Russia’s Far East is just as susceptible to Chinese power as the countries of the Indo-Pacific and if the country wants to shore up control over this region, repairing relations with the US will be essential. It is also in America’s interest to have Russia as an independent power in Asia rather than being China’s satellite. However, US-Russian relations have reached levels of mutual hostility and mistrust not seen since the Cold War and it will take a lot to put them back on course.
Russia’s acquisition of its Far East territory, a legacy of tsarist Russia’s eastward expansion in the 19th century, remains a controversial subtext of the Russia-China relationship. Many Chinese still view the treaties ceding the land to Russia as unequal and illegitimate. The treaties are therefore an issue that can be mobilised by Chinese nationalism.
China is now apparently seeking to recover its lost territories, though with no official policy or timetable for achieving this goal. The recovery scenario does not involve military force or planting the flag, but rather a process of gradual economic assimilation that links Russian Far East (RFE) development to Chinese industrial requirements and preferences. Though China has long coveted the RFE’s vast resources and logistical assets, its opportunities for geo-economic expansion into these valuable lands have greatly increased in the wake of events external to Asia—the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and ensuing Western sanctions against Russia.