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The Prospects of the Sino-Russian Relations Essay

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2019


The emergence of the close relations between China and Russian cannot be evaluated without a close analysis of the influence of the United States’ foreign policy and the triangular relationships between the three countries (Azizian 2000, p.4; Kim 2011, p.18).

Prior to the formation of the Republic of China in the mid 20th century, senior members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated plans to establish a treaty with the Russian government. Given that the ‘lean-to-one-side’ policy had already been implemented in China, senior party members of the CCP viewed the Sino-Russia relation as a tactical step to secure their economic, ideological and political interests (Kim 2011, p.19).

Some of the factors that compelled CCP members to form a security pact with Russia were: the poor economic status in China; the need for global recognition and legitimacy; and the lack of a deterrence and self-protective guard against an American assault (Bolt & Cross 2009, p.2).

In 1949, Mao, the CCP party leader, made his maiden tour to Moscow that lasted several weeks. His discussions with Stalin, the Russian leader focused on the conditions of the strategic alliance between China and Russia (Kim 2011, p.19). Mao’s trip to Moscow meant that the People’s Republic of China had joined the communist camp, with Russia as the principal leader.

During the deliberations, the Russian leader, at first assumed a ‘grabbing with two hands’ approach’ (Kim 2011, p.20). Stalin not only wanted to preserve all the compromises he had extorted from the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalists regime, when they signed the China-Russian accord in 1945 but also was against the anti-American coalition pact. As a matter of fact, the U.S. was invited to the Mao-Stalin meeting.

The diverse approaches of Stalin and Mao on strategies to react to an American attack arose from their diverge judgment of the possibility of an American assault against their countries.

Whereas Russia considered the American’s intentions to provide military support to Japan as an alarming danger, on the other hand, China stressed that the U.S. had a plot to undermine the triumph of the Chinese Revolt by offering military support to anti-revolutionary factions on the Taiwanese mainland.

Thus according to China, the American’s actions in Taiwan necessitated the immediate creation of the Sino-Soviet treaty (Kim 2011, p.20). Thus after numerous deliberations between Mao and Stalin, the two leaders signed a pact on February 14th, 1950.

Some of the main tenets of the pact included: Mutual Assistance; Alliance; and Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship (Kim 2011, p.21). The principle goal of the Sino-Russian pact was to build a socialist unity in East Asia as a counterbalance against the U.S-Japanese coalition in East Asia (Dittmer 2009, p.1; Menon 2009, p.4).

However, Russia’s policy in East Asia has been subjected to criticism for a long time. It is generally accepted that Russia’s strategies in East Asia have been moribund.

Russian experts and the West have frequently described the apparent failure of the Moscow administration to value the political and economical significance of the region by a number of reasons, such as ideological restraints of the Russia’s foreign policy, conventional euro-centrism and the stalemate in the territorial confrontation between Moscow and Japan, the region’s de-facto leader (Wishnick n.d., p.45).

This has compelled majority of political analysts in the U.S. and Western Europe to refer to Russia as a ‘sick man’ of Asia, a once great regional power that is basically unable to restore her prestige and power in East Asia (Azizian 2000, p.4).


The most effective qualitative method used in assessing the Sino-Russia pact relates to the theory of neo-realism. According to this theory, a state, in its engagement with other states, will seek for ways to promote its own interests and will not subordinate its goals to those of other states. At the very least, a state will make certain of its continued existence since this is a precondition to achieve other goals.

Thus, survival is the principal factor that influences the state’s actions to form military alliances and/or develop offensive military arsenals as a way to boost their relative power (such as the Sino-Russia pact in 1950).

Given that a state is incapable to ascertain the future goals of other states in the future, trust issues (seen in the Sino-Russia relations in areas such as demographic, political leaders and population) emerge between states which oblige states to be cautious against paradigm shift in their relative influence that could threaten their existence.

This phenomenon is known as security dilemma- the Sino-Russia pact being an ample example (Vitaly 2009 p.7).

All states have similar needs but differ in terms of the ability to accomplish security needs. The different abilities among states establish the sharing of capabilities. The structural allotment of capabilities then restricts collaboration amongst states via fears of relative achievements realized by other states, and the likelihood of dependence on other states.

The relative capabilities of every state to optimize relative authority to limit each other lead to a balance of power- for example the attempt by Sino-Russian pact to construct multi polar world system- which determines international relations. It also creates a security dilemma that all states encounter (Vitaly 2009 p.7).

The balance of power is developed through external and internal actions. External balance of power takes place when states form relations to countercheck the influence of other dominant coalitions or states (such as the Sino-Russia pact to challenge the Japanese-American alliance).

Internal balance is achieved when states develop their own abilities such as China’s efforts to enhance military expenditure and the Russia’s attempts to expand economic growth (Vitaly 2009 p.8). The neo-realism theory posits that a bipolar system-such as attempts by China to attain superpower status- is steadier-since balancing can only take place via internal balancing since there is no need to form alliances with other powerful states.

Moreover, internal balancing alleviates chances for slip-ups to occur thereby reducing the likelihood of power conflict. Neo-realism theory wraps up by suggesting that since war is a result of the chaotic international system, it is thus expected to persist in the future (impending challenges of China’s growing power).

In order to analyze the Sino-Russian relation effective, it is critical to conduct a historical view which is the most effective research method (Vitaly 2009 p.8 & Voskressenski n.d., p. 4).

The vibrant economic development in China coupled with demographic resources and enhanced military capabilities make China a potent adversary in the modern era. Following the incidences at Tiananmen Square, Japan and the United States declined to supply China with military weapons. Thus, after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia became the major provider of military equipments to China (Braekhus 2007 p.19).

However, China procures a limited number of military weapons from Russia that are unlikely to seriously alter the balance between huge army and the American and Chinese military. For instance, the procurement of Russian Su-27 military aircrafts by China constitutes less than one percent of the more than 3000 military aircrafts that the country has now.

Given that China intends to manufacture and procure this type of planes imply that the country will attain a high percentage of the S-27 fighter jets in its arsenal in the near future. This implies that by the end of 2020, China will be in possession of an efficient fleet of aircrafts that could match the Russian or American air force (Vitaly 2009 p.12).

Following the Tiananmen Square incident that forced the Europe and U.S. to restrict imports of military wares to China, Russia became the principal supplier of weapons to the Beijing government. At first, the Sino-Russian pact benefited both countries because Russia was in dire need of Chinese clients to sustain its weapon industry in the same way China required Russian arsenal to sustain its military transformation.

The Sino-Russian pact was therefore complimentary in nature (Vitaly n.d p.33). Ever since the early 1990s, the volume of military weapons procured by china from Russia exceeds by far those that it purchased from the West. For instance, between 1990 and 2004, Russia sold more than $19 billion worth of weapons to China.

Also during this period, more than 900 military specialists have been engaged in technological exchanges with their Chinese counterparts (Vitaly 2009 p.34).

However, export of Russian military weapons to China has raised anxiety among some Russian policy makers who fear that the economic benefits accruing from the Sino-Russian military pact comes at the cost of strengthening the military capabilities of China (Lukin 2001, p.8). Russia has however been cautious not to provide China with its most sophisticated military technologies (Vitaly 2009 p.34).

International relations (IR) theories vis-à-vis the Sino-China relations


Realism was the prevailing theoretical convention during the Cold War. The theory portrays international relations as a fight for power amongst self-centered states and is generally cynical with respect to the prospects for alleviating war and conflict.

The theory of realism was prominent during the Cold War period because it offered ample reasons for the emergence of alliances, wars, imperialism and the bi-polar rivalry between the U.S and the Soviet Union (Walt 2000, p.1). Realist idea underwent dramatic changes during the Cold War. The classical realism theory posited that wars were a result of the inherent need of states to control other states.

On the contrary, the neorealist theory analyzed the effects of the international system. According to the proponents of neorealist, the international system is made up of several powerful states and that each of these states seeks to survive.

Since the international system lacks a central authority to safeguard states from each other, each state has to devise its own strategies to guarantee survival. Neorealist postulates that the lack of a central authority would compel fragile states to balance against, as opposed to forming pacts with powerful states (Walt 2000, p.1).

The theory however fails to explain the Sino-Russian pact with respect to the bipolar rivalry between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

The theoretical postulates of the realist were in sharp contrast to the Sino-Russia relation which was formed to counterbalance the more formidable Japanese-U.S. pact in Eastern Asia, augment China’s military clout to deter any potential American attack and tame the growing influence of the U.S. in East Asia (Kim 2011, p.18).


Liberalism theories emphasize on the function of the diverse social welfare and ideals of states vis-à-vis their relevance for world politics. Liberalists posit that globalization is now the common denominator in the global politics. States are entrenched in a domestic and intercontinental society which generates inducements for social, economic and cultural relations among states.

According to liberal theories, a segment of the domestic population may profit or be hurt by these policies and therefore compel the government to promote policies that are consistent with their interests. These social demands, conveyed through political establishments, describe the state’s social, political and economic interests that shape foreign policy (Moravcsik 2010, p.1).

The liberalism theory offers sufficient explanation for the Sino-Russian relations during the Cold War (Johnston 2006, p.28). However, there are few canons of the pact that are in harmony with some realism tenets. For example, the economic reforms started in the late 1970s differed significantly from the Maoism.

China embraced capitalist principles that were perceived as vital to enhance economic development and improve economic welfare of the Chinese people (Mauri 2008, p.3). With respect to the Sino-Russian relations, the economic collaboration between China and Russia has improved remarkably. China is Russia’s third biggest trading partner while Russia is the seventh biggest market for exports from China (Azizian 2000, p.7).

The Sino-Russian pact has improved bilateral relations and enhanced international status of both states. China’s help has been vital for Russia’s desire to take part in the political and economic growth of the Asia-Pacific via bilateral relations with China. It also has enabled Russia join APEC to enhance economic relations between the two states (Azizian 2000, p.9).

Social Constructivism

While the liberalist and realists emphasize on issues such as commerce and power, social constructivism theory focuses on the significance of ideas. The theory thus fails to explain the concept that states, in their engagements with other states, form pacts to secure their survival. Social constructivism considers the characters and interests of states as an extremely supple product of precise historical developments.

It describes the current discussions in the society since dialogue mirrors and defines accepted interests and principles of the society. The demise of Cold War contributed to the emergence of constructivism since liberalist and realist theories were unable to predict this incident and had some difficulties explaining it.

For example, Gorbachev, a former Russian leader transformed the Soviet Union overseas policy and adopted common security policy. Constructivism renders the concept of power irrelevant and stresses on how identities and ideas are formed, how they transform, and how they define the manner in which states grasp and react to their status (Walt 2000, p.4).

For example, Russian leaders are aware of China’s growing influence on the global economy. They are also aware that providing China with hi-tech military equipments may pose a security threat in the future. However, the current economic gains from weaponry sales obscure the long-term security anxieties.

The Sino-Russian pact is increasingly waning because a number of Russian leaders have realized that it is Japan and the U.S. who can provide them with technology and capital for investment purposes. The Sino-Russian trade pact cannot provide enough capital required to develop Russia’s transportation and energy sectors (Menon n.d., p.10). Russia’s close ties with the European Union attest to this paradigm shift.


The emergence of the Sino-Russian relations was as a result of the impact of United States’ foreign policy in East Asia. The pact was established to counterbalance the more formidable Japanese-U.S. treaty in the region.

China’s deplorable economic conditions, lack of defense shield against possible American attacks and the need for universal recognition and acceptance were some of the reason that led to the formation of the Sino-Russian pact in mid 20th century In spite of the numerous benefits that accrued from this pact, an element of mistrust was persistent because of divergence in foreign policy pursued by Russia and China (Kim 2011, p.20).

The most effective method to analyze the complex nature of the Sino-Russian relations is conducting a historical review of the development of the pact through different periods.

To be precise, the international relations theories (IR) provide an insight on the emergence the Sino-Russian relation and the significant transformation it has undergone over the years. For instance, during the Cold War, the realist posited that the need for security and survival was the major component Sino-Russian pact. However, the liberalist emphasized trade as the reason for the Sino-Russian relations.

Social constructivism is considered the best theory to explain the current Sino-Russian relations. Constructivism focuses on the role of ideas and interests of the states as the determinant of foreign policy.

According to this theory, the Sino-Russian pact faces a gloomy future given that China cannot provide Russia with enough capital to be invested in the Energy and transport sector. Russia is thus forced to seek pacts with the U.S. and Europe in order to sustain its economic growth plans (Menon n.d., p.10).


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Bolt, J.P. & Cross, SN. 2009. Contemporary Sino-Russian Security Partnership; Challenges and Opportunities for the United States. Colorado Springs: Institute for National Security Studies.

Braekhus, K. 2007. A Match made in Heave, Strategic Convergence between China and Russia. Norwegian Institute of Internal affairs. Available at:

Dittmer, L. 2009. Sino-Russian Relations in Central Asia and Beyond. Paul H. Nitze.

Washington D.C.: School of Advanced International Studies, Johnston, AI. 2006. Trends in Theory and Method in the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy. Web.

Kim, S. 2011. ‘Reactions of the Sino-Soviet Bloc to the U.S.-ROK Alliance’, Journal of Korean Studies, vol.15, no.1, pp.17-44.

Lukin, A. 2001. Russia’s Image of China and Russian-Chinese Relations. Available at:

Mauri, P. 2008. International Studies and Diplomacy, The Reconstruction of National Identity in Post-Mao China. Web.

Menon, R. 2009. The China-Russia Relationship: What it Involves, Where it is headed, and how it Matters for the United States. Available at:

Menon, R. n.d. The Balance of Power and US Foreign Policy Interests in the Russian Far East. Available at:

Moravcsik, A.2010. Liberal Theories of International Relations. A Primer, Princeton University. Available at:

Vitaly, V.I. 2009. Russia-China Military Arms Trade’, National Sun Yat-Sen University. Web.

Voskressenski, AD. N.d. Regional Studies in Russia and Current Methodological Approaches for Social/Historical/Ideological Reconstruction of International Relations and Regional Interaction in East Eurasia. Available at:

Walt, SM. 2000. International Relations: One world many theories. Web.

Wishnick, E. n.d. Russia’s Engagement in Asia’, One Asia Policy or Two? Moscow and the Russian Far East Debate. Web.

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