Two answers to this, which I think will help us understand this question. 1) Unlike in the 1950s (when China was the junior partner), today's relationship between China and Russia is not an alliance, and neither side is keen on making it such.
This allows both sides significant flexibility and scope for policy divergence, which was not there in the 1950s, when there was a (misplaced) expectation in Moscow that Beijing would align its policy to whatever it was that the Kremlin preferred.
2) China has not so far sought to exploit its advantage as the more powerful partner to bring Russia to heel, and has instead tried to address Russia's concerns (e.g. in Central Asia). It certainly has not forced Russia to pick sides whenever it quarrels with India, for instance.
That's because although Russia is a "junior" partner, it is also seen a very valuable partner - perhaps the best that China has. For this reason, there is even a degree of deference to Russia (on some issues) on Beijing's part.
So, I would argue that being the junior partner in this relationship is perhaps not as bad as one might think at first.

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More from @DrRadchenko

2 Jun
Spent several days reading piles and piles of documents and analysis on Able Archer - that moment in Nov. 1983 when the Soviets and the Americans nearly ended in an accidental nuclear war (or not?).
There was a lot of discussion of the episode earlier this year because of the release of the relevant FRUS volume, which included a testimony by Leonard H. Perroots. Here's the document:…. Makes a pretty good reading by itself but...
Check out also this oped by @FOIANate and @thedeadhandbook:… and also this rebuttal by Simon Miles:….
Read 9 tweets
2 Jun
Came across some curious documents on the nuclear arms race in the early 1980s that I just have to share. Quite a mini-story that shows how policy-making in the Soviet Union worked at that stage.
The dramatis personae are... Brezhnev, his foreign policy aide Aleksandrov-Agentov, KGB head Andropov, Defense Minister Dmitrii Ustinov, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and... George Kennan.
The story starts on May 18, 1981 when George Kennan, on receiving the Albert Einstein Peace Prize, called for cutting superpower nuclear arsenals by 50%. Here's the NYT story about it:
Read 10 tweets
17 May
Rereading Patrick Tyler's A Great Wall this morning reminded me of just how much historians' assessments are influenced by events she or he has experienced. Check out Tyler's unsparing criticism of Reagan's China policy. He argues Reagan never understood Beijing's point of view.
Tyler's book was published in 2000, which was close to the high point of China optimism in the US. Tiananmen was already a long time ago, and China seemed to be on its way... somewhere good. I still remember debates in the academic literature about its gradual democratisation.
Hong Kong got off to a good start, and there was reason to hope, perhaps, that a "diplomatic solution" for Taiwan could be found. In general, China appeared to be more of a benign actor than before or since.But fast forward twenty years; lines above could not've been written now.
Read 5 tweets
15 May
This is an interesting case. At one level, you might argue that the rift between Russia and Ukraine is clear (damning!) evidence of the failure of Russian foreign policy. At another level, one might also ask about the purpose of Russian foreign policy. 👇🏿
If the purpose is to maximise Russia's influence in its immediate neighbourhood, promote Russia's economic interests and project soft power, then the record is utter and complete failure.
On the other hand, if the purpose is to legitimise Putin's otherwise illegitimate regime by promulgating the narrative of confrontation with the West and Ukraine, then one might argue the policy has succeeded very well.
Read 6 tweets
15 May
A first-rate piece here by Igor Gretskiy who contradicts arguments put forward by me and also my St. Petersburg colleague Ivan Kurilla concerning the viability of Russia's integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions in the early 1990s. 👇🏿
I would broadly agree with Igor's critique to the effect that we need to understand Yeltsin's actions as motivated primarily by the imperative of maintaining political power. The legitimation discourse of "confronting the West" can be said to have contributed to this purpose.
An open question is why that narrative of confrontation was the one that ultimately prevailed. Was it because, as Igor argues, the Russians were not open to 'non-imperial' narratives or was it because door to the West was closed, making the imperial narrative the default option.
Read 8 tweets
5 Apr
A good laugh here from my friend @LorenzLuthi, which reminds me of an episode from my youth. 👇🏿
Once, a ship from socialist Vietnam docked in my hometown in Sakhalin, bringing tons of bananas! For whatever reason, these bananas could not clear customs, so they did not actually appear on the empty shelves. They started going bad, and were dumped in boxes right in the port.
The port was a high-security facility but unbeknownst to the authorities there was a hole in the fence. So along with other kids I went on a banana-hunting expedition. We scoured through rotting boxes, making away with whole sacks of slimy but still perfectly eatable bananas.
Read 4 tweets

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