Period 2000-2007

Period 2000 – 2007: unipolarity, awakening of competitors

Treaty for Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation in June 2001 is the groundwork of Sino-Russian relations and covers five important areas of cooperation:

  • Joint actions to offset a perceived US hegemony
  • Demarcation of the two countries’ long-disputed 4,300 km border
  • Arms sales and technology transfers
  • Energy and raw materials supply
  • The rise of militant Islam in Central Asia

Although the treaty included nothing new except re-emphasizing their “strategic partnership,” it laid a legal foundation for the two countries to strengthen their security-oriented cooperation. The treaty stated that both countries were committed to “upholding the global strategic balance and maintenance of security…to strengthening the role of the United Nations in the maintenance of peace and development”. These commitments implied a common strategic stand in opposing US missile defense systems and the Kosovo intervention.

The treaty comes on the heels of another important security arrangement involving these two countries: in June 14, 2001, Russia, China, and four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan) announced the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an arrangement ostensibly aimed at confronting Islamic radical fundamentalism and promoting economic development. In 2017, both India and Pakistan were granted status as full members.

Sino-Russian economic cooperation

The years 2001–2004 created economic partnership between Russia and China, with some political and security aspects. Sino-Russian economic cooperation and trade volume had not moved alongside the increased security-oriented cooperation. Putin’s first priority in the 2000s turned to domestic development, including economic growth and regional stability. Fortunately for Putin, high oil and gas prices allowed him to maintain high economic growth for the two terms of his presidency until the 2008 finance crisis. Sino-Russian trade increased dramatically after Putin came to power. In 2000, bilateral trade was US$ 8 billion, which rose to US$ 21.2 billion in 2004 and continued to grow through the most of the 2000s, especially due to massive energy cooperation.  

Turning point of September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 in New York changed the world political framework and also influenced Sino-Russian relations in the early 2000s. Both Russia and China supported the US “War on Terror” soon after the 9/11 event and both adjusted their threat perceptions regarding the United States. This calibration decelerated the security cooperation in their bilateral relations emphasizing instead the feature of “economic partnership”.  

The major headache for Putin in the early 2000s was Chechen conflict and related terrorist attacks. In international affairs, Putin adopted a “multi-vectored” foreign policy, aimed at developing relations with all countries, including the United States. After September 11, this similar, bitter experience of terrorism moved Putin closer to the United States, although threats from the United States and NATO may never have disappeared in Putin’s mind. Anyway, the common interest in counterterrorism diverted Putin’s threat perceptions regarding the West.

China’s threat perception on the US also changed, although not as much as Russia’s. Since the 1995–1996 Taiwan-crisis, this issue has been the major obstacle in US–China relations. The Kosovo war heightened Chinese leaders’ suspicions and even fears of the US policy toward Taiwan in the future. Soon after the 9/ 11 attacks, China voiced its support for US fight against terrorists. China voted for the anti-terrorism resolutions in the UN Security Council, which granted the US a mandate to conduct military action in Afghanistan. China helped the United States freeze financial transactions of terrorist suspects in Chinese banks.

Nevertheless, China’s support for the US War on Terror did not change Chinese leaders’ threat perception of the United States, especially on the Taiwan issue. Unlike Chechnya and the related terrorist activities for Russia, the Taiwan issue is in a different category than global terrorism.

While Putin might share a similar feeling against terrorism with the US, Chinese leaders were more concerned over what the US would do after its victory over terrorism. The superior US military capabilities shown in both the Kosovo War and in the anti-terrorism campaign deepened Chinese leaders’ threat perceptions regarding the United States. Therefore, China started to increase its defense budget after the Taiwan crisis and continued to do so in the whole 2000s and beyond to modernize its military capabilities.

The temporary divergent threat perceptions between Russia and China led to a temporary “aloof” status in their security partnership, although the 1996 strategic partnership statement mentioned that both countries would coordinate in security affairs. Afghanistan war, initiated by the US in 2001 in the context of “War on Terror”, received a tacit acceptance by Russia and China in the initial stage but later growing strong opposing stance to the NATO-led campaign.

Turning point of the Iraq war in 2003

Soon after the US initiated the war in Iraq in 2003, Russia and China started to reclaim their lost threat perception convergence regarding the United States. Russia joined France and Germany in the Security Council to block US attempts to seek authorization from the UN for its war with Iraq.

In 2004 NATO admitted seven countries, including three former Soviet Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as new members after the 1997 enlargement. Russia furiously opposed such an enlargement, which led to the termination of the short honeymoon between Russia and the United States after 9/11. Russia, therefore, started its internal “hard balancing” against US threat, especially regarding the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems in the 2010s.

The end of the short rapprochement between Russia and the United States injected new momentum into the Sino-Russian partnership. The two states started again to strengthen their security-oriented cooperation.

In July 2005, presidents Hu and Putin released a Sino-Russian Joint Statement on New World Order in the Twenty-first Century. In the statement, the two countries called on the United Nations to “play a leading role in global affairs” and stated that “the international community should completely renounce the mentality of confrontation and alliance; there should be no pursuit of monopoly or domination of world affairs”.

Even if the 2005 joint statement was only rhetorical posturing, Russia and China started substantial military cooperation in the second half of the 2000s, not only in the form of arms sales but in other new fields. Besides, both countries separately resumed robust rearmament and military modernization programmes.

Putin’s speech in Munich (10.02.2007) was a new turning point of this period.

The Munich speech presented strong criticism of a world in which the US makes unilateral decisions on most important global issues with little regards to the interests of other nations, especially those not allied with Washington.Putin accused the US of provoking a new nuclear arms race, expanding NATO in Europe and making the Middle East more unstable. He also said that Washington ignored the United Nations and relied on the unilateral use of force.

Threat perceptions of the US

Threat perceptions of the US remained approximately the same than in the previous period:

  • War on Terror”: Islamic terrorist groups and their acquisition of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear devices
  • Axis of Evil”: Iran, Iraq and North Korea and their acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (wmd)

Balancing Continuum

Under these circumstances, when looking at this period from the point of view of the re-designed  Balancing Continuum, the following can be concluded:

  • both Russia and China adopted temporary bandwagoning in their relation with the US in the aftermath of 9/11 event but that thaw ended soon in Iraq war 2003
  • since 2003 both Russia and China criticized publicly the US campaign in Iraq and elsewhere; Russia targeted particular fierce criticism to the US due to NATO enlarging
  • the sound in the bell was changing, bandwagoning was changed into soft balancing and criticism was hardening
  • Putin’s speech in 2007 can be seen as a first step towards hard balancing
  • the US resumed and strengthened the unipolarity position and its hegemony status
  • all these features are according to Walt’s theory

The situation can be visually presented by the graphics of triangle network relations: