On February 29, 2008, the Chinese Ministry of Defense signed an agreement on setting up a direct confidential telephone line with its U.S. counterpart in Shanghai. It was widely believed that the Sino-U.S. military hotline would be opened within a month, and that it would be the first military hotline between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and another country. However, to everyone’s surprise, it was Russia that became the first country to which the PLA wanted to make a direct phone call. The International Herald Leader, a newspaper under Xinhua, published an article called “The Chinese and Russian Military Hotline.” 
Sino-Russia Military Hotline Successfully Set up
While the Sino-U.S. military hotline still waits to be finalized, the phone line connecting Beijing and Moscow is already open.
On March 14, the day when China’s Ministry of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense formally established a direct phone line, China’s Minister of Defense General Cao Gangchuan had a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Serdyukov for the first time.
It was 14 days after an agreement on setting up a direct confidential military telephone line between China and the United States in Shanghai. It was widely believed that the Sino-U.S. military hotline would be opened within a month, and that it would be the first military hotline between the PLA and another country. However, to everyone’s surprise, it was Russia that first connected China by phone line.
A Manifestation of Political Trust between Two Countries
“The launching of a hotline before the Sino-U.S. direct phone line shows the closeness of relationship between China and Russia,” Teng Jianqun, deputy secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association told the International Herald Leader, “The launch sent a signal, implying that everything including the military hotline is built upon the foundation of mutual trust.”
On March 3, the U.S. Department of Defense released the “2008 China Military Power Report,” which, as usual, disseminates the “theory of Chinese military threat” by charging PLA for lack of transparency.
“In my impression, there has not been any ‘theory of Chinese military threat’ in Russia.” Teng added that it was obvious China and Russia have a much deeper mutual trust. As said by Minister Cao in the telephone conversation with Serdyukov, the direct phone line between China and the Russian Ministry of Defense is a reflection of bilateral trust and strategic cooperation.
Major Difference from Sino-U.S. Hotline
Mutual trust is determined by a bilateral diplomatic relationship. “Whether in mutual trust, or level of maturity, the Sino-Russian strategic cooperative partnership is more constructive than that between China and the U.S.,” Major General Luo Yuan, the deputy director of the World Military Research Division of China Academy of Military Science, told the reporter.
These differences directly affect the attitudes toward the two major military hotlines. In Teng’s opinion, “China and Russia share common positions on issues such as arms control, national security, and U.N. disarmament talks. Therefore, communications between the two countries are easier. The Sino-U.S. communications, however, is shadowed with more precaution because China does not feel assured because of the actions of distrust from the U.S. side.”
The strains are felt in the negotiations of the technical aspects of the Sino-U.S. hotline. “How should the hotline be placed? Where to put it? When should the line be connected? What is the duration? Who is responsible?” Teng said, these are all technical barriers that the Sino-U.S. hotline needs to overcome, while none of them exist between China and Russia.
The two hotlines also differ on the goal of communications. The purpose of the Sino-Russia hotline, as stated by Cao, “is to the advantage of prompt communications of important issues related with bilateral military contacts and cooperation, and of timely exchange of views and coordination of positions on international and regional hot issues.”
Teng explains, a major issue of “important issues related with bilateral military contacts and cooperation” is to strike terrorist and separatist groups on the border so as to jointly safeguard border security. The goal of the Sino-U.S. military hotline, however, “is in a hope of solving the crisis by means of dialogue, avoiding antagonizing each other,” according to Luo.
Nevertheless, the two hotlines do have something in common. “It is clear that the establishment of Sino-Russia and Sino-U.S. military hotlines have special meaning during the dangerous periods across the Taiwan strait,” Major General Luo Yuan explains. “President Hu Jintao recently stressed that separatist activity for ‘Taiwan independence’ has become the largest danger to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the largest obstacle to the development of cross-strait relations, and the biggest threat to the regional peace and stability. Under these circumstances, China certainly needs to exchange views and coordinate positions with other countries to safeguard peace, stability, and strategic benefits.”
What is Behind ‘Sudden’ Open Is Inevitable
What impress people are not only the vast differences in the attitude toward the two military hotlines, the contents of communications, but the suddenness of the opening of the Sino-Russia hotline. It is hard to trace the origin of the negotiations either by searching the documentations or consulting experts. In Teng’s view, it is not unexpected. The hotline is “actually an extension of the mutual trusts of Sino-Russia military.”
The bilateral military trust wass built starting in April 1990, when China, Russia, Kazak, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan signed an agreement on mutual reduction of military forces in border areas. Two years later, when then Russian President Yeltsin visited China, China and Russia issued The Joint Declaration on the Foundation of Bilateral Relationship, confirming the friendly status between the two countries.
The following two years, the bilateral military relationship continued to advance. In 1993, the Ministry of Defense of both countries signed a cooperation agreement. In 1994, both countries announced to develop “equal and trustable strategic cooperation partnership geared toward the 21st century” by signing a joint declaration that neither country would be the first to use nuclear weapons against each other and would target their strategic nuclear weapons at each other. China, Russia, Kazak, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan also signed an agreement on strengthening military trust in border areas.
In 2007, the joint military exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization pushed the Sino-Russia military relationship to a new height. Teng said that the relationships between the two countries are both “bilateral” and “multilateral”. It is obvious from the bilateral military exchanges that the launch of the hotline is a natural result.
 International Herald Leader, 2008 March 18