Brian G. Carlson | SAIS Johns Hopkins University

Russia-China relations in the Post-Soviet Era

My dissertation focuses on China-Russia relations since the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. I conducted research in Russia from October 2013 to June 2014 and in China from July 2014-July 2015. I speak both Russian and Chinese, and I will seek to make maximize use in this dissertation of the written sources that I gathered in both languages, as well as insights gained from leading experts in both countries.

I will attempt to use international relations theory to shed light on China-Russia relations during this period. In this effort, two broad theoretical lenses are especially useful. The first lens focuses on the unipolar structure of the international system. Through this lens, the most important issues are U.S. primacy and the ways in which other states react to it. One crucial question is whether other states such as China and Russia balance against the United States. The second lens focuses on the possible transformation of the international system. In this case, the salient issues are the rise of China and the likelihood of U.S.-China conflict. With respect to China-Russia relations, two critical questions are how China views Russia’s role in its own grand strategy and how Russia responds to China’s rise.

For the first task, I will employ “static” theories that focus on the structure of an existing international system. The main research question for these theories is why China and Russia have failed to balance against the United States, despite their obvious discomfort with the large concentration of U.S. power. This research question may yield some contingent generalizations about China-Russia relations during the past 25 years of unipolarity.

For the second task, I will employ a variety of theories that focus primarily on change in the international system and, either explicitly or by extension, the implications of China’s rise. This research question is likely to yield much more tentative answers, largely because events are in their early stages. Nevertheless, theories in this category can serve as frameworks within which to study the early evidence about how Russia’s concerns over China’s rise have constrained the relationship to date.

I plan to analyze the relationship at three different levels: global, regional, and bilateral. At the global level, I will assess the different phases through which China-Russia relations have passed since 1991, focusing especially on the role of the U.S. factor during that time. At the regional level, I will analyze China-Russia relations in two regions that are important to both: Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. At the bilateral level, I will focus on military-technical cooperation and energy cooperation.