China and Russia have always been in a stably cooperative relation with each other in the recent decades. However, this stable relation seems to be somewhat challenged by the incident of ‘Fishermen Crisis’ last month. As many as 36 fishermen and two fish ships were detained by Russian Navy after being accused of entering an exclusive economic zone in its far eastern Primorsky region. After several rounds of negotiation and diplomatic conversation, fishermen were finally back home safe and sound. It has been a month since the crisis now and things have calmed down. Question has been raised that will this unexpected incident ever pose a negative influence on Sino-Russo relation in the future?
Russian’s position in foreign policy has always been tough. Following Soviet Union’s legacy, Russian government tends to not to stand in the same position with other countries in order to show its uniqueness. On the other hand, posing much more emphasis on authoritarianism and nationalism after Putin’s governance, Russia has been acting more and more toughly in contradictions with other countries. The conflict in South Ossetia in Central Asia and former President Medvedev landing in Kuril Islands in Northeast Asia are both vivid examples in recent years.
Despite being one of the best political partners with each other, Russia still has enough concern about its rapidly rising neighbour - China. Beijing claimed no plan for global domination and has been stressing ‘Peaceful Rise’ for years, it is, however, natural that Kremlin is getting worried and jealous about China gaining the potential to be a regional superpower. The latest decade has witnessed a drastic increase in direct Chinese investment to Russia and Moscow is very much afraid of ‘economic invasion’ from China. Also, China is playing a more and more predominant role in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and it has directly threatened Russia’s traditional control power over Central Asia. Therefore, deterring fishermen can be treated as a direct way from Russia to show its unhappiness in various occasions and it was expecting to give Chinese government an indirect warning.
Still Good Friends?
China and Russia are tight partners in terms of economic cooperation. Russia benefits from the light industry and China needs oil and gas from Russia as well as support in heavy and military industry. Though the incident has passed, heated discussion has been raised. Can this relation be maintained with increasing misunderstanding and suspicion?
For Russia, the threat from eastern enlargement of both the EU and the NATO was vital, as former Soviet member states and satellite countries became part of the ‘west’. Western world has come up with this new plan to deter the potential rise of Russia in the future and Russia is completely trapped at the European side. Therefore, a drastic controversy between the internal need of growing power and its geographical constraint has been formed. On the other hand, one of the biggest domestic problems for Russia is the regional development in East Siberia and the Far East. Therefore, Russia is more than happy to develop this sparsely populated yet resource-rich part of the country and it could feel the urge to build up a good relation with China.
For China, facing increasing counterbalance from Japan and the US at the Pacific side, it definitely needs a strong partner to aid it. Japan is always afraid that its dominant position in the Far East will be eventually replaced by China. Despite its economic slowdown, Japan has tried different ways to pose more pressure on China. Recent contradiction in Senkaku Islands is a good example. On the other hand, after the failure in Middle East, the US government has moved back its emphasis on Asia Pacific and China will definitely feel uneasy. Looking around China’s neighbouring countries, Russia is the only one left who might be able to offer practical help in building up as a strategic ally.
The most crucial link in this relation is energy. With the rapid rise of the so-called ‘World Factory’, China is desperate in energy for its infrastructure and Russia is happy to expand its market in China. Mutual relation has been bounded with pipelines and oil tubes. Also, China and Russia are in the same position in some of the international occasions in recent years. Joint vetoes at Syria Crisis at UN were the latest example for these two countries standing against US hegemony.
To sum up, China and Russia are still interdependent and both of them have the urge to build up a solid relation with each other. This urge is based on internal needs and external international strategy. Therefore, chances are that Russia and China can still make a good union to counterbalance other forces.