Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 1

Despite the events of September 11 and the ensuing Russian-American mild entente to fight the war against terrorism, it appears that the course for Russia-China relations will not soon be changed from its upward trajectory. The following is an assessment of how Russia and China are growing closer, and how Russia will further strengthen China’s military power.


On September 12, Beijing papers published short reports on the terrorist strikes in NY and DC. Most of these papers published, side-by-side with the reports from America, much more detailed descriptions of new agreements concluded during the visit of Premier Zhu Rongji to Russia, on September 7-11. Some items of these agreements deserve special attention:

By 2005, China and Russia will put into service the 2500-km oil pipeline connecting the Eastern Siberian Irkutsk Region with China’s northeastern Heilongjiang Province. As a result, tens of million tons of Russian oil from Western Siberia will flow to Yellow Sea and Beijing.

  • Simultaneously, construction work on a high-capacity natural gas pipeline connecting China and Russia (with a route parallel the oil pipeline) will intensify.
  • Sino-Russian trade in 2001 could rise about 30 percent from its 2000 level and surpass US$10 billion, while Chinese imports from Russia would increase about 40 percent, to surpass US$7.5 billion.
  • China is purchasing from Russia five TU-204-120 large passenger aircraft and will intensify technological cooperation with Russia in this area of commercial aircraft.
  • China will increase the percentage of high-level machinery in its imports from Russia.
  • China and Russia will expand cooperation in nuclear energy technology.
  • China and Russia will greatly expand cooperation in the space area, including satellite development, space science and technology, and development of space launch vehicles (SLVs).
  • Russia will provide China with next-generation fighter aircraft technology.
  • China and Russia are adamantly against deployment of U.S. National Missile Defense System.

The two countries will expand multilateral cooperation in the frame of the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) that includes China, Russia and four Central Asian republics. [1]

While the Chinese newspapers likely did not have time to adjust their coverage, publishing the reports from America and Russia on the same page the day after the largest terrorist atrocity in history was symbolic: even under new world situation, China will enhance economic and military-strategic cooperation with Russia. Most important will be the strengthening of the alliance under the new 20-year “Chinese-Russian Good Neighborly Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation,” signed by Jiang Zemin and Putin in Moscow in July 2001.

The pipelines connecting China and Russia will provide a solid foundation for large-scale bilateral economic cooperation for several decades. By late September China received permission to develop oil and gas over most of Eastern Siberia and the huge Yakutia Republic of Russian Far East. This will also promote the spread of Chinese control in these zones.

It is possible that Chinese imports of arms and related technology from Russia in 2001 will rise 50-60% from their 2000 level and will expand at about the same rate in 2002. In addition to advanced space-related technology, China will purchase new Russian AWACS aircraft, military transports, new naval weapons and new systems for the ground forces.


It is appropriate to ask whether China can finance huge equipment, resource and military imports from Russia? New global recession could dampen Chinese imports, but for now China appears to have the money, as it expects more. By the end of November foreign currency reserves in China’s Ministry of Finance reached $205 billion. In addition, foreign currency deposits in state-owned banks approached $140 billion. Besides, Chinese economists expect that billions of dollars, so called “scared money” or investments from U.S. financial markets, will soon rush into China. Therefore, it is possible that China may have the money to sustain its arms imports. At the same time Russia will face great financial constraints. Recent world oil price declines could cause the loss of about $20 billion in 2002, and added losses will result from falling prices for natural gas, chemicals, and metals. So this only increases Russia’s willingness to sell its most advanced weaponry and related technology to China.

Perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin, now seen as an American ally, may hesitate to supply China with new weapons that could be used against America. However, it would be naïve to put faith in such a possibility. According to press reports, between September 11 and September 25 Putin telephoned Jiang several times. It is likely that Putin received Jiang’s blessing for a temporary alliance with Washington. Jiang and Putin additionally promoted their cooperation in all areas during the recent APEC summit in Shanghai. This would include areas of military cooperation.


It is also appropriate to ask why is China continuing its program of intensive military modernization when all countries should be uniting to counter the terrorist threat? It is possible that China’s leaders could decide to “solve the Taiwan problem” at a time when most U.S. troops are engaged in the Middle East and Central Asia. Moreover, Chinese leaders-as well as many in the Kremlin–are increasingly worried by the growing US military presence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan. China’s anxiety was underscored by the deployment of several PLA divisions in October 2001 in Xinjiang, near the borders of Afghanistan and Central Asian republic of Tajikistan. These troops have been strengthened by attack helicopter regiments and electronic reconnaissance units. [2]

For both short and medium term contingencies, China is proceeding with its high-tech military development with Russia’s help. This help is evident in China’s manned space program, which as Russia and the U.S. discovered, helps develop competencies necessary for military space programs. Russia may also be helping China develop reconnaissance satellites and newer micro satellites, which in turn could be developed into anti-satellite weapons. The PLA may also be considering a Space Force similar to the newly organized Russian Space Troops. [3]

Russian help is also critical to an intensive Chinese upgrading of its air defense forces. China requires reliable air defense for its critical military and civil facilities, especially in its coastal regions, to defend against U.S. air strikes during the conflict around Taiwan. This network includes anti-aircraft artillery of improved kind and portable anti-aircraft missiles, low-altitude air defense missiles, advanced mid-altitude air defense systems and high-altitude air defense systems. Many of these systems are either purchased from Russia or are based on Russian technology. In the near future, air-defense network will be enhanced by several Russian AWACS aircraft. [4]

In addition, China and Russia, in September-October 2001, accelerated the realization of earlier concluded military-technological agreements: delivery from Russia and production in China, with Russian technology, of advanced fighters and missiles, delivery of new destroyers, diesel-electric and nuclear submarine technology, and state-of-the-art ordnance for PLA Ground Troops. [5]

For the future, China is also seeking to adopt Russia’s “6th-generation warfare” concepts and technologies, or what is loosely known in the West as the “Revolution in Military Affairs.” Russian and Chinese strategists contend that success in future wars will depend on the realization of “6th generation warfare,” to include the construction of modern large-scale information warfare systems, long-range precision-guided munitions, establishing a five-dimensional battlefield (with ground, naval, air, space, and electromagnetic components or dimensions) and the development of the sophisticated “asymmetric warfare” capabilities. [6]

Despite growing U.S.-Russia cooperation, it appears that Russia-China strategic cooperation will not diminish. This means that China’s strength will continue to grow and its ability to threaten peace in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea will also grow. So while Washington can welcome Russian help with the current war, it should be wary of Russia’s actions in wars of the future.



1. Jingji ribao (Economic daily) paper, Beijing, 09.12.01, p.1 “Results of Premier Zhu Rongji visit to Russia” (no author).