Russian Military Forum: Feeding the Dragon Russia’s Contribution to China’s Surface Warfare Capabilities Center for Strategic & International Studies

Dr. Jeffery Mankoff, Deputy Director and Fellow for the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program, moderated the Sept. 1 forum on Russia-China military capabilities. The speakers included:

  • Paul Schwartz, Senior Associate of the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS
  • Zack Cooper, Japan Chair Fellow
  • Thomas Karako, Senior Fellow of the International Security Program


Schwartz began the discussion by saying that U.S. relations with both Russia and China are now in a difficult situation, and that difficulty has manifested itself in increased military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.


Summarizing the conclusions of a report on Russia’s military contributions to China, he said Russian defense assistance has been crucial to all of China’s maritime forces. The West’s comprehensive arms embargo occurred at the same time Russian defense companies were desperate for arms sales and resulted in a long sustained arms trade with China. Russia has transferred over $32 billion worth of arms to China.


Schwartz said it is important to consider whether Russia is making irresponsible and short-sighted sales simply because the country is in desperate need for money, or if Russia is looking for a longer, strategic partnership. Because China is outpacing Russia in technological proficiency in some areas, the U.S. government hopes this will only be a short term marriage of convenience.


Dr. Karako reviewed the topic’s political aspects, saying that evidence of Chinese-Russian ties has been growing for quite some time: in arm sales, in military exercises, and in reports about an attempted joint Russia-China database on U.S. intelligence operatives. Given that both countries are dissatisfied with some elements of the status quo, joint efforts to oppose existing hegemonies “would make sense,” he said.


During the question period, Schwartz said there had been a transfer of Chinese technologies to Russia, mainly to address Russia’s shipbuilding industry limitations. He added China and Russia have many joint research development and production projects underway.


Dr. Mankoff concluded that with the recent economic downturn, there may now be less Chinese investment money available for some of the Russian projects. China will not cut Russia a fair deal even under the existing difficult financial situation.


He said China is not an endless fountain of technology or money. In fact, it appears that China will have less money available than the Russians anticipated, impacting the energy sector and potential Chinese investments.


This is especially the case in regard to Russia’s offshore Arctic projects, which have been stopped or slowed by western economic sanctions. Because the Chinese don’t possess comparable Arctic offshore drilling technology, Russia has no alternative to the West.