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Report to Congress on the Relationship Between China and Russia

The following is the Sept. 13, 2023, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, China-Russia Relations.

From the report

The People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) and the Russian Federation (Russia) maintain a strategic and multifaceted relationship with extensive military, diplomatic, and economic connections. Although the contemporary China-Russia relationship began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two countries share a longer history that has included periods of security and diplomatic cooperation, rivalry, and crises and a border war in the 1960s. Many experts trace the current dynamism of the relationship to 2014, when the reaction of the United States, the European Union (EU), and some other countries to Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine, including sanctions, led Moscow to seek to strengthen its ties with China and other countries.

The two countries’ apparent affinity has led some U.S. policymakers and Members of Congress to express concern that Beijing and Moscow constitute a de facto alliance, and to seek ways to counter their global influence. The PRC and Russia’s bilateral relationship falls short of a mutual defense pact, more closely resembling a non-binding alignment based on shared opposition to what they describe as the U.S.-led international order. This common opposition has spurred cooperation between the two countries, but has not overcome their historical strategic mistrust. In the wake of Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine starting in 2022, Russia’s reliance on China’s economic and political support has grown, increasing China’s advantage in the relationship.

Key Features of the Relationship

Building on the foundation of the 1991 Sino-Soviet Border Agreement, the 2001 Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, among other things, noted Beijing’s and Moscow’s satisfaction on border issues and set broad areas of cooperation ranging from economics and trade to counterterrorism. The renewal of the treaty in 2021 reflects the overall positive trajectory of relations.
The direction of the bilateral relationship appears, in part, to reflect close personal ties between Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. Since 2013, Xi and Putin have met numerous times and established regular dialogue mechanisms at lower levels. In 2019, PRC and Russian leaders announced their intention to develop a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for a New Era,” professing a “high degree of political trust” and “all-around cooperation.”

Military cooperation between the PRC and Russia is significant, encompassing exchanges and joint exercises, as well as intelligence sharing and joint development of weapons systems. In November 2021, the two sides signed a Road Map for Military Co-operation for 2021-2025 to guide collaboration in this sphere. The PRC and Russia are founding members of the Eurasia-based Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an intergovernmental group mainly focused on security affairs.

The PRC and Russia also enjoy strong commercial and financial ties and are partners in their attempts to “de-dollarize” the global economy, which they see as beholden to the United States. (See CRS In Focus IF11885, De-Dollarization Efforts in China and Russia.) Both governments express opposition to the use of unilateral sanctions as tools of policy.

The PRC and Russia often cooperate and coordinate in multilateral settings, including the United Nations; the SCO; the BRICS grouping; and the Group of 20 (G20). In 2022, the PRC joined Russia in vetoing a U.S.-led draft U.N. resolution that would have tightened sanctions against North Korea over its missile launches. Where frictions may arise, the PRC and Russia have tried to harmonize the interests of overlapping ventures, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Download the document here.