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Sino-Russian relations have been adapting to an era of great-power rivalry. This complex relationship, categorised as a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era’, has continued to evolve as global strategic competition has intensified. China and Russia have not only expanded military cooperation but are also undertaking more extensive technological cooperation, including in fifth-generation telecommunications, artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology and the digital economy. When Russia and China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in October 2019, the celebrations highlighted the history of this ‘friendship’ and a positive agenda for contemporary partnership that is pursuing bilateral security, ‘the spirit of innovation’, and ‘cooperation in all areas.
Such partnerships show that Beijing and Moscow recognize the potential synergies of joining forces in the development of these dual-use technologies, which possess clear military and commercial significance. This distinct deepening of China–Russia technological collaborations is also a response to increased pressures imposed by the US. Over the past couple of years, US policy has sought to limit Chinese and Russian engagements with the global technological ecosystem, including through sanctions and export controls. Under these geopolitical circumstances, the determination of Chinese and Russian leaders to develop indigenous replacements for foreign, particularly American technologies, from chips to operating systems, has provided further motivation for cooperation.
These advances in authoritarian innovation should provoke concerns for democracies for reasons of security, human rights, and overall competitiveness. Notably, the Chinese and Russian governments are also cooperating on techniques for improved censorship and surveillance and increasingly coordinating on approaches to governance that justify and promote their preferred approach of cyber sovereignty and internet management, to other countries and through international standards and other institutions. Today’s trends in technological collaboration and competition also possess strategic and ideological implications for great-power rivalry.