Military cooperation refers to interactions in military fields between two or more countries or groups of countries for the pursuit of common strategic interests.1 As an important part of national strategy and foreign policy, military cooperation is both the essential embodiment of political relations between countries, a well as an important strategic initiative for achieving national interests, especially security interests, and it is highly complex and politically sensitive. China-Russia military cooperation has long been an extremely sensitive topic in the relations between the two countries and even in the field of international security, often attracting a high level of attention from other relevant countries and organizations. Since the 1990s, guided by the new security concept, China-Russia military cooperation has not only enriched the connotations of the China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership and boosted the country’s military strength, but has also contributed to maintaining regional peace and stability and promoting the construction of a new order in international relations. The connotations of China-Russia military cooperation have become even richer and more significant, especially after the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination entered a new phase in 2014.
军事合作，是指两个或两个以上的国家或国家集团，为了谋求共同的战略利益，在军事领域所开展的交往。作为国家战略和对外政策的重要组成部分，军事合作既是国家间政治关系的本质体现，又是实现国家利益特别是安全利益的重要战略举措，具有高度的政治敏感性和复杂性。长期以来，中俄军事合作始终是两国关系甚至国际安全领域极为敏感的话题，经常引起其他相关国家和组织的高度关注。自 20 世纪 90 年代以来，在新安全观的指导下，中俄军事合作不仅丰富了中俄战略协作伙伴关系的内涵，提升了国家的军事实力，还有利于维护地区和平与稳定，促进构建国际关系新秩序。特别是 2014 年中俄全面战略协作伙伴关系进入新阶段后，中俄军事合作的内涵更加丰富，意义更加重大。
I. Basic Information on China-Russia Bilateral Military Cooperation
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, China and Russia abandoned the historical baggage of ideology. Bilateral relations entered a track of healthy development, and military cooperation between the two countries has risen to a new level along with the continuous development of political relations. As the relationship between the two countries has developed from “mutually regarded as friendly countries” to “constructive partnership,” and then to “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination,”2 the scope of military cooperation between the two sides has expanded from the military technology field to the field of military operations, and has become more aligned with the national interests of both sides. What is certain is that, as the bilateral relationship between China and Russia continues to deepen, China-Russia military cooperation will develop toward deeper levels, becoming a positive factor in regional peace and security.
(i) Deepening political mutual trust and the pursuit of national interests contribute to the steady development of military cooperation between China and Russia, and a “three-in-one” military cooperation relationship has formed between the two countries
China-Russia military cooperation has a solid foundation. The growing maturity of Sino-Russian state relations and the deepening of political mutual trust between the two countries provide the political prerequisites for carrying out military cooperation. China’s growing economic strength and urgent need for defense modernization, as well as Russia’s still strong military and technological capabilities, provide the practical requirements and technical prerequisites for bilateral military cooperation, allowing both countries to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the similarity of their military establishments provides facilitative conditions for military cooperation between the two countries. In the current international security situation, both countries face security pressures to deal with various traditional and non-traditional threats, and they have common interests in opposing hegemony, maintaining world and regional peace, combating the “three evils,” and safeguarding their national interests. This pursuit of security in turn provides internal momentum for the deepening of military cooperation between China and Russia, giving it long-lasting vitality and impetus.
On this foundation, China and Russia have now formed a “three-in-one”—military-political, military-technical, and military-operational—military cooperation relationship. Military-political cooperation is a substantive reflection of the level of bilateral military cooperation, and has become an important element of regular meetings between the Chinese and Russian heads of state. Mechanisms for regular meetings of defense ministers and general staff strategic consultations have been established between China and Russia, 3 and an anti-terrorism consultation group has been formed. In the field of military-political cooperation, the two sides have signed the Joint Statement on Not Aiming One’s Own Strategic Nuclear Weapons at the Other, and have thoroughly resolved border issues. Together with central Asian nations, on the basis of the “Shanghai Five,” the two countries established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001, and have made it an important multilateral security cooperation mechanism for maintaining regional security. The two sides also established a national security consultation mechanism in February 2005, further raising the level of bilateral military-political cooperation. Mechanisms for exchanges of visits between defense ministries are improving day by day, and thanks to the active efforts of the Chinese side, the previously interrupted mechanism for meetings of chiefs of general staff has been restored.
以此为基础，中俄两国目前已形成了军事政治、军事技术和军事行动“三合一”的军事合作关系。军事政治合作是两国军事合作水平的实质体现，并成为中俄元首定期会晤的重要内容。中俄之间已建立了国防部长定期会晤机制和总参谋部战略磋商机制，成立了反恐磋商工作组。在军事政治合作领域，双方签署了《关于不将本国战略核武器瞄准对方的联合声明》，彻底解决了边界问题。2001 年，两国又联合中亚国家在“上海五国”基础上建立了上海合作组织，使之成为维护地区安全的重要多边安全合作机制。双方还于 2005 年 2 月建立了国家间安全磋商机制，进一步提升了双方的军事政治合作水平。防务部门之间的互访机制日臻完善，在中方的积极努力下，一度中断的总参谋长会晤机制得以恢复。
Military-technical cooperation is the highlight and the core of China-Russia military cooperation. Due to the arms embargo imposed on China by the European Union and the United States, Russia has now become China’s most important source of advanced military equipment, and as a result, China has also become the second largest export destination of Russian weapons after India. According to Russian media estimates, arms exports to China account for an average of 20% of Russia’s total exports, and in individual years account for 40% to 50% of all Russian arms exports. To ensure that military-technical cooperation goes smoothly, China and Russia have established the Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation, which meets annually in the two countries on a rotating basis. Currently, China-Russia military-technical cooperation is focused on China’s purchase of modern warplanes, ships, new land equipment, and air and missile defense weapons from the Russian side. According to public reports in Russian and Chinese media, China has become the world’s largest user of the Su series of combat aircraft. Between 1990 and 2005, Russia sold China nearly 200 combat aircraft of various types, 12 battalions of C-300 anti-aircraft missiles, a number of Tor missile systems, four Hyundai-class destroyers, and 12 Sovremenny-class destroyers. China was the largest importer of Russian weapons until 2006 when India replaced China as the largest importer of Russian weapons. According to the Russian newspaper Red Star, the two sides signed a US$5 billion arms contract in September 2005, under which Russia would supply, over a three-year period, Su-30MKK multi-purpose fighters, Kilo 636 diesel-electric submarines, 956 and modified 956 Sovremenny-class destroyers, and S-300PMU air defense missile systems. More importantly, China has purchased production licenses for Su series fighters, flamethrowers, and other military products. In addition, China and Russia have cooperated in the aerospace field, jointly carrying out scientific research and experimental design work. Recently, the two countries’ defense ministries have been negotiating the export of Russian Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 air defense missiles to China. Since 2014, with the intensification of Western economic sanctions against Russia, Sino-Russian military cooperation has become increasingly complementary, ushering in a “golden age” of China-Russia military-technical cooperation. On November 26, 2015, at a regular press conference of China’s Ministry of Defense, spokesperson Wu Qian said that China and Russia had achieved “milestones” in cooperation projects for Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 anti-missile systems. 4
军事技术合作既是中俄军事合作的亮点，又是中俄军事合作的核心。由于欧盟及美国对华实行武器禁运，俄罗斯目前已成为中国获得先进军事装备的最主要来源，中国也因此成为俄罗斯武器的第二大出口国，仅次于印度。据俄媒估计，对中国的武器出口平均占到俄罗斯出口总额的 20%，个别年份占俄罗斯全部武器出口额的 40%—50%。为确保军事技术合作的顺利进行，中俄两国建立了政府间军事技术合作委员会，每年轮流在两国召开会议。当前，中俄军事技术合作主要集中在中方向俄方购买现代战机、舰船、新型陆军装备、防空和导弹防御武器等方面。据中俄两国媒体的公开报道，中国已成为世界上最大的苏系列战机用户。1990—2005年间，俄罗斯向中国出售了近 200 架各型战机，12个营套的 C-300 防空导弹和一定数量的“道尔”导弹系统，4 艘“现代”级驱逐舰和 12 艘“基洛”级潜艇，并一度成为俄制武器的最大进口国，直到2006 年印度取代中国成为俄制武器最大进口国。据俄《红星报》报道，2005 年 9 月双方签订了价值 50 亿美元武器合同，俄罗斯在 3 年内提供多用途歼击机苏 -30MKK、“基洛”636 型柴电潜艇、956 及 956 改进型“现代”级驱逐舰、C-300ПMУ-2型防空导弹系统。更为重要的是，中国购买了苏系列战机、火焰喷射器等军工产品的生产许可证。此外，中俄双方还在航天领域开展了合作，联合进行科研及实验设计工作。近期，两国防务部门正在就俄向我出口苏 -35 歼击机和 C-400 防空导弹进行谈判。2014 年以来，随着西方对俄罗斯经济制裁的不断加剧，中俄军事合作的互补性日益增强，中俄军事技术合作迎来了“黄金期”。2015 年 11 月 26日，在中国国防部例行记者招待会上，新闻发言人吴谦表示，中俄两国就苏 -35 歼击机和“C-400”反导系统等合作项目已取得“阶段性成果”。
Military-operational cooperation, with joint military exercises as the main form, is a new area of China-Russia military cooperation, 5 signifying that military cooperation between the two sides has again reached a new level. The “Peace Mission” series of joint military exercises held by the two countries within multilateral and bilateral frameworks are on track to becoming institutionalized. Eight such exercises have been held so far. Those were Peace Mission 2005, Peace Mission 2007, Peace Mission 2009, and Peace Mission 2013, under a bilateral framework, and Peace Mission 2010, Peace Mission 2012, Peace Mission 2014, and Peace Mission 2015, under a multilateral framework. These exercises have enhanced the two countries’ cooperation ability and mutual trust, and augmented their ability to respond to the threat of international terrorism. Since 2012, the Russian and Chinese militaries have held a succession of “Joint Sea” military exercises, which have important significance for strengthening the maritime defense and combat abilities of both militaries, and for maintaining regional security. Meanwhile, since 2014, China’s military has been participating in large international military competitions such as “Tank Biathlon” and “Air Darts” hosted by the Russian side, and China participated in all twelve military competitions in 2015. Participating in these competitions allows China’s military to improve its actual combat training level and military quality to a certain extent. In addition, the two countries’ navies have also carried out joint escort operations in the Gulf of Aden area, joint escorts for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons ships, and other military operations. 6 From May 23 to May 28, 2016, the Chinese and Russian militaries also held the “Aerospace Security-2016” joint computer-simulated missile defense drill. This was the first time for the two militaries to hold an air and missile defense exercise, indicating that the two countries would carry out closer cooperation on missile defense issues, and expand from the field of military-technical cooperation to the field of military operations.
以联合军事演习为主要形式的军事行动合作是中俄军事合作的新领域，标志着双方军事合作再次跃上了新台阶。两国在多边和双边框架内举行的“和平使命”系列联合军事演习已迈上机制化轨道，迄今已举行了 8 次。分别是双边框架下的“和平使命—2005”、“和平使命—2007”、“和平使命—2009”、“和平使命—2013”；多边框架下的“和平使命—2010”、“和平使命—2012”、“和平使命—2014”、“和平使命—2015”。这些演习提升了两国的协同作战能力和互信程度，提升了应对国际恐怖主义威胁的能力。自 2012 年以来，中俄两军开始连续举办“海上联合”系列军事演习，对于加强两军海上防御作战能力、维护地区安全具有重要意义。同时，自 2014 年以来，我军开始参加俄方主办的“坦克两项”和“空中飞镖”等大型国际性军事比赛，2015 年参加了全部 12 项军事比赛。通过参与这些竞赛，能够在一定程度上提升我军的实战化训练水平，提升军事素质。此外，两国海军还在亚丁湾地区开展联合护航、共同为销毁叙利亚化武船只进行护航等军事行动。2016年 5 月 23—28 日，中俄两军还举行了“空天安全—2016”联合计算机模拟导弹防御演习。这是两军首次举行就防空和反导问题进行演练，表明两国将在反导问题上开展更加密切的合作，由军事技术合作领域向军事行动领域拓展。
China and Russia have also carried out a rich diversity of cooperation on military education. China began sending military students to Russia for study abroad in 1996, and in recent years Russian military officers have also begun to study in Chinese military academies.
中俄还开展了丰富多样的军事教育合作。中国自 1996 年开始向俄罗斯派遣军事留学生，近年来俄罗斯军官也开始在中国军校学习。
(ii) Features of future China-Russia military cooperation
As an important component of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership of coordination, China-Russia military cooperation will maintain strong development momentum for a considerable time to come.7 From China’s point of view, learning from others and introducing and drawing on relatively mature foreign military technological achievements can, in a relatively short amount of time, raise China’s level of defense modernization, especially naval and air force weapons modernization, effectively curb hegemonism and power politics, reduce the security pressures it faces, and prevent the infiltration of international terrorist forces. As a country that both possesses relatively advanced military technology and weapons and enjoys the right to sell and transfer military technology on its own, Russia has naturally become China’s first choice for military cooperation. From Russia’s point of view, strengthening cooperation with China in the military field is also of strategic importance. Facing serious threats on its western and southern fronts, Russia is bound to seek strategic mutual trust between Russia and China and strengthen China-Russia military cooperation. The “Peace Mission” and “Joint Sea” series of joint military exercises serve Russia’s purpose in showing the world the level of strategic mutual trust between Russia and China. At the same time, annual revenues from arms exports to China, amounting to $1 billion to $2 billion, have become an important source of funding for the reforming the Russian military-industrial complex and updating weaponry.
在未来相当长的时期内，作为中俄战略协作伙伴关系重要组成部分的中俄军事合作将保持强劲的发展势头。从中国方面来看，向他人学习，引进和借鉴国外较为成熟的军事技术成果，可以在较短的时间内提升中国的国防现代化水平，特别是海空军的武器现代化水平，有效地遏制霸权主义和强权政治，减轻所面临的安全压力，并防止国际恐怖主义势力的渗透。俄罗斯作为世界上既拥有比较先进的军事技术和武器，又享有自主出售和转让军事技术权利的国家，自然成为中国进行军事合作的首选对象。从俄罗斯方面来讲，与中国加强军事领域合作也具有重要的战略意义。俄罗斯在西线和南线面临严重威胁的情况下，必然寻求中俄战略互信，加强中俄军事合作。“和平使命”和“海上联合”系列联合军事演习就达到了俄罗斯向世界展示中俄战略互信水平的作用。同时，每年 10 亿—20 亿美元的对华武器出口收入已成为俄军事工业综合体改革和武器装备更新的重要资金来源。
As a result, on the basis of common strategic pursuits, the deepening military cooperation between China and Russia will have the following features: First, willingness to cooperate will be more proactive. The gains and benefits that come with military cooperation have contributed to a deeper understanding of the need for cooperation between the two sides, and military cooperation will become a hot topic in dialogue and consultations between the two countries at all levels. Second, the cooperative relationship will be more equal. As the level of science and technology continues to rise, the situation in which the Chinese side puts forward its needs and waits for the Russian side to respond will gradually change. In addition, China’s rising international position has prompted the Russian side to step up its cooperation with China in joint counter-terrorism and other military operations. As the level of mutual trust between China and Russia continues to rise, China-Russia military-technical cooperation is moving to the highest stage—joint development of high-tech weapons and equipment, and Russia has even begun buying military products from the Chinese side. China has now started to provide the Russian side electronic components for aerospace, diesel engines for ships, and seaborne supply systems for ocean-going supply ships. Third, the subject of cooperation will be more sensitive. This is reflected in China and Russia sending their most advanced technical equipment to participate in the “Peace Mission” and “Joint Sea” joint military exercises, as well as in the continuous development of China-Russia military-technical cooperation toward the field of key and sophisticated weapons, especially in the increasingly strong trend toward joint development of modern equipment. Examples include cooperation in nuclear submarine design and manufacturing, space, and missile attack warning. In short, China-Russia military cooperation will be higher-level, deeper in content, and more profitable.
II. Problems and Obstacles Affecting the Rising Level of Bilateral Military Cooperation
It cannot be denied that, some problems still exist in the field of China-Russia military cooperation. The first is that mutual trust between the two sides remains insufficient. In Russia, some people who start out from a Cold War “China threat” mentality maintain that military cooperation with China, especially military-technical cooperation, will have a negative impact on Russia’s long-term security, and Russia should “hold back a few tricks” from China. Some people in China, on the other hand, voice dissatisfaction with the obvious disparity in the sale of weapons and equipment to China and India, maintaining that this runs counter to the China-Russia strategic partnership of coordination. The second is that improvement is still needed in the specific modalities of military-technical cooperation. For a long time, China-Russia military-technical cooperation has mainly been a buyer-seller relationship with China buying and Russia selling. China hopes to change this kind of cooperative relationship dominated by buying and selling into one of technology exchange and cooperation, with joint research and development and mutual benefits, in order to effectively raise the level of China’s military modernization equipment and maintain national security. Russia, for its part, has frequently criticized China’s imitation of Russian-made weapons. Since 2000, along with the rapid advancement of China’s military technology, its advanced weapons development capabilities have grown increasingly strong. Breakthroughs have been achieved in some fields and key technologies, and the defense industry is now able to meet the nation’s needs for weapons and equipment updating, upgrading, and modernization. Therefore, in the field of military-technical cooperation, there will be a greater shift toward purchasing key technologies and sophisticated weaponry, and the emergence of a new situation in which China even exports equipment to Russia is not to be ruled out. The third is that a competitive relationship between China and Russia will form in the arms export market in the future. As Chinese-made weapons continue to go global and the two countries’ weapons and equipment become more “homogeneous” in terms of design concepts, use characteristics, and prices, Russia fears that China will crowd out Russian weapons from the market, thus affecting Russian exports of advanced military technology to China.
III. Thoughts and Conclusions
Almost 90 years have passed since Russian-Chinese military cooperation began, reckoning from the launching of the Nanchang Uprising by the Chinese Communist Party with the support of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In those 90 years, following the stormy development of Sino-Russian relations, the military cooperation relationship between the two countries has also undertaken a complex journey, from (Soviet to Chinese) guidance and assistance, and stagnation and confrontation, to the development of equal military cooperation, and a fundamental change has been achieved, from ideological criteria to national interests as the starting point. Overall, China-Russian military cooperation has made a very significant contribution to the modernization of the Chinese military, but it has also had certain negative effects, and the lessons of that experience merit profound reflection and need to be drawn upon in future military cooperation.
从中共在苏共支持下发动南昌起义算起，中俄军事合作迄今已走过了近 90 个年头。90 年来，伴随着中俄关系发展的风风雨雨，两国军事合作关系也经历了从指导与援助（苏对中）到停滞与对抗，再到开展平等军事合作的复杂历程，实现了从以意识形态为标准到以国家利益为出发点的根本转变。总体看来，中俄军事合作为中国军队现代化建设做出了非常大的贡献，同时也带来了一定的负面影响，其中的经验教训值得深刻反思，并需要在今后军事合作中予以借鉴。
(i) Future military cooperation with Russia must be guided by the new security concept, and adhere to the principles of equal cooperation and mutual respect, in order to effectively achieve mutual benefits and win-win outcomes
In the history of Sino-Soviet relations, the disparity in power between the two militaries objectively caused an asymmetry in bilateral relations and an imbalance in military cooperation, while the Soviet Union’s deep-rooted chauvinism led it to regard itself as the major party and the major power, positioning military cooperation between the two sides as a relationship of guiding and being guided, giving and receiving, repeatedly disrespecting the interests of the other side and imposing itself on others, threatening to cancel military aid at every turn, and seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. Comrade Deng Xiaoping had a profound summary of this. He said that the “real substance of the Sino-Soviet disagreement was inequality, and the Chinese people felt humiliated.” After the end of the Cold War, relations between the two countries and their militaries fundamentally improved. Based on its reflection on, and criticism and rejection of, the traditional security concept, China has gradually established a new security concept of “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation,” emphasizing the need to seek security through cooperation. While opposing military alliances and not targeting third countries, China has actively engaged in military cooperation with other countries in many areas. This has not only greatly improved its national image and maintained national and regional security, but has also trained its military’s ability to respond to crises through participation in joint military exercises, effectively achieving mutual benefits and win-win results.
(ii) Military cooperation should not hinge upon factors such as ideology or values, as national interests are the fundamental starting point and destination for carrying out military cooperation
Like the development of relations between the two countries, the development of military cooperation must also take national interests as the fundamental starting point and ultimate destination, and follow the principle of equal and mutually beneficial cooperation. The “extended family” style of military cooperation relationship that draws ideological boundaries and transcends normal national interests is doomed to be short-lived, and will eventually harm the relationship between the two countries due to its high degree of political sensitivity. The fundamental reason why China and the Soviet Union turned from alliance to confrontation in the 1950s and 1960s was the dislocation between ideology and actual national interests. That led to a breakdown of the relationship between the two political parties, which in turn had grave consequences for the relationship between the two countries. Military cooperation also changed from close to stagnant, and developed into military confrontation. The current military cooperation between China and Russia is subordinate to and serves the modernization of the Chinese military, creating a safe surrounding environment for defending national interests during a time of important strategic opportunity, but it also conforms to Russia’s strategic need to stabilize its neighborhood and ensure the global balance of strategic power, as well as the idea of using arms sales to drive economic development. Consequently, military cooperation will become an important factor in promoting the healthy development of bilateral relations and maintaining regional and world stability.
(iii) Studying the experiences of other countries and introducing technology and equipment is an effective path for rapidly increasing military power, but independence and pioneering innovation are fundamental principles for the modernization of the armed forces
Drawing lessons from and studying the experiences of foreign militaries is an effective path for lagging countries to rapidly strengthen the building of their armed forces and boost military power. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has historically attached much importance to studying the experiences of foreign countries. A white paper released by China in 2004 placed military exchanges at the strategic level for the first time, and made carrying out military exchanges and cooperation important elements in adhering to the military strategic guidelines for the new era and promoting military transformation with Chinese characteristics. 8However, in drawing from the advanced experience of foreign countries, one must take into account realities at home and adhere to the principle of independence in building the armed forces. Since the late 1950s, Mao Zedong and other leaders have emphasized the need to combine learning from foreign military experience with Chinese realities. Owing to its correct approach toward military cooperation, China was still able to independently establish a basic supporting defense industry after the Soviet Union cut off aid in 1960. It was able to produce on its own the vast majority of equipment needed by the entire military, and the standardization and serialization of weapons was basically achieved, allowing military construction to continue to develop at a relatively fast pace. This proves that placing the emphasis on foreign technical assistance or the purchase of foreign weapons inevitably results in the dependence of China’s national defense undertakings. Fundamentally enhancing military strength, on the other hand, requires instead the selective and focused introduction of key foreign equipment and technologies while adhering to self-reliance.
借鉴和学习外军经验是落后国家快速加强军队建设、提升军力的有效途径。中国人民解放军历来重视学习外国经验。2004 年中国公布的白皮书首次把军事交流放在了战略层面，把开展军事交流与合作作为坚持新时期军事战略方针、推进中国特色军事变革的重要内容。但借鉴外国先进经验必须与本国实际相结合，坚持独立自主的建军原则。从20 世纪 50 年代后期起，毛泽东等领导人一直强调学习外军经验要与中国实际相结合，由于实行了正确的军事合作方针，在 1960 年苏联断绝援助后，中国仍能独立地建立起基本配套的国防工业，全军所需要的绝大部分装备已经能够自己生产，并基本实现了武器的标准化和系列化，使军队建设以较快的速度继续发展。这证明，把立足点放在外国技术援助或购买外国武器上，必然造成中国国防事业的依附性。而在坚持自力更生的同时有选择有重点地引进国外关键装备和技术，才能从根本上提升军事实力。