China and Russia are two giant neighbors whose relationship never seems quite settled. Once Marxist allies, they later quarreled and went their separate ways. In the post-Soviet era, relations have been cordial, but fairly distant. At the Dushanbe summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was seeking China's support in the standoff with the West over Georgia. The summit failed to give Moscow clear backing, however. China analyst Christian Le Miere of Jane's Information Services, talks with RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke about that and other developments.
RFE/RL: China is reluctant to endorse Russia's actions in Georgia, particularly Moscow's recognition of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian breakaway regions. Why is this?
Christian Le Miere: Certainly, Beijing does not want to be party to any political moves which would allow for the unilateral declarations of independence of those areas in the world which wish to further their own identity through national self-determination. The Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region and the Tibet autonomous region are two provinces of China which might take a similar path.
RFE/RL: How would you describe the state of Sino-Russian relations?
Le Miere: By and large Russia and China are on fairly good terms; Russia is by far the largest arms supplier to China, and China is one of the biggest markets for Russian arms. Trade has been grown almost exponentially in recent years. There are concerns between the two sides, largely the number of Chinese working illlegally in the far east of Russia, which is changing the demographics of the area relatively quickly. But by and large most strategic issues between the two countries have been cleared up and a border dispute which has plagued mutual relations has been settled this year.
RFE/RL: Has China's startling rise in economic and political power in the last few years upset Russia?
Le Miere: No, I think Russia sees the benefits of China's rise, and the markets that has opened up, particularly the energy markets; China is eager to get as much oil and gas and energy products as it can, and along with China's economic expansion has come a greater demand for arms, so I think Russia recognises that it benefits from China's voracious appetite for various resources. But at the same time it does not wish to see China grow to be a rival and a competitor.
RFE/RL: Has the Russian incursion into Georgia raised any old fears in China?
Le Miere: The one issue that will be of concern to Beijing will be the possible involvement of Russia in Central Asia, and the use of more forceful diplomacy there. It doesn't seem at all likely at the moment, but through the competition of Russia and China at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and elsewhere to gain influence, that is something which China will register.