China's elected President Mr. Xi Jinping made his first inaugural trip abroad to Moscow.

From the Chinese point of view Russia was first a mentor, than an enemy and now a partner. The two countries have maintained an unsentimental partnership, which was directed primarily against the west.

With hardly any other country has Russia fostered contacts with such intensity as with China.

External trade relations have developed with similar intensity. Second only to Germany, China has become Russia's most important trading partner.

China's importance to Russia with regard to external trade extends beyond the quantitative aspect. China is one of the few markets in which Russia can sell plant and machinery.

The trade between China and Russia rose by more than 40 percent in the last two years. In 2011 it reached a volume of 83.5 billion dollars. In 2010, China replaced Germany as Russia's largest trading partner.

During the past years, it has been said repeatedly that a constructive partnership was developed on the base of "balanced relations".

There are several reasons for China's significant role in Russian foreign policy. The two biggest Asian land powers have a common border of 4,300km. Furthermore, there is a border of a further 3,000km between China and central Asia, which Moscow views as a direct sphere of interest.

During his visit to Beijing in October 2004, President Putin signed an agreement that finalised the demarcation of their border along the Ussuri River, near the eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk. This resolved 40 years of bilateral border disputes.

The significance of Sino-Russian relations is not only growing, it is also changing; this is closely linked with the new orientation of Russian foreign policy on Asia during recent years.

Moscow's policies are still primarily oriented to the United States and Japan. In Moscow there was a growing call to attach equal importance to the relations with the West and East in view of the refusal by the United States to accept Russia as an equal-ranking partner and to foster its economic integration into the region

Russia decided that it needed to reassess the role of China in its foreign policy.

A far-reaching change in orientation took place in the foreign policy discussions in Moscow. Concepts came to the fore that were aimed at the assertion of "national interests" through a policy oriented to a balance of power.

China became not only a renewed focus of Russian foreign policy towards Asia as a direct neighbour, but also a counterbalance to Japan and the U.S. Moscow once again began to play the Chinese card.

For the Russians, the relations between Russia and China ensured the necessary balance in Russia's relations with the West and viewed as a whole, between East and West. Close relations between Russia and China are also useful in conflicts with the U.S. and Japan.

The demonstration of harmony is explained by extensive mutual interests in various fields.

One common interest was to promote the economic development of one's country. This meant a common interest in the creation of regional and global security, which would be able to create the peaceful environment needed for economic development.

China is grateful for Russian support in multilateral regional security initiatives, which the two discussed at meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Russia has become one of most important arms suppliers of China. Intensive collaboration is also developing in the fields of military training and technological cooperation.

In the area of military cooperation, there are regular meetings of high ranking officers from both sides. China and Russia conduct joint manoeuvres. A joint naval exercise took place for the first time in April 2012.

The SCO is useful to China's domestic security agenda. China announced an "anti-crime campaign" in the western province of Xinjiang, the home to the ethnic Uighur separatists that Beijing accused of being behind a series of bombings in the region.

In return, China enhanced its economic involvement with economies of Central Asia and the Russian Far East, and at the same time both Moscow and Beijing benefited from limiting of American influence in the region.

Xi Jinping (Public Domain)

Xi Jinping (PD)

China and Russia are retooling their strategies to attenuate American dominance and ensure that the United States will not override their interest impunity in the future.

For the Chinese, this can translate into a more muscular assertion of China's role as the dominant Asia-Pacific power, while Russia is expected to underline its geostrategic value as a nuclear power.

China is on the lookout for new alliances that would level the playing field more with the U.S. in managing global affairs. The Chinese would like to consolidate their relations with the U.S. but, at the same time, they are very pragmatic and determined to defend what they regard as their own interests.

At the same time, conflicts still exist between Russia and China, especially in the field of economic cooperation, and the significance of the economic relations between the two countries is repeatedly emphasised.

From the Russian perspective, the Chinese card is fraught with risks. The decisive aspect is whether the individual conflicts can be resolved in the future rationally or whether they will be perceived and assessed in light of what is claimed to be a lesson of history.

Russia finds itself in a difficult situation in Asia in regard to China especially the claims of both sides in Central Asia as well as the role of Russia in South East Asia, where it likes to be viewed as China's opposite number.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-91, Russia can no longer play the part of the "big brother", but is rather obliged to accept that a change has taken place in China's favour, that it is being economically overtaken by its eastern neighbour.

The direction that prevails in the Russian Foreign Ministry seems to call for "equal relations" with powers east and west of Russia's borders and not viewing the potential risks as too great, at least not in the short terms.

China appears as a unique partner of economic cooperation and as counter balance in relations with the West. On the other hand, China is viewed by others as a "unique risk", but with hope to integrate it into a security policy system through close cooperation and thus restraining any danger that might ensue.

The question that is being raised now is: How will Sino-Russian relations at the dawn of the 21st century develop? Will the world witness a new conflict between the two powers with reversed balance of power and with territorial claims on China's part? Or will the world witness an alliance between Russia and China against the West?

A close alliance with China would increase Russia's isolation from Western countries and from the newly industrialised Asian states, and thus widen the gap to technologically advanced countries.

China is also primarily working in a different direction.

At the moment Russia cannot act as a substitute in the event of a break-off in relations with Beijing's main partners. China also has no interest in regaining Russia as an active co-player in the Asia-Pacific region.

The future developments will be substantially determined by Western policies. Up until now, this consideration has hardly been taken into consideration in the policy of European countries towards Russia.

A strategic alliance between Moscow and Beijing is very unlikely. Both countries are rivals in major regions in struggle for hegemony.

Despite all the progress in the development of mutual relations, there are deep-rooted conflicts. The friction between the two countries is currently so slight because they are both primarily preoccupied with their problems, but the rivalry had not come yet.

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