Recently, tensions over maritime disputes in the South China Sea seem to have surpassed even those caused by the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. China and Vietnam are embroiled in their worst political conflict in decades over an oil drilling platform near the Paracel Islands. The resulting anti-China protests in Vietnam brought China-Vietnam relations to a temporary halt. In addition, the Philippines’ detention of Chinese fishermen has increased the discord between China and the Philippines. With all these frictions occurring at the same time, the situation in the South China Sea has suddenly become very serious.
Against this background, we have seen the U.S. criticize China, express support for Vietnam, and shield the Philippine military. But we have not heard Russia, China’s “strategic partner,” take a stand on the South China Sea disputes, much less publicly support China’s position. This has upset some people in China, who now think that China-Russia relations aren’t as good as previously imagined. Even on the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute between China and Japan, Russia has kept an ambiguous position. In my eyes, however, this does not mean that Russia’s is of two minds in its relationship with China. Instead, there are complicated political and strategic factors, including four main reasons I will list below.