From mid-August to September 15, 2018, Chinese troops went to Russia to participate in the “Vostok-2018” strategic military exercise, which was the largest strategic exercise organized by the Russian military since the 1980s. It was also the first time that China had sent such a large group of troops to attend a military exercise outside its territory. Since China and Russia have been the comprehensive strategic partners of coordination, it is supposed that the two Eurasian powers have in effect forged the allies in all terms. According to classical balance of power theory, states forms alliances in order to prevent stronger powers from dominating them. This is precisely the root cause of Beijing and Moscow having decided to move forward since the collapse of the Soviet Union toward the current strong ties.
Over the past decades, some have argued that either China or Russia, ostensibly avoiding challenging the United States, might be cautious to advance their overall strategic ties to a real military level, yet the “Vostok-2018” drill has proved that a de facto alliance between the two powers comes out of age. It is self-evident that China and Russia vowed to further deepen military ties and improve their troops’ combat abilities to respond to various security threats, as they formally concluded the “Vostok-2018” strategic drills with a military parade at the Tsugol training range in Russia’s Trans-Baikal region. President Putin praised Russian and Chinese troops who participated in high-level drills in which they demonstrated their capability to counter potential military threats.
To the realist scholars, like Kissinger, Kenna, Walt and Mearsheimer, they believe that China and the former USSR and now Russia are doomed to compete with each other in light of their geographical vicinity and the lack of mutual trust resulted from the pursuit of greatness and historical memories. Kissinger even argued that neither country will entrust the security of these borders to the continued goodwill of the other, whatever its current irritation with an allegedly hegemonic United States. Yet, the Fourth East Economic Forum held in September 13 in Vladivostok witnessed the leaders of the two countries vowed to promote their bilateral relations to a new stage in a new era, especially regarding investment, e-commerce and people-to- people exchanges in the Far East region and beyond.
China and Russia have come to so close and coordinated strategically due to primarily the hegemonic policy and conduct of Washington. For example, in 2017 U.S. National Security Paper defined China and Russia as the strategic rivals. Also the NATO headed by the US has pushed Russia to its defined red-line; and the US have tried to align Japan and India to advance what is termed the Pacific-Indian Ocean strategy that aims to “contain” the rise of China rather than engagement of China. Because of this stark reality, the strategic partnership of Beijing and Moscow has proceeded at a steady and occasionally cautious-like pace. As long as Russia struggles for advancing its legitimate national security and its economic recovery, Xi deems that China and Russia will certainly be able to provide driving forces for mutual security, regional stability and global peace and justice. Equally, China needs Russia’s support in realizing trilateral cooperation between Russia, China and Mongolia, not mention of the advanced weaponry.
In addition, the strategic consensus between China and Moscow come out of their common belief that the U.S. has consistently ignored the U.N. resolution by unilateral launch of wars against Iraq, Libya and Syria. In that context, China and Russia have the consensus to promote multilateralism rather than any single hegemony in the world. The two leaders have reiterated that they are firmly fighting against any sort of unilateralism and protectionism. In terms of the recent trade war between China and the US, China has been well-aware of the urgency to promote economic cooperation with Russia. It is true that the two Eurasian powers have huge potentials which are complementary in view of strategic resources and manufacture capabilities. As close neighbors, they bestow them a strategic depth to coordinate and support each other, including the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. During his state visit to China this summer, President Putin stated that deepening Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is the priority of Moscow’s foreign policy. In order to correct the relations between the two powers in terms of “politically warm yet tepid economically, Putin’s Russia also enhances the cooperation with China in such areas as agriculture, energy and infrastructure. For example, trade between the two countries has developed remarkably over the past decade and, as a result, China was Russia’s largest trading partner in eight continuous years up to 2017. The bilateral trade volume reached over 84 billion dollars, representing a 20.8 percent increase year-on-year, and is expected to increase to as high as 100 billion dollars in 2019.
It is clear that this military exercise aims to send a signal to the world that China and Russia will continue their military cooperation and explore new possible ways to boost their combat abilities, which covers a classic anti-invasion campaign and equally shows off the two countries’ sophisticated approach to modern warfare with the ability to conduct surgical style, precision attacks. However, China and Russia have moved their strategic ties to such a historical level due to the personal contributions of President Xi and his counterpart President Putin. As Chinese FM Wang Yi said that the joint efforts by the two leaders have injected new dynamics into the relations between the two countries, and particularly propelled by the personal eﬀorts of Xi and Putin, Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership will probably set an example for building a new type of international relations and developing equality-based and mutually beneficial cooperation between major countries.