Russia’s “Strategic Partnership” with China Set to Grow in 2009

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 239

On December 10 Chief of the General Staff Nikolay Makarov repeated Russia’s threat to deploy short-range Iskander (SS-26) missile systems as one of the promised countermeasures against planned U.S. positioning of several interceptors in Poland as part of the Ballistic Missile Shield (BMD). Makarov said:

The Russian side, too, will make a number of decisions, including one on the deployment of new-generation missile systems, such as the Iskander system. In this case, everyone should realize that while [in the past] the issue of missile defense concerned [only] the Russian Federation and the United States of America, it is now a problem for all countries in Europe.”
Moscow’s efforts to internationalize its concerns over the BMD not only apply to Europe; it is also looking to the leadership in Beijing for additional support. Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov recently discussed the United States’ BMD plans during talks with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie. “We think that the USA’s global missile defense system could potentially upset the strategic balance of forces among the leading nuclear powers,” Serdyukov said, following talks in Beijing. Serdyukov also used this as a platform to attack what Moscow views as U.S. and EU opposition to Russian and Chinese attempts to outlaw the use of weapon systems in space (Zvezda TV, December 10; Interfax, December 10).

After the bilateral Sino-Russian defense talks in Beijing, Liang announced that China and Russia would hold a joint antiterrorist military exercise next year. This will follow two previous successful antiterrorist exercises conducted in 2005 and 2007, both under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Serdyukov indicated that next year’s exercise would also be a SCO military exercise, no doubt geared toward the needs of the defense planning staffs in Moscow and Beijing, rather than more direct involvement by their Central Asian counterparts. Serdyukov brought attention to the growth in bilateral defense cooperation, including such exercises; and it was agreed to develop this further. In light of the 60th anniversary of Chinese-Russian relations next year, Liang said that “The two agreed to make best of this opportunity and work together to take our ties to a new high” (Xinhua, December 10).

Beyond the military exercises and promotion of the SCO’s counterterrorist credentials, it is likely that 2009 will see more frequent exploitation of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership in order to oppose Washington on a range of issues from BMD to promoting democracy.

China says that it wants a closer military relationship with Russia, because it is in the fundamental interests of both countries. Following comments by other Chinese officials, Guo Boxiong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, said that regional and global peace would benefit by enhanced Sino-Russian military cooperation. He said, without elaborating further, that this was particularly the case in light of a complicated and volatile international situation (Xinhua, December 11).

Wang Gang, a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) spoke of China’s deeper ties with Russia, pointing to several successful meetings between Presidents Medvedev and HU Jintao in 2008, as an indication of “growing momentum” in bilateral relations. “The two nations have boosted high-level exchanges, expanded political mutual trust, and forged close coordination on international issues,” Wang stated (Xinhua, December 11). Given the Sino-Russian cooperation at the UN earlier this year in blocking sanctions against Zimbabwe, however, what this “close coordination” might entail is open to question.

China’s Xinhua news agency issued a year-end statement on December 11, which enumerated Russia’s countermeasures against the U.S. missile shield plans. It read almost like a report card on Russia’s unruly behavior in world diplomacy. It included Russia’s resumption of patrolling areas of the world’s oceans; its test firing of ICBMs; the first large-scale naval exercise in the Atlantic in 15 years in January; and two Tu-160 strategic bombers landing in Venezuela in September to carry out training flights. It also noted Medvedev’s week-long tour of Latin America in late November, which included stops in Brazil, Cuba, Peru, and Venezuela and coincided with a Russian naval convoy, consisting of a nuclear cruiser, an anti-submarine vessel, a tank vessel, and a tugboat, which was conducting joint maneuvers with Venezuela. which was conducting joint maneuvers with Venezuela. Moreover, Xinhua mentioned that Russia had made oil and arms agreements with Cuba, Libya, Syria, and Venezuela; conducted the war against Georgia; recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and maintained its dogmatic opposition to further enlargement of NATO.

Yet, in its new foreign policy concept, a more positive position was included in Russia’s relations with the United States. “It is necessary to switch Russian-US relations to a state of strategic partnership, to step over the barriers of past strategic principles,” the agency said, reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s earlier appeals. (Xinhua, December 11). Undoubtedly, Russia’s international diplomacy has become more assertive in 2008. It has also left Western diplomats nonplussed over Russia’s bargaining position, if it has one.