No coincidence perhaps that in May 2008 the first official foreign visit by the new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was to China.
For several years, the two giants have shown a keen desire to improve their relations. During the late 1990s relations were normalised following years of diplomatic tension caused by border disputes. The end of the Cold War saw a thaw in hostilities and in 1996 the two countries signed a strategic partnership. That led to the formation of groups such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This has arguably enabled Russia and China, along with other central Asian states Tadjkistan, Kazakhastan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, to counter US influence. Regional and border security remain key priorities, but economics dominate the relationship. A few years ago, trade between the two only amounted to a few million euros. Now, it represents more than 40 billion euros a year, making China Russia’s second biggest trade partner after the European Union. The two countries have also found common ground on other international questions. Notably, a refusal by both to use military force to resolve the world’s nuclear stand-offs with Iran and North Korea. Opposition to US plans to place its missile defence shield in Europe and the issue of Tibet are other areas of agreement. The most explicit example of unity is in the United Nations Security Council, where both powers have a veto. They have frequently agreed on questions of sovereignty, particularly on Kosovo, Georgia and Taiwan. Some analysts say the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enlargement of NATO and the EU on Russia’s borders and a common fear of US global power have led to a strengthening of ties between them. In the wake of a relationship once dominated by distrust, China and Russia now talk about future cooperation on stabilising their economies in the current economic crisis.