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The “New” Russia-China Relations -Implications for the EU

By Jess,Xufeng JIA

22 June 2015


  • Russia is increasingly turning towards China as a result of Western sanctions. But although there is much talk and diplomatic support there are few concrete results due to Russia’s structural economic problems.  
  • This short-term ‘axis of convenience’ could, however, develop into a more strategic alliance in the future given the right incentives on both sides.
  • The EU has taken a relaxed position to this new relationship. This may not be possible in future and the EU should reflect on how closer ties between Russia and China might affect important EU interests.


For cultural and geographical reasons, Russia and China have always faced in different directions: China towards Asia and Russia towards Europe. Their relations before the 20thC were cautious with few close ties. When the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949 it led to a decade of close relations between the two major communist powers. But China was reluctant to play the little brother role and following the death of Stalin in 1954 relations began to deteriorate. In 1960 Khrushchev decided to withdraw Soviet economic and technological support. The following year Mao accused the Soviet leadership of revisionism and the Sino-Soviet alliance was over (although some Western experts considered this was a plot to confuse the West).

Relations continued to deteriorate leading to serious border clashes along the Ussuri River in 1969.  This event led both China and the Soviet Union to explore alignments against each other with the US.  Relations began to improve in the late 1970s when Deng Xiaoping became leader. By 1989 the process of rapprochement was complete allowing Gorbachev to visit Beijing shortly before the Tiananmen Square disturbances. He refused to involve the USSR in the sanctions the western powers imposed on China following Tiananmen. Yeltsin, regarded with suspicion in Beijing for promoting the break-up of the Soviet Union, remained a firm advocate of good relations with China and worked to build on the breakthrough achieved in the 1980s. In 1997 Jiang Zemin already spoke of Russia as China’s key strategic ally. In 1998 the two countries acted jointly for the first time in the UNSC to oppose the US bombing of Iraq. Subsequently both countries strongly opposed the US led attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999 and on Iraq in 2003.  Under Putin, cooperation between Russia and China has steadily intensified. The long standing border issue was finally resolved and Russia and China began to deepen their cooperation in global affairs.

This report reviews the new Russia-China relationship under the impact of Western sanctions, focusing on the possible mid-and longer-term developments. It also discusses the implication of this new relationship for the EU.

See the full report, please click here.

The “New” Russia-China Relations -Implications for the EU