Russian weapons sales to Beijing. Russian participation in Chinese wargames. A Sino-Russian territorial agreement. An observer might be forgiven if he were to conclude that the Russians were busy engaging in an appeasement policy.
Numerically, the Russian position is not strong. While their population dwindles, the number of Chinese is over a billion. Weapons sales may bring in hard currency to the Russian economy, but at the price of eroding Russia's technological edge over its former adversary. Its own population in the Russian Far East is quite small (7.2 million), while there are anywhere between 500,000 to 1,000,000 legal and illegal Chinese immigrants living there. Meanwhile, China's three neighboring provinces can boast of 105 million people...
It is not without irony that Russia should support China's revanchist claims over Taiwan, since Russia herself possesses territories that were also taken from the Chinese in the 19th century. Perhaps they hope that by feeding the crocodile, he will eat them last. I therefore note with some interest that the Russians have been making overtures to the Japanese of late:
...risking accusations of infidelity from Beijing, Putin has spent the past three days in Japan, China's old enemy and regional rival and a country with which Russia is technically still at war. He promised to build a pipeline linking Japan to Siberia's oil. He encouraged further investment in Russia. And he was conciliatory over the hot-button issue of the Kurile islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories, seized by the Soviet Union in 1945 and which Tokyo wants back.
"We will be doing everything possible to solve this problem," Putin said. "We are fully determined to work to solve all the issues we face." He even listened with apparent equanimity as Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged Russia to handle weapons exports to China "in a careful manner."
Taipei Times, Two-timing the Chinese with Japan gives Putin good options. Nov 26, 2005.
The day may yet come when Russia regrets its support for the Chinese war machine. Its Far Eastern territories have much-coveted resources AND lebensraum. Courting Japan will be necessary if Russia wishes to maintain the balance of power in Asia.