Foreign Policy: Russia and China in Security Partnership next?

November 5, 2016

Foreign Policy: Russia and China in Security Partnership next?

by Artyom Lukin

Will a Russian naval base appear in the South China Sea?

Russia’s Defence Ministry recently announced that Moscow is considering restoring Soviet-era military bases in Vietnam and Cuba. Talks have also begun in Moscow about negotiating with Egypt to lease military facilities for Russian naval and air forces. Russia currently maintains permanent bases outside its borders in four countries — Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Syria. If the plans for bases in the South China Sea, the Caribbean and the southern Mediterranean materialise, Russia could significantly expand its ability to project power in these key regions.


Russia’s possible return  to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay is particularly important. Considered the finest deep-water shelter in Southeast Asia, Cam Ranh controls a vital sea lane in the South China Sea.

The Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered heavy cruiser  Photo: RIA Novosti

In 1979, the Soviet Union signed an agreement with Hanoi for a 25-year free lease of the base at Cam Ranh. The facility became the largest Soviet military base outside the Soviet Union. But Russia evacuated Cam Ranh — and the electronic surveillance facility in Cuba’s Lourdes — in the early 2000s when the lease expired. The bipolar superpower rivalry that defined the Soviet-era had ended and Moscow decided it did not need military facilities so far from its borders — especially considering that Vietnam was asking for several hundreds of millions of dollars in annual rent.

With Russia’s geopolitical resurgence and renewed tensions with the West, Moscow has begun to rethink its stance on overseas bases, including Cam Ranh. In 2013 and 2014, Moscow and Hanoi signed agreements that gave Russia’s visiting warships preferential access to Cam Ranh Bay. They also established a joint facility for the maintenance of Vietnam’s Russian-made submarines.

Image result for Soviet Naval Presence in Asia-Pacific

Russian and Chinese servicemen shake hands during the Russian-Chinese drill Naval Interaction-2015

In 2014, with Vietnam’s apparent permission, Russian tanker aircraft started to operate out of Cam Ranh. Their mission was to refuel nuclear-capable strategic bombers that were conducting patrols deep in the Pacific — some of which were found circling the US territory of Guam. The Russian military is already present at Cam Ranh Bay, the question is whether or not Cam Ranh can be expanded into a full-fledged base similar to facilities operated by the United States in Japan and South Korea.

Image result for cam ranh bay

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, shakes hands with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh. (AP file Photo)

The most realistic answer is no. Vietnam was quick to reject the idea of a foreign military base on its soil. In recent years, Vietnam has been promoting Cam Ranh as a harbour open to warships from different countries. This is part of Hanoi’s hedging strategy — it seeks to balance China’s burgeoning influence by cultivating strategic links with major extra-regional powers. The United States is the most crucial outside player and is also the top export destination for Vietnamese merchandise. Hanoi cannot afford to antagonise Washington by agreeing to host a full-scale Russian military base.

But there are also serious doubts as to whether Moscow can afford to re-establish and sustain a global network of bases that come with hefty lease payments, maintenance needs and personnel costs. With the Russian economy still shrinking, funding overseas bases would be a very challenging task.

If the idea of restoring Soviet bases is largely unworkable, why did the Kremlin invoke such a plan at all? There are a few different explanations. One is that Moscow wants to provoke Washington by raising the spectre of Russian military presence at strategic points around the globe. It could also just be a diversionary manoeuvre to conceal the Kremlin’s real motivations. At any rate, Moscow does not make any secret of its primary strategy, which is aimed at shifting the power balance in Eurasia. This strategy is in ever closer alignment with China.

The Russian–Chinese ‘strategic partnership’ now looks more solid and efficient than some of Washington’s ‘treaty alliances’. The latest bilateral summit between Putin and Xi that took place in June 2016 in Beijing was remarkable because of the unusually high level of thinly disguised anti-American rhetoric.

China and Russia have also undertaken a series of joint political and military operations. In June 2016, Chinese and Russian warships sailed into the waters off the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, whose ownership is hotly disputed between Tokyo and Beijing. In September 2016, China and Russia held joint naval drills in the highly contested South China Sea. Putin also publicly expressed solidarity with China in rejecting The Hague’s tribunal verdict. In May 2016, Russian and Chinese militaries held their first joint exercises of anti-missile defence units and later agreed to hold anti-missile drills in 2017.

Russia is also showing increased readiness to sell China its most advanced weapons platforms, such as the S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and the Su-35 fighter jets. As a sign of growing cooperation in the military technology space, Moscow and Beijing reached an agreement on the joint production of liquid-fuel rocket engines — where Russia has a lot of expertise — in exchange for the supply of Chinese avionics for the Russian aerospace industry.

If Russia and China continue to foster their strategic relationship, the next major step could well be a Russian military presence in China, reciprocated by Chinese deployments on Russian soil. In a few years we may be talking not about a base at Cam Ranh Bay, but rather about the prospect of a Russian naval facility on Hainan or a Chinese base on the Kuril Islands.

Artyom Lukin is Associate Professor at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok.


7 thoughts on “Foreign Policy: Russia and China in Security Partnership next?

  1. On a light note, time to consider to change my nick from ‘katasayang’ to ‘From Russia with Love’? But, Russia? They are giants! Russians are only friends for YaoMing like Chinese. But, yet again, if YaoMing is Chinese, perhaps I am no Chinese. Time for some @CLF tylenol.

  2. Is pushing “the land of the free and the home of the brave” into a tight geopolitical corner by the Russian Bear and the Chinese Dragon the new game in town?

    How it plays out will depend on who wins the crucial presidential race.

    The Stars are aligning. History cannot but repeats itself. This means that Trump will win.

  3. It all depends on how you think. Am I on the side of God or is God on my side? If it is the former you tend to be restraint on what you do. However if it is the latter you tend to go all out in what you do. I presume the same applies to one being on the side of the constitution and rule of law or is the constitutions and rule of law is on your side. I

  4. Both Russia and China want to be seen as aligned without actually being aligned militarily. They will if America decides to strike at both of them, in which case all the
    three will perish.

    Military strike strategy is a evolving process always undergoing revisions to address current and future needs and threats. The close military ties is also a signal (for others) meant to protect their respective economy and its natural growth from being willfully undermined by the US in consort with its allies.

    Can Russia and Chine take control of global economy from the hands of US and its allies in time to come? Recently both countries penned agreements to jointly build commercial aircrafts to rival Boeing and Airbus. Once this succeeds and other countries place orders to purchase them instead of those from US and France, other massive projects may follow suit, threatening US dominance in such sectors.

    The US is like an aircraft carrier almost unsinkable. If the Japanese could sink the mighty ‘Prince of Wales’ during WW2, what chance does a US aircraft carries stand today, given the advancement of technology over the last 60 years?
    The problem is that if the theater of war is Southeast Asia (over the South China Sea probably), we will be the collateral damage. That is my concern. I don’t give a damn if the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese want to kill one another.–Din Merican.

  5. Quote:- “I don’t give a damn if the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese want to kill one another”

    They, (US, Russia & China), don’t intend to kill one another because they know they can’t without inflicting corresponding losses on themselves. So they kill one another’s proxies instead, ala North Korea, South Vietnam, Irag, Afghanistan, Syria…….

    So as a possible proxy, I do give a damn.

  6. There is a strategic partnership, a growing intimacy and cooperation against Washington, but there is no security partnership between Russia
    and China. Today, leaders from both side claim congruity of geopolitical and ideological interest and the best relations ever. But this identity only fully exists at the global level where both side collaborate globally against American interests. However, at the regional level of Asian security there is as much rivalry as there is cooperation.

    China has historically shunned alliances. Despite of the US desires to contain to subordinate China, China still wants to cooperate with the US without subordination. A formal Sino-Russo alliance would exclude China’s desire for cooperation with Washington. China may use Russia to attempt to
    persuade the US to accept China’s view of a new model of major power relations and a new international order, but realizing that model is not achievable if Beijing formally allies itself with Moscow.

    Even though political rivalry with Washington is growing and may have global repercussions beyond Asia, China’s leaders know that alliance with Russia will isolate China without enhancing its position globally. China knows, despite its growing global presence and reach, it lacks a global influence commensurate with that reach.

    China is not challenging the global hegemony of the US. It just wants to be recognized as a major power of its own region, but the US refuses and China is adamant not to become the American subordinate.

    The game will go on.

  7. Like all adolescent boys, i love military hardware – especially the futuristic weapons that kill and maim without breaking sweat.. Must be hardwired by testosterone.

    The story of Postmodern Integrated Warfare needs to be addressed here, and the ex-Soviets and PRC are like altar-boys facing a pedophilic ‘Shock and Awe’ priest. Russian technology lags some 20 years and PRC’s something like 30-40. Of course espionage helps, but that goes both ways. Take the Chengdu J-20 for example.. A hybrid of the F-22 and PAK FA, but without the engines..

    But hardware is about tactics ya? And so is this attempt at Strategy for Morons.

    Most folks when they talk of the PRC-Russian nexus, go all gaga! And they seem to forget the U.S-NATO one. How about the U.S-Israeli one. Or even the ANZUS alliance, which will be more relevant when it comes to the SCS conflict and ASEAN. Why is that?

    Proxy wars are interesting but just as deadly and as inevitable as the Sun rising. PRC needs to revamp politically and economically, if it really intends to lead in the Pacific (no, not Asian, as Jibros claimed) Century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.