- Russia and China: A Political Marriage of Convenience – Stable and Successful by Michał Lubina
This work by Michał Lubina, a political scientist in the Department of Middle and Far East Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, comprehensively covers Russian-Chinese relations from 1991 to May 2017. The book displays exhaustive scholarship, particularly in Russian language sources, and describes the policies, personalities, and issues that have shaped this complicated relationship.
The book's organizational structure reveals Lubina's primary concerns. In the 82 page Introduction, Lubina provides a theoretical introduction to his analysis that is grounded in neorealism, constructivism, and asymmetry theory, before reviewing domestic factors that influence Moscow's and Beijing's policies and the international roles of China and Russia. Part One outlines the key decisions and events shaping Sino-Russian relations beginning in 1991 and is organized chronologically. The remaining sections of the book are organized by issue areas. Part Two covers economic relations, energy, and military ties; Part Three examines China's role in the Russian Far East; Part Four looks at interactions between Beijing and Moscow in Central Asia, while Part Five analyzes Asia-Pacific issues. The book ends with a summary of key themes.
The most important argument of Russia and China is that the two countries' relationship follows an "asymmetrical win-win" model. According to Lubina, "both sides gain, but it is China that wins more, much more" (p. 9). Lubina demonstrates this throughout the various issue areas. For example, in [End Page 325] economic ties, Russia benefits from selling oil, gas, and raw materials to China, but has been largely unsuccessful in selling industrial or high-technology products. Lubina states that the "structure of trade follows almost a colonial pattern" (p. 183) that gives greater advantage to China. In arms sales, after years of hesitation Russia finally agreed to sell China two of its best weapons, notably the Su-35 fighter plane and S-400 anti-aircraft system. Russia moved this direction probably because of the harm caused by western sanctions and low oil prices. In the Russian Far East, Moscow's inability to develop the region and western sanctions after 2014 have strengthened China's position. In the Asia-Pacific region, Russia's pivot to Asia has really only been a pivot to China, giving Beijing bargaining power. Russia has been unable to improve relations with other regional states in a manner that would give it leverage over China. Only in Central Asia is the relationship more balanced, where the two states have been able to "create a kind of joint great powers' condominium" (p. 257). Russia is most influential in security affairs while China is dominant in investments and economic projects. However, even in Central Asia, China has made major gains in increasing its influence at Russia's expense.
Lubina asserts that Russian elites fully understand the asymmetry of the relationship between the two states, accepting de facto "junior partner" status. (This is ironic in that Russia loudly proclaimed that it would never be a junior partner with the West.) Moscow accepts relatively lesser gains because it does not see China as currently being dangerous to Russia. China is still developing and its foreign policy goals are focused on Taiwan and the South China Sea, away from Russia. Moreover, China balances with Russia against the United States, enhancing Russia's global security, and unlike the West, does not try to influence Russia's political system. Beijing further shows respect to Russian leaders.
The subtitle of this book relates to the above points. Lubina does not assert that China and Russia love each other. In fact, he explicitly notes that the two sides "do not trust each other" (p. 9). Rather, they have "a political marriage of convenience – stable and successful." When Bobo Lo coined his famous phrase describing Chinese-Russian relations as an "axis of convenience," he implied that the relationship lacked depth.1 Lubina reframes this by noting that convenience, or perhaps...