The People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation proclaimed a ‘strategic partnership’ with much fanfare in 1996. Since then, they have cooperated on manifold issues, but also engaged in energy sector as well as institutional competition in Central Asia. China has gradually come to overshadow Russia in energy investment, control of oil and gas fields, and import volumes. Chinese ‘Russia watchers’ at first did not cover this issue, or concentrated on Chinese-Russian cooperation against the US. Since 2008, however, the growing anxiety and frustration in Moscow is being openly debated. Awareness of a potential for friction led them to emphasize the need to appreciate the Russian situation and to counsel patience and compromise, but never to advise a retreat from China’s ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ relations with its Central Asian neighbors that are deemed ‘crucial’ to the country’s energy security. China has now become the most important trade partner for all Central Asian states. It wants the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to become a free trade area and vehicle for security cooperation that would supersede the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Thomas Stephan Eder is a PhD candidate and Research Associate in International Law at the University of Vienna. Currently he is a Junior Visiting Fellow at the IWM.