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China-Russia Come Closer after Putin's Visit to China
May 22, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Shanghai on 20 May to attend the Fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia Summit, chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Russian president visits China concurrently with joint naval drills between the two countries in the East China Sea. Russia's deepening ties to China coincide with its increasing isolation from the West over the crisis in Ukraine, and have prompted talk of a new Cold-War-style, anti-Western alliance between the two Asian powers.

Russia's proposed gas agreement with China, which is almost in final phase of of negotiations, is a 30-year contract for Russia to supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. If a final agreement is reached soon, construction of a new gas pipeline between Russia and China is expected to begin by the end of this year and to begin delivering gas by 2018. 

Negotiations have failed in the past due to differences on pricing, and have remained in question as Russia seeks $25 billion now from China to secure future gas supplies. Increased Russian gas trade with China would offset any reduction in trade with Europe, but would also cause Russia to have a greater dependence on China.

The Sino-Russian relationship today looks quite different from that of the Stalin-Mao era. At that time, the Soviet Union was clearly the senior partner in the relationship, with the new People's Republic of China dependent on Russian aid and leadership. Now the tables have turned, and China is in the leading role. As Russia’s relations with the West deteriorate, its ties with China will need to grow stronger. With an economic output only 40 percent of the USSR's in 1979, China's economy grew to become four times the size of Russia's by 2010.

Since the glory days of Sino-Soviet friendship under Stalin and Mao, the two countries' relationship has been a rocky one. The two had a falling out following Stalin's death in 1953, fought a border war in 1969, and continued to drift apart as China and the United States normalized relations in the 1970s. Now, however, both have an interest in renewed relations. "Both (China and Russia) want to use this relationship as a bargaining chip in their relationship with the U.S.

China denies any intent at a new Cold War alliance to confront the West. However, China and Russia have a shared distaste for America's functions as a global policeman, reject Western principles on human rights, and resent what they see as U.S. and Western efforts to contain Chinese and Russian power. Both have aligned themselves with other authoritarian regimes, such as Iran, in a spirit of resistance to the spread of Western-style democracy, both have territorial ambitions that conflict with pro-Western alliances in Asia and Eastern Europe, and both feel that the West has denied them their rightful place in the global order. 

Much has changed since the days of Stalin and Mao, and time will tell how much Russia enjoys being the junior partner in its relationship with China. Russia is not the rising power that China is, and may need China more than China needs Russia. As isolation from the West drives Russia into China's arms, China clearly has the upper hand in the relationship.  

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