The most outstanding and defining feature of the current Russo-Chinese relationship is, without doubt, the growing imbalance between the two great powers. For the first time in several centuries China has gained the upper hand. Despite this reversal of traditional roles, the Kremlin does not seem to perceive China’s rise in terms of a threat. Regardless of the opinions voiced by Western and Russian commentators alike, indicating that Moscow will end being subordinated to Beijing’s vision of the relationship, Putin and his team have not resorted to the hedging strategy, nor has he tried to counterbalance his larger neighbour. On the contrary, we have observed the strengthening of Moscow-Beijing ties since the late-2000s, which the global economic crisis has only served to accelerate. Two important spheres of cooperation – arms trade and energy – have passed from stagnation to flourishing over the past few months.
One of the primary movers behind this rapprochement is the domestic context of Russian politics. The rise of China has not threatened Putin’s regime; rather it has strengthened the key players of the Kremlin’s ‘winning coalition’. I have developed this argument in more detail here.
China's race to the superpower status is by no means neglected in Moscow, and Russia has been watching it closely. There is, however, no single dominating opinion. ‘The bear watches the dragon’ presents this debate in more detail.