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Reviewed by:
  • The Future of China–Russia Relations by James Bellacqua, editor
  • Emilian Kavalski (bio)
James Bellacqua, editor. The Future of China–Russia Relations. Asia in the New Millennium Series. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. xii, 360 pp. Hardcover $50.00. isbn 978-0-8131-2563-3.

Perhaps few other actors in international life have been so profoundly affected by the end of the Cold War as Russia and China. On the one hand, for Moscow, the fall of the Berlin Wall ended its position as the hub of a global superpower reigning over the former Communist bloc. Moreover, the winds of change that swept through Eastern Europe blew over the ideological bulwarks of the Soviet Union and crippled the ties that bound its constituent republics together. Thus, within a few years, from a capital of the mighty juggernaut of the Soviet empire, Moscow had to adjust quickly to the new position of a much more territorially, economically, and militarily constrained Russian federation. On the other hand, the very same turbulence of the post-1989 period was propelling China to adopt new roles and attitudes in international life. The breakup of the Cold War order and the consistent levels of economic growth allowed Beijing to demonstrate an enhanced confidence and stature in world politics. At the same time, these developments backstopped a capacity to fashion the patterns of Asian and international affairs. The global outreach of Beijing’s external interactions seems to attest both to the [End Page 456] transformations in and the transformative potential of Chinese foreign policy attitudes.

It is noteworthy that these dramatic transformations provided the facilitating environment for a fresh start in the bilateral relations between Beijing and Moscow, seemingly free from the ideological baggage of the Sino-Soviet split. Thus, the dissolution of the bipolar international system has surprisingly managed to bridge the differences between Russia and China, and the two actors increasingly find themselves formulating joint or mutually supportive positions. In this respect, thinking about the complexity of these trends and the shifting contexts of global politics often gravitates toward the realms of fiction and fantasy. On the one end of the spectrum, some observers interpreted the close ties between Beijing and Moscow as the foundation of a new strategic alliance against the West. On the other end, commentators dismissed such amicability as a short-lived marriage of convenience, which will end as soon as the two partners start encroaching on each other’s spheres of influence.

Thus, an ungainly but important task is to distinguish between phantoms and substance in the cacophony of voices claiming insight into the foreign policy interactions between China and Russia. The volume edited by James Bellacqua does just this and does it brilliantly. It not only offers a much needed and extremely erudite reconsideration of the international interactions between Beijing and Moscow, but also provides a detailed and comprehensive coverage of the current and likely future trajectories of their relations. In this respect, the volume makes available a rarely erudite illumination of the patterns and practices of Russia’s and China’s foreign policies. At the same time, it also radically alters the dominant frameworks within which the debate on their interactions tends to be positioned. Thus, it is to Bellacqua’s credit that the collection presents an extremely knowledgeable, cogent, and discerning rendition of its demanding topic.

The eleven chapters of the volume are divided into five separate sections detailing different aspects of Sino-Russian relationship. The first part tackles directly the strategic partnership signed in April 1996 by the then Russian president Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin. The contributors to this part of the volume offer extremely well-researched and dedicated inquiries into the origin, context, and implications of the strategic partnership. Equally important, the analyses throw light on both the Russian and the Chinese perceptions of this development. The second part of the volume details the economic and energy relations between China and Russia. The two chapters included in this section offer perceptive accounts of the complexities and uncertainties of these interactions that have evaded other commentators. In this respect, the volume’s highly readable and captivating account does not recoil...