Last week, Russia and China held joint military maneuvers in the presence of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). But a new strategic alliance between the two countries is unlikely, as it is China that poses the greatest strategic threat to Russia, although many in the Kremlin seem blind to this as they rattle sabers at the West.
Indeed, China officially considers several regions in Russia's Far East to be only "alienated" from it. Beijing's territorial claims on Russia are often listed in Chinese grade school geography textbooks, which include a number of Russian Far Eastern regions within China's borders.
This ideology is consistent with the Chinese strategic concept of "vital space," which includes all spheres of a state's strategic activities -- on land, at sea, under water, in the air and in space. The dimensions of "vital space" are determined by a country's economic, scientific, technical, social and military capabilities -- in essence, its "total power."
Chinese theorists have said that the "vital space" of great powers extends far beyond a state's borders, whereas the "vital space" of weak countries is limited to strategic boundaries that do not always correspond to the borders of their national territory.
Today, China has territorial claims against 11 of its 24 close neighbors, including India, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, in addition to Russia. In China's relations with all of them, the potential use of military force was and is an important factor.
Last September, the People's Liberation Army conducted an exercise of unprecedented size over 10 days that involved the Shenyang and Beijing military districts, the two most powerful in China.
To military observers, these exercises seemed to be practice for a possible offensive operation against Russia.
Paradoxically, these exercises were undertaken during a period when bilateral political and economic ties appeared to be at their highest point.
Russia has an important place in Chinese geopolitical calculations as a supplier of both modern weaponry and energy resources needed to continue its modernization. Therefore, the Chinese are doing everything possible to strengthen their economic and political position with Russia and to draw Russia into their sphere of influence.
And China is succeeding, most importantly by consistently reinforcing Putin's anti-US and anti-Western agenda. While the Beijing and Shenyang exercises should have indicated to Russian leaders that China's intentions toward Russia may not always be benign, Russia's political and military leadership do not seem to sense any threat -- on the contrary, they continue to sell the Chinese advanced weapons.
Russia's diplomatic tilt toward China is clearly against Russia's own long-term national security interests. China will never be interested in Russia's economic and political modernization, for it prefers Russia to remain a source of mineral and energy resources and a vast "strategic rear" in its looming challenge with the US.
Likewise, China eyes the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- which just concluded its annual meeting -- as a tool of regional policy that helps strengthen China's influence and control over Central Asia's natural resources at the expense of Russia.