Last week, Russia and China held joint military maneuvers in the presence of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao. But a new strategic alliance between the two countries is not likely, 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 America and the West.
Indeed, China officially considers several regions in Russia’s Far East to be only “alienated” from it. China’s territorial claims on Russia are often noted in Chinese grade school geography textbooks, which include a number of Russian Far Eastern regions within China’s borders.
This 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.” According to Chinese theorists, 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 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 remains an important factor.