The Sino-Russia-US Strategic Triangle: A View from China

Gilbert Rozman

Four schools of thought can be detected in Chinese publications on Sino-Russian relations and the Sino-Russian-US triangle. One school is to double-down on the “quasi-alliance” versus the shared threat of the United States. A second is to seize the opportunity of Russia’s weakness in the triangle, especially its economic troubles, to press for economic integration as part of “One Belt, One Road” (BRI), collapsing the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) into “One Belt, One Union” (OBOU). A third school is to show sensitivity to Russian thinking, not siding fully with it in its confrontation with the US or pressuring it while reminding it of lines it should not cross. Finally, there is a fourth school that downplays the geopolitical competition and recognizes the weakness of Russia as a triangular force, while calling for a “win-win” approach to the triangle. The relative influence of these schools is difficult to ascertain; much depends on Sino-US ties. In the third and fourth schools we find evidence of academic pragmatism, which has experienced some revival of late but may not carry much weight in setting long-term strategic objectives.

The first two schools reason that the Sino-US and Russo-US sides of the Sino-Russia-US strategic triangle could thicken or thin somewhat but are unlikely to change substantially. Adjustments made possible through a “reset,” a trade deal, agreement on sanctions/diplomacy with North Korea, or limited counterterrorism measures are occasional accommodations that do not fundamentally alter the trajectory of competitive or, essentially, antagonistic relationships. A far-reaching transformation in the strategic triangle—as occurred in 1960 with the Sino-Soviet split, in 1972 with the Sino-US alignment against the Soviet Union, in the 1980s to the mid-90s with the fitful Sino-Russian quest for equidistance in the triangle, and in the 2000s to 2010s with the increasing Sino-Russian alignment against the United States—would need to transpire due to an unmistakable thinning of the Sino-Russian relationship. Chinese sources acknowledge problems in this relationship, but they give little credence to the notion that it could be put in jeopardy, resting their case not only on security and economics, but on national identity grounds as well.

Beijing and Moscow differ in current policies toward Washington more than in their objectives. The timetable for Beijing is much longer than for Moscow. The areas of confrontation are much more circumscribed for Beijing. Their approaches to the US-led international system are not in sync, although they share many of the same criticisms. In addressing the aim of forging a sphere of influence, Moscow is prone to military means, while Beijing prefers economic means. There is far more talk of a win-win situation in Beijing (even if it obscures a deep, zero-sum outlook) than in Moscow. However much such differences are discernable, they offer little basis for the wishful thinking in some circles that the Sino-Russian strategic partnership is vulnerable to a US strategy to divide the two without sacrificing fundamental US national interests and values. For Chinese analysts the prospect of such US overtures or a Russian defection is hard to conceive. All four schools identified above cast doubt on any sort of “Sino-Russian split,” while diverging on what China should do in the triangular context in regard to short-term Sino-US relations.

An historical perspective on the strategic triangle

Dominant powers tend to take their partners for granted before there is a rude awakening, as occurred when Sino-Russian relations revealed a quarter century of continuous improvement. In the 1980s Washington’s thinking about relations between Beijing and Moscow failed to catch their momentum toward a far-reaching breakthrough before it fell further out of touch by focusing on the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s sharp turn to international markets. As we enter the 2020s, Beijing’s thinking about the tensions between Moscow and Washington offers a new opportunity to assess whether the dominant player and current pivot in the strategic triangle is attentive to the possible challenges in this triangle, especially the prospects for a shift in the relationship between the other two sides. The dynamics of this triangle in 2018 were far more interesting than in recent periods, much as the dynamics of the triangle had drawn more interest in 1985-86 than in the previous decade, but that does not mean we should anticipate a similar outcome for Sino-Russian dynamics as occurred for Sino-US dynamics three decades ago. Chinese publications put little credence in such a turnabout.

Chinese dominance in a triangular perspective comes from Russia’s firm siding with it no matter what the issue of triangular significance is, just as US dominance in the decade from Deng’s tilt to the US in 1979 (after Mao had tilted heavily that way in 1972) until June 1989 had witnessed the refusal by China to “play the Soviet card” against the United States. Yet, with normalization of Sino-Soviet relations in May 1989 followed in late 1992 by Boris Yeltsin’s visit to Beijing and in 1994 by clear signs of Sino-Russian maneuvering to impact the United States, the triangular dynamics were shifting. In 2019 there is no indication that Russo-US relations are starting on a similar upswing. Chinese sources express confidence it will not happen for multiple reasons.

Chinese long sought to convince Russia that its faith in the United States was misplaced, arguing that the US goal after the Cold War was not to cooperate in Russia’s revival but to do all it could to keep Russia weak and dependent.1 The lone superpower brooked no rivals; Moscow had no option but to join with Beijing to balance the triangle. When Putin took a similar approach, China doubled down on insisting that—both globally and regionally in the Asia-Pacific—the stronger the Sino-Russian nexus, the greater the joint success would be in weakening US containment directed at both countries. Politically, the two needed an image of leaders in close accord. Strategically, they needed both tight ties and parallel action to keep the US from concentrating its pressure. Economically, they required energy ties to break US strangleholds and rapidly expanding trade with the prospect of forging a different order free of the US financial system. Finally, although they would eschew the kind of ideological alliance that Moscow and Beijing once had, they agreed to prevent any hint of the divisions that characterized the Sino-Soviet split and to keep the focus on their joint opposition to the US ideological threat to a just world order. The strategic triangle increasingly depicted the two close partners determined to work together to weaken the other party even if in bilateral diplomacy with Washington each would proceed separately as circumstances were changing.2

Chinese and Russian leaders had occasion to be disappointed with one another even from 2012 when Xi Jinping took power in Beijing and Putin returned as president in Moscow, each asking the other to be a more perfect partner for standing determinedly against the US and reshaping the triangle in the desired manner. Putin pursued India, Vietnam, and Japan in a manner often at odds with Xi’s approach, while striving to impair China’s preferred economic integration with Central Asian states and the Russian Far East. Xi hesitated in endorsing Putin’s moves in Ukraine and dashed Putin’s hopes for large-scale infrastructure investment in Russia. The kind of trust that normally exists between US and Japanese leaders was missing, and the easy flow of people between the US and its allies was not duplicated in the controlled states of China and Russia. To the extent that the bilateral relationship was in less accord than the leaders pretended, careful efforts were taken to limit the impact on the strategic triangle. At no point do we see any hint that either Beijing or Moscow would “play the US card” against the other. They were fixated on shaping a triangle that disadvantaged the United States, even more so at the end of the 2010s.

Chinese assessments of Sino-Russian relations and Russia’s potential to shift direction within the context of triangular relations can be differentiated into economic, security, and national identity dimensions. Putin’s “turn to the East” and willingness to conjoin the EEU and BRI have reinforced confidence that in trade and economic integration Russia is increasingly dependent on China with little or no prospect of shifting back to the West, even if its trade continues to flow mostly that way. On security, the military standoff over Ukraine as well as Putin’s priority on challenging the US in Europe and the Middle East is proof that the strategic triangle will indefinitely be skewed in favor of Sino-Russian strategic relations. Finally, assessments of Russia’s worldview since the 1990s firmly recognize an unbridgeable national identity gap with the United States, which since Putin assertively reclaimed the reins in 2012 has only widened.3 Given this reinforcing sense of confidence in Russia on all three dimensions, Chinese hesitate to explore alternative outcomes in the strategic triangle and are prone to place greater demands on Russia to satisfy perceived Chinese interests, neglecting to warn except in general terms of the dangers of Chinese arrogance and excessive pressure that could alienate Russians.  

Economic dynamics and the triangle

Chinese confidence, US hesitation, and Russian bravado prevailed in recent years. Bolstering its expectations of overtaking the US economy soon, Chinese insisted that they had more leverage over the US than it had over China and that Russia, especially after its ties with the West were damaged in 2014, was highly susceptible to Chinese economic pressure (indirectly asserted as committed to closer ties to China even if unwisely holding back on the degree of integration desired by China). The situation changed in 2018 as China’s economy appeared more fragile in an economic slowdown. Meanwhile, the US economy enjoyed a bump after a lengthy, gradual rise, and in Trump’s trade war Chinese were made aware of their vulnerability that had been little anticipated. While Chinese optimism about triangular dynamics could have dampened, amid more effort to boost Sino-US economic ties, no far-reaching change could be anticipated. Perhaps, Sino-Russian economic relations would be set back; however, with joint projects more driven by political than economic priorities, they would likely find a way to proceed. BRI— inclusive of Russia—was still moving ahead. Above all, Russia was even less well-positioned to exert leverage on China for triangular advantage. US sanctions on Russia privileged China in triangular economic relations.

Chinese sought a more positive attitude from Russia on conjoining the EEU and BRI, treating the former as little more than a component of BRI while criticizing Russian obstacles to connectivity.
Early in 2018 Yang Lei eyed the development of Sino-Russian relations against the background of BRI,4 arguing that BRI should have a big impact as the primary task economically is to create OBOU. While bilateral and multilateral channels are being strengthened to this end, stable political ties offer a guarantee for economic cooperation, and Central Asia states’ desire for cooperation boost Sino-Russian prospects. Yet Yang noted factors working against OBOU. Noting Russian concerns about China’s economic superiority, the fact that various EEU states have not yet found a win-win operable plan, and many remaining obstacles to Sino-Russian mutual connectivity, Yang appealed for closer ties in many economic arenas from the division of labor to science and technology. The positive state of economic ties is presented rather cursorily, while the present burden on Russia to address the obstacles is unambiguous.

Chinese reasoning doubles down on Russia’s thinking that since the Ukraine crisis of 2014, ties to the West are completely broken, adding that this weakens Russia’s international influence and drives it to pursue Eurasian integration in coordination with China’s BRI. Political relations are proceeding well between Moscow and Beijing, but they require economic relations to draw much closer if they are not to fall back. Moscow has agreed in principle, but its consciousness remains muddled. For Yang Lei, OBOU is the crux of the bilateral relationship. This means together filling the vacuum left by the West’s retreat from Central Asia, as the US and NATO withdraw from Afghanistan, but, as in the case of the initiative for a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) FTA, China and Russia have different strategic needs, leading to signs that planning will again be quashed. The appeal is for full-scale economic integration through OBOU, not the EEU proceeding separately to its own electricity, oil, and gas markets, and other forms of exclusive integration under sole Russian leadership. China seeks uniform regulations and one large FTA, but Russia is striving to limit China’s economic influence even while drawing on it for maximum investment and technology. Putin’s plan in June 2016 for a Greater Eurasian initiative would widen the scope, including India and Iran among others in order to contain China’s economic superiority, Yang warns, adding that only close Sino-Russian cooperation will achieve balance in triangular relations in the face of intensifying US pressure on both China and Russia.

In this analysis Russia is psychologically unprepared to lose Central Asian markets or to become China’s resource appendage; so it is pressuring Central Asian states to block integration with China, standing in the way of the Silk Road Economic Bloc (within BRI), seeking a broader scope for Eurasian ties to limit China’s voice, and asking China to fund such integration with its capital and increasingly superior technology based on it successfully absorbing the fruits of the West through reform and openness, which Russia has avoided. One example given of Russia’s obstinance is the failure to complete the bridges sought by Heilongjiang to the Russian Far East as well as the other barriers keeping China at a distance in that area. In September 2015, however, Russia agreed at last to more openness, giving China some opportunities. Yet, Yang warns that bilateral trade would not be able to surpass the current goal of $200 billion if the structure is not transformed to what he calls a win-win approach. In his reasoning, the strategic triangle remains unbalanced in favor of the United States, which is strengthening the US-Japan-ROK alliance and putting more pressure on Russia as well as China. In response, more cooperation in areas such as aircraft and space is sought. Polarization with the US is assumed to be ongoing since the end of the Cold War. Sino-Russian ties have grown stronger but have failed to realize the destiny that Chinese clearly have in mind due to weakness in their economic dimension. Balancing requires Russia to accept what is essentially the inclusion of the EEU into BRI is what one might surmise from this analysis, which puts all the blame for failure on Russian thinking.

Li Xing made the case for greatly strengthening Sino-Russian relations,5 refuting thinking that Russia is untrustworthy and could betray China by turning to the US. At the same time, Li does not go to the extreme of viewing Russia as the most important country in BRI or the linkage of BRI and the EEU as the first priority. Li calls for more clarity on what is sought from this relationship and accepts the notion that this is a “semi-alliance,” similar to an alliance. Yet, Li observes that economics are cold, public attitudes are cold, and while the top is hot the bottom is cold—problems China must overcome. The solution proposed is the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) to break the bottleneck to boost trust and all-around, positive cooperation. Li insists that there is very big room for cooperation in economics centered on SREB. All of the burden is put on Russia to accept China’s economic integration plans with not the slightest hint of what China could do differently.

In the April China Investment, Sun Chenghan foresaw further deterioration in Russo-US relations beyond what had occurred from 2014.6 His pessimism drew on his explanation of “Russiagate” and its lingering effect on this relationship, concentrating on the US side while mostly ignoring Russia’s behavior. As the “anti-terrorism” foundation of Russo-US cooperation deteriorated in Syria, there was even less to keep the crisis in relations from deepening over a split in strategic interests, adding that Russia’s illusions about Trump had faded. Moreover, their weak economic relations have left little basis for the US and Russia to counteract the downturn. In economics, China can apparently sustain a high-level of ties with the US, Russia is destined to be isolated from the US economy, and Sino-Russian economic ties must tighten in response.

Security dynamics and the triangle

In 2017 Chinese assumed that Trump was bent on returning to a “reset” with Russia in order to contain China, but they concluded that this would not work, given the attitudes in Congress and the public.7  The logic behind a “reset” was set forth, including focusing more on US interests and concentrating on containing China while distancing Russia from China. Yet, it was already clear that the US had no prospect of shifting the triangle in its favor given Russia’s importance as a great power and its options, domestic US political factors, strategic differences in Europe, the “poison pill” of US sanctions, and the contradictory geopolitical thinking.

Late in 2018 the strength of the Sino-Russia relationship was reaffirmed, appealing to the logic of international relations since the end of the Cold War.8 This logic centers on great powers driving the global order, varying depending on the number of dominant powers and whether their strategies are competitive or cooperative. At this time of transformation, China and Russia are important forces pressing for multilateralism (China from before the end of the Cold War and Russia from 1994), while the US pursues unilateralism. With the global financial crisis in 2008 the US lost ground. The closer the ties between Beijing and Moscow, the quicker the transition, one article indicates. From 2014 bilateral ties grew appreciably closer to the disadvantage of the US, and under Trump the pace of multilateralism has further accelerated. Yet, this article calls for greater efforts to strengthen Sino-Russian relations in order to achieve multilateralism. The triangle is situated within the global great power context, as if China is just one more pole.

Li Mingfu raised the question whether a new arms race would erupt between Washington and Moscow.9 Li assumed that as the security environment changes, China and Russia will remain the main strategic rivals of the US. Nuclear weapons will still be a restraining force, but Russia considers them an essential balancing factor easing the shift from the West to Asia in global power, which is made still easier by the fact that Russia is ahead of the US in many weapons. To cut back on Russia’s nuclear force would be tantamount to reducing its political influence, leaving itself open to even more US strategic pressure. Li adds that Moscow and Washington have completely lost trust in each other, and, even scarier, after withdrawing from the IMF treaty, they may in 2021 or after refuse to renew the New START Treaty. This article does not explain the impact of this for Beijing, although it leaves no room for the other two sides of the triangle to draw closer. Presumably, China becomes the beneficiary.

Zhao Mingwen wrote that through joint leadership from the top, political trust and mutual cooperation have continuously been rising between China and Russia, resulting in across-the-board improvements in relations. Charging that the US is now plotting to pull Russia away from China in order to contain it, Zhao warns that all such efforts will fail.10 The two countries will not allow outside elements to interfere, there is widely shared consciousness in Russia on developing relations with China, and there is great room for expanded cooperation. Although recognizing some developing problems, Zhao insists that relations will continue to advance. After all, core interests in security and territory are aligned, implying that the clash of their core interests with the US is the driving force in this triangle. Given the Taiwan issue and other issues regarded as “core” by China and Chinese perceptions of Russia’s core interests being infringed by the US since at least the mid-90s, it follows that the case being made today traces back at least a quarter century and, given Russia’s pullback from China’s borders in the late 1980s, probably more than 30 years. It took Russia time to agree.

Zhao insists that Russians accept China’s model of foreign relations based on equality with no reason to think Sino-Russian relations are a “big brother, little brother” relationship despite the big discrepancy in GDP. They reject any “China threat theory,” equating it to the invocation in the West of a “Russia threat theory.” Similarly, they reject the notion that buying heavily from China means excess dependency, just as they previously did not worry about buying heavily from the West as a danger to sovereignty. Zhao showcases arms cooperation between Beijing and Moscow rising to new levels along with advancing high-tech cooperation, trade, and investment as well as financial cooperation. Other examples of closer ties include relaxed limits on Chinese travel to Russia, reducing group size from 5 to 3 and increasing the duration from 14 to 21 days. Chinese travelers to Russia are now most numerous, bringing in $2.2 billion a year.

Zhao, however, points to problems in bilateral relations. First, insufficient strategic trust due to bias among some Russians, who have been influenced by the West’s “China threat theory,” is noted. Among the sources of distrust is Russian fear that a Sino-US trade deal could lead to a surge in imports of US natural gas and agricultural products at the expense of Russia. Second, enterprises lack mutual trust needed for investments, which is blamed on Russians blinded by the importance of the US market and problems with Russian commercial culture and uncertainty about reform. Zhao contrasts Chinese hesitation toward investing in Russia, including in infrastructure, with greater willingness to invest in Africa and Kazakhstan. In recent years less than $2 billion has been directly invested. In 2017 a general cutback in Chinese FDI further reduced prospects. Third, lots of oral targets of cooperation are not realized, and the conjoining of the EEU and BRI remains just a discussion topic. The signature Moscow-Khasan high-speed railway has stalled for the past year with Russians charging that China’s interest rates for the loan are too high to proceed. What remains on hold will take years of effort to realize, warns Zhao, as in the western natural gas pipeline under current pricing conditions. Fourth, there are recent Russian accusations that China is taking advantage of poor Russo-US relations to extract the maximum profit, essentially complying with US sanctions despite claiming otherwise, or using joint ventures to gain access to Russia’s core technologies with great loss to Russia. With such reasoning, quite a few Russians analysts are pessimistic about the outlook for Sino-Russian trade, doubting that China will shift much away from maritime trade, that Russia’s routes will be competitive, and that BRI may bypass Russia. Even if there has been some recent improvement in the Russian Far East, basic problems have not been resolved to change the structure of trade. Yet, having cited Russian sources about these issues, Zhao insists that such concerns cannot influence rapidly improving bilateral ties.

National identity dynamics and the triangle

Li Yonghui in late 2018 tackled the strategic triangle directly, stressing that Sino-Russian ties, while continuing to strengthen political mutual trust, must not in the context of troubled Russo-US ties damage China’s core interests.11 She reviews each of the bilateral relationships: the Sino-Russian one is the strongest for reasons external and internal to these states; Russo-US ties are the most adversarial, worsening despite Trump’s intentions; and Sino-US deterioration is still kept in check with a mix of cooperation and competition due to close economic ties despite US Cold War thinking and containment policies, as in strengthening alliances, interfering in the South China Sea, and pursuing an Indo-Pacific strategy. Li argues that given US all-out support for global hegemony it cannot change its posture to China and Russia, and those two cannot change their national rejuvenation strategies. The contours of the triangle are set for a long time. Compared to the Cold War, US power has relatively declined, Russia’s economic base is weaker although its natural resources and military power are still first or second in the world. China is second economically and trails the other two militarily, but its position in the triangle is noticeably strengthened. Li points to problems caused by the US threatening the current order, obliging China and Russia to respond, although Sino-Russian ties lack strategic depth and global range. One problem is the US missile defense system, which is destabilizing to China from three sides. Other problems are Taiwan and the South China Sea. All are treated as aggressive moves containing China and justifying closer Sino-Russian relations in balancing the strategic triangle.

Li depicts a situation where the Eurasian region is becoming a single integrated entity, but the US remains the dominant force in a gradual process of transformation, in which the areas around China and Russia are most contested. US hegemonic strategy will not change. The Russo-US systemic contradiction, rooted in values and thinking about sovereignty, territorial integrity, and autonomous foreign policy of states newly independent from the Soviet Union, blocks any improvement in relations. Both security and ideology are driving this split, as Cold War thinking persists, leaving Russia and China feeling they cannot be treated with equality and respect. Meanwhile, feeling threatened by competitors, the US is intensifying its containment policies and making demands on allies to rebalance relations in the Asia-Pacific region, as great power competition has displaced anti-terrorism as the US priority. Given the fact that the US remains the sole superpower, ahead in comprehensive power, the two lesser powers in the triangle must continue to work together to balance it and maintain relative stability in the world in this way while helping the world to proceed toward multipolarity.

Li says Xi Jinping aims to avoid spoiling Sino-US relations and strives to put cooperation ahead of competition in a regional environment where most states support the US-led security order and where the US relies on China economically and for international affairs. At the same time, China seeks to strengthen ties to Russia, aware that there is no way the US could use Russia to contain China. Instead, Russia could be driven to rely more on China. Yet, Russia is smarting as China keeps rising quickly and cannot view China squarely, requiring persistent attention to treating Russia equally and managing an unbalanced trade structure. On the Korean Peninsula and Syria, China needs to take care to manage this triangle, Li advises, calling also for care in dealing with Central Asia due to Russia’s extreme sensitivity about China’s influence growing there. By using multilateral cooperation in ASEAN and Central Asia, China can pursue regional economic integration. Finally, Li calls on China to remind Russia from time to time about Japan’s historical view of WWII and its plans to become a military great power again to prevent Japan drawing Russia into balancing China. She calls also for more Sino-Russian large-scale military exercises, while railing against the Quad for weakening China regional influence and interfering with BRI as well as with Sino-Russian plans for Eurasia. Summarizing, Li sees politics driving Sino-Russian relations and markets and society driving Sino-US relations; the former cannot replace the benefits of Sino-US cooperation for a long time ahead. Her conclusions are to keep the Sino-US relationship from turning downward, be sensitive to Russian national identity concerns while reminding Russia of Japan’s true nature, and rely on multilateralism to ease Eurasian ties.

Feng Yujun and Shang Yue in late 2018 focused on how China should respond to deteriorating Russo-US relations.12 Whereas a year earlier Chinese were explaining why Trump’s “reset” with Russia would not work, now they were pointing to worsening and frozen relations extending beyond geopolitics to domestic politics and values. Their advice is for Beijing to turn the triangle into positive interactions, challenging as it will be due to expansion of Russo-US conflicts from geopolitics to domestic politics and values. Implicit in this conclusion is that, in contrast to some earlier assessments, US national strength has not substantially weakened, and its vast gap with Russia is not narrowing but widening, altering the bilateral “balance” of strategic power with greater speed. Yet, Russia and the US are guided by strategy and values (victor mentality as the ideological basis for anti-Russian sentiments, sacred mission of a “Third Rome” combined with eroded dignity, and rejection of the West in pursuit of a unique “Eurasian civilization”), which makes it difficult for them to treat each other as equals and coexist peacefully. Feelings of shame over Russian interference in the US elections have aroused hatred that can hardly be pacified, leading to “anti-Russian political correctness,” parallel to the Russian “anti-American” tool to create political consensus. The authors dismiss the idea that this is a new cold war or is ideological since Russia basically accepts Western values and does not export its values—points that do not jibe with the bulk of their analysis and serve to give China room to maneuver within a triangle reminiscent of the Cold War. Also giving China room is the notion that all three countries are increasingly pressed to resolve domestic economic and social problems, for which Sino-Russian alignment versus the US does no favor. Also, given Russia’s weakness and other factors, a Sino-Russian alliance would not actually pressure the US much, e.g., in reducing the hegemony of the dollar. One area for hopeful cooperation, the authors add, is security arrangements on the Korean Peninsula. They propose casting aside the traditional geopolitical model to prioritize responding to global challenges and arms control negotiations.

Shi Shantao attributed to Xi Jinping Thought the deepening of Sino-Russian relations since the 18th Party Congress of 2012.13 Offering no hint of problems, he emphasizes all-around gains in this relationship from political and strategic mutual trust, economic cooperation, to tightly coordinated international strategies. Shi points to new directions for further tightening ties into a common community. No mention is made of economic or psychological differences. If a standard disclaimer is made about ties not being ideological, trust seems rooted in values.

Conclusion

Shi Shantao sees no obstacles to an ever-closer relationship, Li Xing presses Russia to deliver on economic integration that is holding up relations, Li Yonghui beseeches China to be sensitive to Russian concerns, and Feng Yujun and Shang Yue deny the value of closer geopolitical relations with Russia in preference for three-way cooperation despite troubled Russo-US relations. China could, thus, be the pivot in a triangle turned toward resolving domestic and global challenges.

Chinese publications on Sino-Russian relations and the Sino-Russian-US triangle downplayed Trump’s purported “reset” in relations with Russia before insisting that Russo-US relations are frozen for a long time to come. They assumed a long-term clash in Sino-US relations, but feigned prospects for keeping cooperation in the forefront for now. Most avidly, they made the case for further strengthening of economic relations between Beijing and Moscow as critical for bolstering the bilateral political relationship while insisting that there is no chance for ties to downslide, given national identity assumptions about Russia and the United States. Attention has centered on how Chinese policy should address problems in Sino-Russian relations: to press harder for the economic integration of the BRI and the EEU, which Russia has delayed, or to remain sensitive to Russian psychological barriers to China’s designs and give Russia more time to recognize what Chinese regard as the need to balance the triangle by deepening Sino-Russian ties.

1. Gilbert Rozman, “Sino-Russian Relations in the 1990s: A Balance Sheet,” Post-Soviet Affairs 14, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 93-113.

2. Gilbert Rozman, “Sino-Russian Mutual Assessments,” in Sherman Garnett, ed., Rapprochement or Rivalry? Russia-China Relations in a Changing Asia (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000), 147-74; Gilbert Rozman, “The Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership: How Close? Where To?” in James Bellacqua, ed., The Future of China-Russia Relations (Lexington, KY: Univ. of Kentucky Press), 12-32.

3. Gilbert Rozman, The Sino-Russian Challenge to the World Order: National Identities, Bilateral Relations, and East vs. West in the 2010s (Washington, DC and Stanford, CA: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2014).

4. Yang Lei, “’Yidai yilu’ beijing xiade Zhonge guanxi de fazhan,” Dongbeiya Xuekan, no. 1, (2018), 46-51.

5. Li Xing, “Guanyu Zhonge guanxi de ruokan sikao,” Guoji Guancha, no. 1 (2018), 127-42.

6. Sun Chenghan, “’Tongemen’ yinying xia de Meie guanxi,” China Investment, April 2018, 80-82.

7. Huang Dengxue, “Meie guanxi ni ‘zai chongqi’ de luoji, lingyu yu xiandu,” Dangdai Yatai, no. 6 (2017), 67-91.

8. Wan Qingsong and Wang Shuchun, “Lengzhan hou de guoji geju boyi yu Zhonge guanxi de fazhan luoji,” Dangdai Shijie, no. 11 (2018), 43-47.

9. Li Mingfu,”Meie chonqixin yiliangche jingcai?” Zhunshi Wenzhai (September 2018) 11-15.

10. Zhao Wuwen, “Zhonge guanxi: chungman qiangda de neisheng dongli,” Heping yu Fazhan, no. 2 (2018), 26-42.

11. Li Yonghui, “Zhongemei sanjiao guanxi: xianzhuang, tedian, chengin, ji yingdui,” Eluosi, Dongou, Zhongya Yanjiu, no. 5 (2018), 57-70.

12. Feng Yujun and Shang Yue, “New Developments of US-Russia Relations and China’s Policy Choice,” China International Studies (September/October 2018), 6-24.

13. Shi Shantao, “Zhonge shibada yilai Zhonge guanxi de huigu yu zhanwang,” Dangdai Zhongguo Shi Yanjiu (May 2018), 18-24.

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