The transition period 1990-1993
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, bilateral relations were still dominated by some suspicion and fear. Although Gorbachev started the normalization process of relations during his visit to Beijing in the middle of the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, the later demise of the Soviet Union as well as the rise of the anti-communist Yeltsin overshadowed the bilateral relations with both ideological antagonism and strategic distrust.
Deng Xiaoping as China’s paramount leader insisted on normalizing bilateral relations with Russia. Russian foreign policy was inclined to pro-Western in early 1990s, because Yeltsin saw himself as a “democratic hero” against the old communist regime. Given the ideological gap and historical antagonism between the two nations, few observers anticipated the emergence of close ties between China and Russia in the 1990s. Some important events took place in these transitional years, like China’s recognition of the Russian Federation and commencement of diplomatic relations as well as the first Five-Year Defense Cooperation Agreement.
The simple partnership 1994
In September 1994 President Jiang Zemin visited Moscow and signed a joint statement to establish a “constructive partnership featuring good neighborliness and mutually beneficial cooperation” with Yeltsin. It was the first “partnership” between the two states. Although the joint statement covered four areas of bilateral cooperation: political, economic, military and international, this constructive partnership is only the lowest level of partnership, that is, the “simple partnership”.
The major purpose of the “constructive partnership” is to reduce mutual fears originating from uncertainty and threats from each other. The establishment of this “simple partnership” does not require common external threats and economic interests between the two countries. Actually, the major reason behind the “constructive partnership” document is rooted in the domestic needs of both countries.
Soon after China and Russia formed the “constructive partnership” in 1994, the security situation dramatically changed for both partners. While China experienced the third Taiwan crisis from July of 1995 to March of 1996, which almost escalated into a military confrontation with the United States, Russia faced tremendous strategic pressures from both NATO’s eastward expansion and the first Chechen war.
Consequently, the common threat from the West, especially from the United States, pushed China and Russia to move closer on the security front.