The China-Russia Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. This indicates qualitative improvement in Russian-Chinese relations, primarily in political cooperation. The treaty opens up broader cooperation prospects in North-East Asia, South-East Asia, Central Asia and other regions where the two countries have interests big or small.
At the same time, this treaty has great bilateral significance because, alongside an emphasis on the two countries’ rapprochement, it aims at achieving greater mutual trust, cross-cultural and cross-language interaction, the growth of cultural contacts and political and diplomatic cooperation.
Russia and China have a highly organized system of intergovernmental commissions on various aspects of their bilateral relations, and the legal framework is crowned with this treaty.
The treaty also plays an important role in showing the world how two countries can build relations, in the absence of any common ideology (such as that shared by China and the Soviet Union), based on mutual trust and mutual benefit in a globalized world where Western countries sometimes react harshly as in the cases of Libya or Iraq.
The treaty’s role is many-faceted. It has an importance in the localized context of bilateral relations as well as in international politics, and particularly in geopolitics. Russia is developing rapidly, and China is even more so. It is often dubbed a 21st century superpower.
Now, after a decade of cooperating under the treaty, we can say that the coming decade will be even more difficult and eventful in Russian-Chinese relations and in Russian-Chinese cooperation on the global stage. The treaty is mainly pragmatic in aim. The two countries have announced plans to boost their bilateral trade first to $100 billion, then $200 billion. This suggests they have the political will and economic resources to do so. However, this is a long term goal, not something that can be achieved in an instant.
This treaty’s future role will likely be augmented as the two countries gain stronger positions and greater independence. Both Russia and China are permanent UN Security Council members, as well as being members of other supranational organizations and alliances. Moreover, they are initiating new international projects such as BRICS. Therefore, greater coordination of the two countries’ policies will contribute to international stability and security and it will also promote Russia’s and China’s interests in particular regions and, more broadly, in the world.
Although having different political systems, this treaty means that China and Russia have to coordinate their foreign policies more closely, especially when it comes to resolving crises and conflicts, such as that involving North and South Korea or in the Middle East. The Russian-Chinese strategic partnership set out in this treaty is a powerful political tool not just to resolve crises and conflicts, but also to prevent them.
Most importantly, China and Russia can complement each other, each offering the other something it lacks. China can provide Russia with high technology and sizeable investment. The two countries can benefit from the co-development of Siberia and Russia’s Far East with China’s north-eastern provinces. The APEC summit, to be held in Vladivostok in 2012, will open up new prospects for the two countries’ cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region.
Overall, this treaty may serve as a model for the rest of the world. Although the strategic partnership format is nothing new and has been adopted by other countries, in some cases it has no political content or is purely a formality. That is not the case with Russia and China. Their partnership has tangible content including feasible projects. It plays a role in boosting stability and security in various regions and even, across the whole world.
Therefore, the treaty is bound to continue to have this complex role in the future: on the one hand in a localized way, in bilateral relations (especially with regard to using Chinese investment and technology in modernizing Russia), and on the other hand it has this global, international, regional role supporting peace and stability and preventing conflicts.
Sergei Luzyanin is Doctor of History, Deputy Director, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences