(EnergyAsia, October 13 2011, Thursday) — As a result of its rising global influence, China is gaining the upper hand over Russia and changing the nature of their strategic partnership, said Finland’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

In a new report, China’s Energy and Security Relations with Russia: Hopes, Frustrations and Uncertainties, the think tank said that China’s position has been strengthened by its decreasing dependence on Russian arms exports and its growing links with alternative energy suppliers mean that China has taken the upper hand in the relationship.

The report found that Russian supply today accounts for a smaller share of China’s total oil imports compared with five years ago even though recent trends suggest they should have grown closer.

In 2009, Russia became the world’s largest oil producer and its second largest natural gas producer. In 2010, China, which it shares a 4,000-km border with Russia, surpassed the US in 2010 to become the world’s largest energy consumer.

The report found that China has strategically diversified its suppliers. Its largest oil supplier is Saudi Arabia, followed by Angola, Iran and Oman. In the gas sector, Russia’s negotiating position has been seriously weakened by China’s success in finding other partners, especially in Central Asia.

The report noted that Russia supplied more than 90% of China’s imported major conventional weapons from the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991 to 2010. But since 2007, it noted a dramatic decline in the volume of Chinese arms imports from Russia. China is today mainly interested in acquiring technology to further develop its own arms industry, which is increasingly capable of meeting both domestic needs and export demand.

Paul Holtom, Director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme and one of the report’s authors, said:

“Russia is unwilling to provide China with advanced weapons and technology primarily because it is concerned that China will copy Russian technology and compete with Russia on the international arms market. The nature of the arms transfer relationship will increasingly be characterised by competition rather than cooperation.”

The report downplayed any fears or hopes for the two countries to take unified geo-political views even though they often oppose the US and share a dislike of a unipolar world.

“Both China and Russia individually their relationship with the US is paramount. Furthermore, there are strategic planners in Beijing and Moscow who view the other side as the ultimate strategic threat in the long-term,” it said.

“In the coming years, while relations will remain close at the diplomatic level, the two cornerstones of the partnership over the past two decades – military and energy cooperation – are crumbling.

“As a result, Russia’s significance to China will continue to diminish.”

Another co-author, Linda Jakobson, formerly with SIPRI and presently at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, said:

“The China-Russia partnership is plagued with problems. In reality cooperation is not as smooth as depicted in official rhetoric by top leaders on each side. Above all, both countries approach the relationship pragmatically. When interests converge, Beijing and Moscow collaborate, but when interests diverge the strategic partnership has little meaning. Genuine political trust is lacking.”