialogue between the two countries.

China and the U.S. also need to improve their strategic mutual trust. Overall, the economic interdependence between China and the U.S. increases every day; however, due to U.S. suspicion and jealousy of China’s rapid rise, there is still an inadequate level of strategic trust between the two countries. This often gets in the way of the normal development of bilateral political, economic, and military ties.

China and Russia enjoy mutually beneficial cooperation, but their economic ties are still lagging in relative terms. Political interaction between China and Russia has been good as the two countries share the same or similar standpoints on major international strategic issues. China-Russia economic and trade relations have likewise been on the rise, but nonetheless, the overall level of their economic/trade cooperation does not match the capacities of the two big neighboring powers. Annual trade between China and Russia is currently less than one-fourth of China-U.S. trade, and even less than one-fifth of trade between China and the European Union.

China and the U.S., as well as Russia and the U.S., still need to resolve a number of persisting problems plaguing bilateral relations. A “zero-sum” mentality, ideological differences, and geopolitical stereotypes that were typical of the Cold War era are the main problems in China-U.S.-Russia relations. Unfortunately, these factors will not vanish anytime soon and will continue to affect, albeit in different ways, the advancement of mutual relations between the three countries. With regard to the Middle East, the U.S. stance is quite different from that of China and Russia on Libya, Syria, and the Iranian nuclear program. In particular, sharp differences unmistakably flare up between the U.S. on the one side, and China and Russia on the other in the UN Security Council over Syria. Moreover, the U.S. and Russia are diametrically opposed on the issue of the missile defense system in Europe. Even the Russian presidential and parliamentary elections were not spared from friction involving the two countries. China and the U.S. are involved in intermittent disputes over such issues as human rights, the economy and trade, and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.


With the evolution of international strategic configuration, the stable development of China-U.S.-Russia relations will play a more prominent role in safeguarding world peace and stability. In the next few years, China-U.S.-Russia relations will see both new opportunities for development and various new challenges.

China, the U.S., and Russia have the power to influence the transformation of the global strategic structure. The U.S. stands out as the largest developed country with a global influence, while China and Russia are the major representatives of emerging nations with increasing clout in international affairs, and, therefore, have an enormous potential for developing mutually beneficial cooperation among the three countries. China, the U.S., and Russia have enormous potential for promoting global strategic stability, especially if they take each other’s strategic concerns into consideration. Moreover, these countries should use mechanisms of mutual trust to resolve military issues, above all problems of nuclear disarmament and deployment of anti-missile systems, as well as security issues, such as forestalling the militarization of outer space and safeguarding cyber security.

Regarding regional security issues, China, the U.S. and Russia have considerable influence in regions with a high number of security-related conflicts, such as Northeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. In addition, the trio has privileges in major international organizations like the UN. In the face of escalating turmoil in hotspots around the world, there is an increasingly urgent need for cooperation between China, the U.S., and Russia in ensuring regional security.

In economy and trade, China, the U.S. and Russia have a tremendous untapped potential to enhance ties, especially since their economies complement each other in many ways. Hopefully, Russia’s accession to the WTO will usher in a new period of more favorable and faster growth in economic and trade relations among these three powers.

The development of China-U.S.-Russia relations is constantly being challenged by various intricate factors and is bound to run into numerous obstacles in the future. In addition to ingrained contradictions in their mutual relations, internal political factors in the U.S. and Russia will have a significant impact on trilateral relations. This year relations may be further affected by a negative impact from the U.S. presidential election, a factor that will require special attention. In the run-up to the general election, the political struggle tends to heat up between the two major political parties in the U.S. Certain conservative forces are likely to step up their attacks against current U.S. policies, with some political forces possibly making a fuss about U.S. policies towards Russia and China. Debates over trade protectionism in the U.S. have been increasing lately, and the U.S. has decidedly turned up the heat on China over the economy and trade. Also, talk about playing hardball with Russia is rising in the U.S., which poses a new challenge to U.S.-Russia relations. The efforts by Russia’s new government and President Vladimir Putin to reform the country’s domestic and foreign policies will also affect the development of trilateral relations. When a new government takes over, a country’s domestic and foreign policies are often adjusted; and, for that matter, just how Russia will reevaluate its foreign policy, in particular its policy towards the U.S., is of special significance. If the U.S. and Russia take a course towards decisive interaction in the near future, not only will there be an immediate positive impact on bilateral relations, but also on relations in the trilateral format.

The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will take place this year, a landmark event in China’s development. It can be safely said that China will remain committed to establishing fundamental domestic and foreign policies, to developing external contacts in a comprehensive, multi-level and extensive way, to stepping up strategic dialogue with all major powers, to enhancing strategic mutual trust, to expanding the spheres of cooperation, and to promoting long-lasting, stable, and healthy mutual relations. China needs a peaceful and stable external environment for development and reform, therefore it will take every effort to maintain a sound and stable China-U.S.-Russia trilateral relationship. Recently, Putin wrote in an article that China’s development is an opportunity, not a threat, for Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have echoed this view publicly on many occasions. China’s proactive endeavor to promote strategic cooperation with the U.S. and Russia will play a vital catalytic role in facilitating the healthy development of trilateral relations.


The sound and stable development of China-U.S.-Russia trilateral relations is crucial for promoting world peace and stability. With this purpose in mind, and using the extensive experience of cooperative relationships, the three countries should further build strategic mutual trust, deepen reciprocal cooperation, handle differences properly, and make concerted efforts to move further away from the “triangular relationship” typical of the Cold War. They should push their relations forward towards a long-lasting, stable, and strong trilateral relationship in following ways:

Furthering constructive and strategic cooperation, and enhancing strategic mutual trust progressively. If China-U.S.-Russia relations maintain stable development, this will not only have an immediate impact on the stability of the international strategic situation, but also on world peace and development. For this reason, China, the U.S., and Russia should keep the international strategic setup stable, further step up their top-level interaction, dialogue, and consultations, constantly deepen strategic mutual trust, and make efforts to increase communication and coordination over major international affairs. The countries should handle differences prudently and properly, eliminate negative elements, and promote cooperative relations based on equality and mutual trust by seeking common ground while putting their differences aside.

Expanding the space of cooperation and consolidating the foundation for the development of trilateral relations. With the current economic globalization, new opportunities and challenges are arising for the development of China-U.S.-Russia trilateral relations, offering fresh incentives for cooperation among the three nations. China, the U.S., and Russia must keep pace with the times, sparing no effort to promote cooperation in numerous new fields. The countries should increase exchange and cooperation in such important spheres as counter-terrorism, cyber crime, outer space security, piracy, and energy and ecological security so as to enrich the content and consolidate the foundation of trilateral cooperation.

Stepping up cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and jointly upholding the prosperity and stability of the region. China, the U.S., and Russia are all major countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and, for that matter, ensuring peace, development, and prosperity in the region is in the fundamental interests of all the three powers. Therefore, China, the U.S., and Russia must continue to enhance policy coordination and dialogue on Asia-Pacific issues, bringing into full play the role of various mechanisms for dialogue and consultation among the three countries. Moreover, the countries need to promote sound interaction and mutually beneficial cooperation in the region.

It is especially important for the three nations to engage in more constructive cooperation in safeguarding peace and stability in Northeast Asia, fighting terrorism, and creating a favorable environment for mutually beneficial economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Promoting the benign development of trilateral relations and creating a strategically beneficial situation for all three nations. Today, cooperation among major powers sets the trend for the development of the entire world. The three countries must face this responsibility and do the best they can to ensure the sound development of each set of their bilateral relations in order to lay a solid foundation for a constructive and stable trilateral relationship in the future.

The three should seize all opportunities for cooperation, increase strategic mutual trust, and jointly seek new paths to peaceful coexistence and cooperation that is beneficial for all. Additionally, China-U.S.-Russia trilateral relations should eventually develop into a new type of relationship among the major powers. 

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The 21st century will be one of cooperation and will be advantageous for all. A person with good sense makes changes according to the times, and a wise man adjusts to different circumstances. Today, the China-U.S.-Russia relationship is poised for a new start. Let us grasp this opportunity, press forward together, intensify mutually beneficial and cooperative relations among China, the U.S. and Russia, and contribute more to world peace, stability, and prosperity.