An Invaluable Relationship
No. 2 2004 April/June
Sergei Prikhodko


First Deputy Head of the Russian Government Office.

China has lately been in the focus of the Russian mass media.
This increased attention can partly be explained by the upcoming
55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations
between the two countries, due in 2004. However, the main reason is
the consistently growing interest in our southerly neighbor.

Today’s China is a rapidly developing state which is rightly
viewed as a political power center and a driving force of the
global economy. There are serious grounds for stating that by the
middle of the 21st century China will become a world leader.

Already, China boasts the world’s sixth largest economy and
fourth largest foreign trade. In 2003, China’s gross domestic
product increased by 9.1 percent, and its per capita GDP exceeded
U.S. $1,000 – for the first time. The country plans to quadruple
its GDP by the year 2020 from its present figure, bringing it to
over U.S. $4 trillion. This goal is quite feasible, provided that
China maintains its present economic growth rate.

Given such a potential, China is a country to be reckoned with
by every nation, even ones that are not interested in China’s
prosperity and stability. There is barely a government in the world
that has not thought about how it should build its relations with
Beijing in the new century. As a rule, the choice is in favor of
broad cooperation in all areas.

Russia, too, has made a choice, although it was not easy.
Russian-Chinese relations have seen their share of ups and downs
over the last few centuries. In the not so distant past, there have
been periods when these relations were strained; occasionally they
exploded into open confrontation. It took many years, a high level
of political wisdom and the will of the leadership from the
bordering nations in order to find an optimum model for interstate
contacts. This model fully meets Russia’s and China’s national
interests and the interests of durable peace and security across
the globe. Moving step by step, the two countries in 1996 came to
the agreement that in the 21st century they can and must be
strategic partners.

This new quality of bilateral relations was formalized in the
Treaty for Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, signed
by Russia and China on July 16, 2001. The treaty formulated the
main principles and guidelines for the two countries’ interaction
in the long term, and laid the foundation for the further
development of relations between Moscow and Beijing.

Russia and China entered the third millennium having made
several major achievements, among them the solution of their border
dispute bequeathed by former times. The two countries share one of
the world’s longest land frontiers which stretches for over 4,300
kilometers. Considering geographical and historical factors, of
major importance is Article 6 of the Russian-Chinese treaty, which
unequivocally states that the parties have no territorial claims to
each other. As for the continuing negotiations on two small
sections of the border, it seems that we can expect their
successful conclusion in the near future.

Over the last 15 years, the two countries have laid a solid
legal foundation for bilateral interaction. Since 1992, they have
concluded more than 180 agreements at the interstate and
intergovernmental levels. Fifty-five pairs of regions and cities in
Russia and China have signed agreements which call for mutual
cooperation in different fields. Eight intergovernmental
subcommissions and 25 standing working groups have been set up in
the economic, scientific and technical fields, while five
subcommissions work in the social and humanitarian spheres.

This comprehensive mechanism of consultations ensures a steadily
increasing range of bilateral economic cooperation and trade, which
are acquiring ever more civilized forms. In the 1990s, annual
bilateral trade between the two partners stood at U.S. $6 to 8
billion, in 2003 it reached U.S. $15.7 billion. Unlike in previous
years, over 80 percent of Russian-Chinese trade is now done in the
non-state sector.

Russia and China have fundamentally improved their cooperation
on the international stage. Their approaches to practically all
major issues in global affairs are beginning to merge, thus
enabling them to closely coordinate their foreign-policy efforts
and act jointly or side-by-side in order to uphold their vital
interests more effectively and strengthen their international

However, it is too early to say that there is a national
consensus in Russia regarding the present and future prospects for
good relations with China. The Russian mass media regularly
publishes dire forecasts about the “imminent threat” facing Russia
in general and its military and economic security in particular.
The Russian people know very little about everyday life in
contemporary China. Although business contacts between Russia and
China, including shuttle and border trade, have been stepped up,
cooperation in humanitarian, cultural and other fields has been
decreasing. Beneficial contacts between public and political
organizations are now only occasional. As a result, the Russians
know more about Britain or France than about neighboring China.
This factor largely explains the persistence of historical

Russia cannot deny that problems do exist in its relations with
China. And can it be otherwise when the two great neighbors have
interests that often overlap? Naturally, Russia must not close its
eyes to the disagreements and obstacles which impede the
development of full-scale cooperation with China in all spheres.
These obstacles must be seriously analyzed and removed, especially
since the high level of mutual trust and understanding between the
two countries allows them to openly discuss all types of sensitive
issues and find compromise solutions.

At the same time, Russia must keep in mind the existence of a
‘red line,’ beyond which trespassing is inadmissible. This must be
heeded in regard to the norms of our interstate relations, as well
as the national interests of Russia itself. For example, political
stability inside China is not a subject for idle speculation, and
it can only be viewed as inappropriate when some politicians and
unscrupulous businesspeople attempt to play on the issue of Taiwan.
Russia is not going to revise its firm policy on Taiwan. The
support of China’s stable development serves Russia’s strategic
state interests.

Much is to be done in developing trade and economic ties between
the two countries, and the present structure of bilateral trade
needs to be improved. The share of high-tech products involved in
this trade does not correspond to the industrial potentials of the
Russian and Chinese economies. It is time for Moscow and Beijing to
abandon primitive bartering and develop modern forms of economic
and investment cooperation, as well as the transport and inter-bank
infrastructures. It is also vital that the countries work to
enhance the ties between the small and mid-size businesses.

Many problems are yet to be solved in cooperation in the
fuel/energy sector. The desire of our Chinese partners to meet
their rapidly growing demand for energy resources by increasing
guaranteed Russian supplies is understandable. Yet there should be
no haste in addressing this issue. This area of interaction is of
strategic and long-term importance and requires billions of U.S.
dollars in investment. The parties must continue to search for
balanced answers to these questions without resorting to

The Russian citizens who are living in bordering areas with
China are naturally more concerned with local problems, such as
illegal migration, poaching being committed by Chinese citizens on
Russian territory, environmental pollution, and so on. The
ecological problem may become the greatest problem of them all. The
rapid growth of the Chinese economy is accompanied by increased
attacks on the environment. Deforestation, together with the
ensuing destructive floods and soil exhaustion, could eventually
grow into a transborder problem, which could be solved only with a
high degree of cooperation between the two countries. It seems that
China is prepared for this dialog.

Although the migration problem does exist in Russian-Chinese
relations, its dimensions should not be overestimated, as the
Russian mass media tends to do. According to reliable estimates,
the total number of Chinese citizens now permanently living in
Russia hardly exceeds 150,000-200,000 people. And the official
figures of the latest Russian census indicate a much smaller number
– 35,000 people.

There are no grounds for suggesting that the Chinese government
‘prompts’ its citizens to move to Russia, especially illegally.
Russia and China are now organizing a special working group which
will address migration problems with the goal of arriving at a
comprehensive solution to the issue.

Another very important area of cooperation involves the law
enforcement bodies of the two countries. Their joint efforts will
help to effectively counter various threats posed by organized
crime and corruption. Furthermore, it will help to make the lives
of average citizens more secure, as well as establish ties between
the economic entities operating in the border areas.

Problems that arise in Russia’s relations with China often are
the reverse side of the fast development of bilateral interaction.
However, instead of dramatizing the differences, the parties should
develop a systematic approach for their settlement.

It is very important to strengthen the social basis of
Russian-Chinese relations by promoting people-to-people contacts,
developing tourism, strengthening interregional and transborder
relationships. It is also essential that the two countries increase
their interaction in the social and humanitarian areas, in culture,
the sciences and the mass media. These efforts will be our
contribution to eliminating many false stereotypes regarding the
perception of China, which still exists in the minds of many
Europeans and Americans.

These stereotypes stem from the uncertainty about the potential
conduct of a ‘strong China’ on the international stage after it has
carried out its grandiose modernization plans and become an
economic, technological and military superpower. The last 20-odd
years have shown that as China is rapidly developing, its foreign
policy has become more balanced and oriented toward integration
into the world economy; this has enhanced its level of cooperation
with various countries. There are good grounds to believe that this
tendency will continue. As China’s competitiveness increases, it
increasingly upholds and advances its national interests. This is a
natural process, and the only normal reaction to it from other
states, including Russia, should be enhancing the effectiveness of
their own policies while developing constructive interaction with
China in various fields.

The potential for economic interaction between Russia and China
is tremendous, and its realization will determine the economic
future of the entire Eurasian and Pacific space. If we look at
Russian-Chinese relations in a global context – through the prism
of the global situation, and from the point of view of the vital
interests of the two countries – we will see that a strategic
partnership between Russia and China, and one that is based on
trust, will be an enduring value in the 21st century. It will serve
as the bulwark for an equitable, democratic and multipolar world
order, which is now being built. The success of this relationship
is of vital importance for international peace and security, as
well as for the tranquility and wellbeing of the two great
neighboring nations.