Since Russia invaded Ukraine (again), there has been much debate around Beijing’s so-called “no limits” partnership with Moscow. Where does China stand and what does it want? What does Russia want from China? These questions are important. Some analysts believe Beijing can be influenced to pressure Moscow into changing course – for example, when it comes to threatening nuclear escalation. Others think this is unrealistic. In that context, the exact nature of the China-Russia relationship matters a great deal. Are they allies or are they not?
“China and Russia are limited allies. They increasingly coordinate in the symbolic and information realms by communicating shared visions on multipolarity and anti-hegemonic ambitions. They also continue to expand their trade relations and military ties. At the same time, the alliance is highly asymmetrical, in favor of China, especially in the context of Russia’s growing isolation as part of its ongoing war in Ukraine. The alliance is also fractured by persisting mutual societal mistrust and limited knowledge production about each other. As such, this bilateral relationship is robust, but also hierarchical and limited to specific tactical domains.”
“No. In a narrow sense, the two countries do not have a mutual defense pact, and they call their relationship a partnership rather than an alliance. In a broader sense, China has not provided military aid to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has not violated US sanctions to help Russia’s economy. Bilateral language about “no limits” and “no forbidden zones” should be taken seriously but not literally. Beijing is deepening ties with an isolated Moscow to obtain advanced weapons, cheap commodities, pro-authoritarian global governance reform, and strategic counterbalance to US-led containment of China. But it sacrifices little to help Russia.”
“Sino-Russian ties can be described as “not always together but never against each other”. Moscow and Beijing enjoy unprecedented geopolitical closeness and growing economic interdependency. But, unlike NATO allies, they aren’t required to participate in each other’s defense in the event of a crisis. They share opinions on many international issues but stay away from “hot potatoes” of each other’s foreign policies. Beijing never recognized Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and didn’t support its military invasion of Ukraine. Russia didn’t comply with China’s claims over the South-China Sea and cooperated with India and Vietnam who have territorial disputes with China.”