The concept of "partnership" started after the Cold War. China has adopted the name "partnership" to define the bilateral relations. Since 1997 to 1998, China has established partnerships with Russia, the United States, France, and the E.U. Of the 172 countries with which China has diplomatic relations, China has established a formal partnership with 54 of them. Since China implemented a policy of non-alliance, there is no higher position in China’s diplomatic system than the "partnership" bilateral relationship.
Based on the closeness and intensity of the relationship, China’s "partners" can generally be divided into: Partners, comprehensive partners, strategic (cooperation) partners and the comprehensive strategic (cooperation) partners. "Comprehensive" refers to the broader areas of cooperation, including political, economic, cultural, and military. "Strategic" means a higher level of cooperation and there are common grounds in the overall situation and the country’s core interests. Partnership can be between two countries. It can also be between China and an international organization.
Partnership between China and the E.U. belongs to comprehensive strategic partnership. The China–U.S. "partnership" is limited to the economy, [only simple partners]. Compared to the United States, China uses a unique word to describe the China-Russia "partnership," which is "comprehensive strategic collaborative partnership." China does not use such a title for other countries. China and Japan have not had "partnership" relations until today.
Source: People’s Daily, March 31, 2014