Poll: How Many Chinese Support a Sino-Russian Military Alliance?

China Academy Poll is a bi-monthly product that offers the most up-to-date, on-the-ground sentiment analysis among China’s youth.
April 24, 2024
The China Academy

The transforming power of the ongoing Ukraine War not only finds its presence in global geopolitics but also in the Chinese internet. Our new poll discovers that, contrary to popular presumptions, Chinese netizens do not prioritize military alliance as the form of China-Russian cooperation. Instead, they view the bilateral relationship from a practical perspective of national interests, with NATO and the U.S. clearly looming in the background.

The survey was conducted from March 6 to 20 during the Russian presidential election. The election ushers in Vladimir Putin’s new term and his announcement of China as the destination of his first state visit. With a total of 1,601 participants and a significant number of representative comments, our poll on Sino-Russia relations is able to identify subtle but critical trends in China’s public opinion, which are vital for someone seeking to understand China.

Data of this report were drawn from our poll “In 2024, in which area should China and Russia deepen their cooperation?”, released on Bilibili and Weibo, two of the most popular social media platforms widely used among China’s Generation Z. Participants could voice their opinions by voting and leaving comments. Details on the gender and age distribution of the participants are provided at the end of this article.

· Participants show more favorable views towards future Sino-Russia cooperation in areas of energy and trade.
· Chinese netizens do not rule out the possibility of a military alliance with Russia in the event of future conflicts with the United States and NATO.
Key Observations

A. Nearly half of the participants prioritize cooperation in the energy sector, echoing China’s longstanding concerns about energy security

Out of the 1,601 votes tallied, 672 individuals, comprising approximately 43%, opted for energy as the area they want to see Sino-Russia cooperation deepen in, topping all other options.

One comment, garnering the most approval, states, ‘Establishing a complementary relationship between China and Russia benefits both sides. With Russia’s energy export avenues narrowed following the Nord Stream explosion, China offers a vast market for its energy exports. For China, such a relationship addresses our energy security concerns.’ This comment highlights the prevalent concern among Chinese citizens regarding the country’s energy security. Russia, as a leading global energy exporter with abundant oil and natural gas resources, is thus considered a crucial partner for China.

Furthermore, another comment under our poll, ‘China is self-sufficient in coal but heavily relies on imports for oil and natural gas, facing maritime transportation threats from the United States and its allies,’ received considerable agreement. It sheds light on how recent Sino-US tensions have heightened Chinese netizens’ anxieties about energy security, and consequently prompted a greater inclination toward bolstering cooperation with Russia.

From our analysis of the comment section of our poll, we’d like to highlight that participants do not support a drastic transition to renewable energy sources, despite recognizing the threat posed by the U.S. to sea routes and China’s superiority in photovoltaic and wind power equipment production. Instead, they believe that the robustness of an industrialized nation requires ample fossil fuel support, with Russia’s piped oil and natural gas offering an optimal solution in their view.

B. Around one-third of the voters prioritize strengthening trade cooperation, advocating for seizing the business opportunities created by Western sanctions against Russia

Out of the 1,601 votes tallied, 472 individuals, comprising approximately 29.9%, opted for trade as the area they want to see Sino-Russia cooperation deepen in, making it the second-highest vote among all choices.

In the comment section of our poll, two viewpoints have garnered significant support: “While acknowledging the importance of energy, I personally favor enhancing trade across various sectors. This would facilitate the integration of resources between Asia and Europe, and putting us in a more active position in future competitions (with the US).” Another comment reads “With Russia facing sanctions, European and American products are barred from its market, presenting an opportunity for Chinese products to thrive, such as automobiles and industrial goods.”

Moreover, several netizens offered nuanced insights into the future of Sino-Russian trade collaboration. For example, some participants from Northeast China called attention to the urgency of creating a China-Russia Free Trade Zone. However, the limited total trade volume between China and Russia in 2023, amounting to $200 billion USD, was not overlooked in the comment section. Some participants cautioned against excessive optimism, stressing the importance of fully unlocking the trading potential between the two nations by revitalizing Russia’s market.

C. A military alliance with Russia: It’s important, but not imminent.

Out of the 1,601 votes tallied, 304 individuals, constituting roughly 17.79% of the total, as favored military as the area they want to see Sino-Russia cooperation deepen in.

While the military didn’t secure the majority of votes, it has successfully sparked the most discussion. Some participants highlighted the conditional nature of military cooperation: “It hinges on NATO’s next move. If NATO accepts defeat and acknowledges Ukraine’s loss, then enhancing trade and infrastructure ties between China and Russia takes precedence. However, if NATO pursues further aggressive military endeavors, then military cooperation between China and Russia becomes paramount.” Others noted the evolving significance of military collaboration: “While military cooperation used to be pivotal for China and Russia, Russia’s waning technological and military prowess has diminished its perceived value. Therefore military now presents itself as the least promising among the four major areas of cooperation.” Some expressed concerns about Russia’s stance toward China, stating: ‘Russia has always been wary of China and will continue to be so. The Sino-Russian relationship may ultimately be characterized by mutual constraint. For China, it would be most optimal if Russia could prompt NATO’s disintegration.’

Based on our observations, the prolonged Russia-Ukraine conflict has contributed to a shift in China’s public sentiment from a strong interest in Sino-Russia military cooperation to collaboration in other sectors, such as the economy and energy. Chinese netizens now widely believe that China has achieved self-sufficiency in military technology development, reducing the necessity of relying on Russia or Ukraine for Soviet-era technology transfers. Thus, further enhancing military cooperation may not necessarily yield significant improvements for the Chinese military.

On the other hand, the extensive sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Russia seem to present both opportunities and risks for China, making economic cooperation with Russia a worthwhile exploration and a more rewarding strategy. However, in the event of a future direct conflict with the U.S. or NATO, Russia will still be seen as an ideal military ally.

D. Food Security: Nothing to Worry About

In a total of 1,601 votes, 153 were cast for the food option, making up roughly 9.3% of the total and placing it at bottom among all options.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has directly impacted the world’s two largest exporters of food and fertilizer, with significant repercussions for African agriculture. However, Chinese netizens don’t seem to share these concerns. Some have remarked, “China can achieve self-sufficiency in staple foods; it’s just side dishes and meat that need to be imported. After all, history has seen periods when China had all the food it needed for basic self-sufficiency.” This viewpoint has found agreement among some netizens, potentially reflecting a relatively optimistic view of food security. It’s also worthnoting that some participants have warned against dependence on American agricultural products.

Participant Profile

While we don’t have access to demographic data of the participants in our poll, we find it helpful to examine the demographic breakdown of our social media accounts where our poll was published. The demographic breakdown of our social media followers on Bilibili and Weibo is as follows:

81.8% male, 18.2% female
Age-wise, 7.7% are under 16 years old, 31.3% are aged 16-25, 41.3% are aged 25-40, and 19.7% are aged 40 years old and above.
Geographically, the majority reside in southeast coastal areas of China, including Guangdong, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Beijing.


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