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Beyond the Nominal and the Ad Hoc: The Substance and Drivers of China-Russia Military Cooperation

Post-Cold War China-Russia relations have always been a matter of debate. Since the end of the Cold War, the China-Russia strategic cooperation has progressed consistently, showing immunity to exogenous shocks. This paper explores the international-systemic incentives for the China-Russia alignment and examines the actual mechanisms of the China-Russia military cooperation to identify the foundations for a military alliance. The paper argues that China-Russia relations are “on the verge of an alliance,” meaning that a strong basis for an alliance is in place, and only minor steps are needed for a fully-fledged alliance to materialize; the occurrence of such steps is still an open question.

Beyond the Nominal and the Ad Hoc The Substance and

Introduction

Post-Cold War China-Russia relations have always been a matter of debate, as witnessed by such titles as Rapprochement or Rivalry?1 or Rivalry or Partnership?2 With regard to China’s reaction to Russia’s policies in Georgia in 2008, for example, some observed that China “sides with the West, not Russia,”3 and that the “Beijing-Moscow rift over Georgia war deepens.”4 Others, however, argued that China is still on Russia’s side.5 Similarly, in the case of the Ukraine crisis, some argued that China “sided with Russia,”6 while others observed that “China splits with Russia over Ukraine.”7 Somewhat similar confusion surrounds Russia’s reaction to the South China Sea dispute. Some believe that Russia supports China’s South China Sea position,8 whereas others ask, “Why doesn’t Russia support China in the South China Sea?”9 Academic studies can similarly be divided into those that are doubtful about the durability of China-Russia partnership and those that believe that it has strong foundations or at least that the existing bilateral problems are not unsurmountable.10 

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