Despite common macro-level perspectives, the framing of the China-Russia story is the most prominent way in which the approach to the bilateral relationship in these articles diverge. The two countries’ respective ties to the United States loom large when analyzing how to push the China-Russia agenda forward. On one hand, the China-Russia Dialogue 2018 report repeatedly draws on the fact that China and Russia are under increasing pressure from the United States, and criticize Washington for calling China and Russia rivals and strategic opponents. It uses this context to argue for strengthened, more dynamic, and diversified relations between China and Russia. On the other hand, a Global Times opinion piece is quick to try and place the relationship outside of the triangular dynamic of China-Russia-United States relations. The Global Times piece highlights that Sino-Russian relations have largely exceeded the influence of the traditional "big triangle" effect ("大三角"效应的影响). In other words, regardless of how Sino-U.S. relations or Russian-U.S. relations develop, Sino-Russian relations will continue to move in a closer direction. The bid to frame the relationship between the two neighbors outside the confines of American influence reflects a desire to see Sino-Russian ties as strategically important in their own right.
Among the bolder ideas expressed in these analyses is the suggestion that the Sino-Russian relationship can serve as a model of deepened cooperation that has the potential to reform international relations. These are strong claims that are made without concrete delineation of what characteristics are distinct in this relationship that make it replicable as a model, and without specifying how upgraded China-Russia relations will transform the international system. According to the China-Russia Dialogue report, the Sino-Russian partnership has four core characteristics:
- the freedom to develop ties with third countries;
- the closeness, trust, depth, and efficiency of the China and Russia partnership surpasses that of formal alliances;
- the relationship has the potential to become an independent geopolitical force (地缘政治力量);
- and the relationship model is adaptable to address any global or regional problem while still maintaining its flexibility and strategic stability.
No doubt Sino-Russian rapprochement will have an effect on contemporary international relations, but these statements are predicated on the mobilization of significant political will and economic gains translating into regional security and political stability.
Although this sample of articles confidently discounts any uncertainty about the return of a strong China-Russia relationship, rhetorical calls for deepened ties do not automatically translate into action. Obstacles remain. The Global Times identified grassroots opposition to China and nationalistic sentiment as challenges that need to be overcome. Separately, Shi Ze, while outlining a path for cooperation in Russia’s Far East, references funding shortages, policy lags, and a weak legal and investment environment as some of the barriers. He also calls on both parties to draw lessons from prior cases of breakdown in bilateral cooperation. The China-Russia Dialogue report also highlighted the need to improve cooperation channels and mechanisms, further urging for consolidation of trust. To do so, the authors recommend expanding links across more Chinese and Russian departments in diplomacy, economy, trade, finance, and scientific research, as well as adopting not only a long-term trajectory but also committing resources to reflect the relationship’s multifaceted nature.
These articles suggest that there is a desire for China and Russia to capitalize on this political moment to improve the bilateral relationship. While economic avenues appear to offer the most natural path to a stronger relationship, both maintain sensitivities to perceptions of hierarchy. Chinese experts believe that mutual gains and benefits will pave the way for more comprehensive Sino-Russian ties, but it remains unclear how the two neighbors, who believe in their own superpower status, will share the spotlight.