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China-Russia

Historic summit between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin strengthens China-Russia ties

Print edition : Mar 11, 2022 T+T-
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Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing on February 4. Russia and China have been able to forge a comprehensive strategic partnership after almost 60 years.

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S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister (right), with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne after a Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Melbourne on February 12.

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Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State. At the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting, he branded Russia’s alleged military threats against Ukraine as a challenge to “rules-based order”.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin agree to expand strategic and economic ties in the face of the West’s efforts to militarily encircle China and Russia.

IN THE FIRST WEEK OF FEBRUARY, AS THE crisis over Ukraine was heating up, Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. The United States had led a diplomatic boycott of the games and called on its friends and allies to follow suit, citing the Chinese government’s alleged ill-treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority. The United Kingdom, Australia and Canada were among its prominent allies that joined the boycott. The Winter Olympics was a prestige event for the Chinese government. Despite the pandemic’s adverse impact and the global spread of the Omicron strain, it ensured that the games went ahead on schedule.

India too joined the boycott at the eleventh hour, seemingly angered by the announcement that a Chinese army commander involved in the 2020 Galwan valley clashes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) would participate in the opening ceremony. The U.S. welcomed the Indian move, coming as it did just ahead of the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Australia. The Quad comprises Australia, Japan, India and the U.S. The holding of the meeting to coincide with the Winter Olympics was a strong signal to China. Russia, too, has made no effort to hide its deep suspicions about the Quad grouping.

Growing closeness

The in-person meeting between Xi Jinping and Putin was the first one between the two leaders in more than two years. In fact, Putin was the first foreign leader Xi has met since the beginning of 2020. In the last decade, Putin had met his Chinese counterpart on 38 different occasions, illustrating the growing closeness between the two countries and their leaders. Ukraine figured prominently in the bilateral talks although it did not figure specifically in the joint statement issued following the talks.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the two leaders had an “in-depth and thorough exchange of views on China-Russia relations and a series of major issues concerning international security and stability”. The statement from the Kremlin said that the two countries “believe that certain states, military and political alliances and coalitions seek to obtain, directly or indirectly, unilateral military advantages to the detriment of the security of others”.

The joint statement emphasised that both the countries “oppose” the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and called on its partners to give up their “ideologised Cold War approaches” and respect the sovereignty, security and national interests of other countries. “Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine stability in their common adjacent regions,” the statement said.

In a message meant for Washington, the two Presidents pledged “to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose colour revolutions and ... increase cooperation in the aforementioned areas”. The regime change in Ukraine in 2014 was the result of a “colour revolution” aided and abetted by the West. Both leaders pledged to deepen “back-to-back strategic coordination and uphold international fairness and justice, side by side”. The joint statement said that the strategic choices made by the two leaders would have a far-reaching global impact.

The Chinese leadership is fully aware that NATO’s expansion poses a significant threat to the country’s security. In 2020, NATO issued a position paper describing China as one of “the top threats” it faces. While identifying Russia as the biggest threat, the report titled “NATO 2030” calls on the alliance to focus on China too. “China has an increasingly global strategic agenda, supported by its growing economic and military heft,” the report said.

The report recommended that NATO should strengthen ties with countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region. It also called for an internal NATO discussion about forming a partnership with India, saying that the country “shares fundamental interests and values with the alliance”. According to the NATO report, the alliance could establish stronger ties with the Quad to coordinate a response to China’s growing influence.

Australia further strengthened its military alliance with the U.S. following the creation of the AUKUS alliance last year. This military grouping, consisting of Australia, the U.K. and the U.S., is aimed specifically at China. The treaty gives Australia access to nuclear submarine technology. Putin and Xi said they were “seriously concerned” about the AUKUS alliance. “Russia and China believe that such actions are contrary to the objective of security and sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific region, increase the danger of an arms race in the region, and pose serious risks of nuclear proliferation,” the joint statement said.

It criticised U.S.’ withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and urged Washington “to abandon its plans to deploy intermediate-range and short-range ground-based missiles in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe”. The West’s plans to encircle China and Russia militarily is the main reason for Moscow and Beijing deciding to strengthen their strategic and economic ties.

Economic ties

In another important sign of deepening economic ties between the two countries, the Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft announced that it would supply 100 million tonnes of oil to China over the next 10 years. The oil will be routed through Kazakhstan. Gazprom, another state-controlled firm, also announced a 30-year agreement with China to build a new pipeline to supply 10 million cubic metres of gas annually. China and Russia have agreed to boost their annual bilateral trade to $250 billion.

China has indicated that it will not adhere to the U.S.-led sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine issue. Washington has been trying to use the threat of sanctions to pressure Moscow over Ukraine and other issues.

‘Landmark document’

The joint statement, which has been described as a “landmark document”, reflects a shared world view and spells out a set of principles to govern international relations. The 5,300-word document is a testament to the comprehensive strategic partnership that the two countries have been able to forge after a gap of almost 60 years. It can be viewed as a direct challenge to the U.S. The document talks about the need for “a redistribution of power in the world”.

Putin said that the relationship between Russia and China “cannot be compared to anything in the world”. According to the joint statement, the “friendship between the two states knows no limits, there are no forbidden areas of cooperation”.

It said that the two countries had forged a “new kind of relationship” that is not aimed “against third countries” and is “superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War”. The document states that the two countries will cooperate on all issues ranging from climate change to combating terrorism and signals their readiness to work with all international partners in a multipolar world.

The two states have prioritised the need for multipolarity in the world. They want the United Nations to play a key role in a world where no single hegemonic power will try to impose its own standards on a unipolar chessboard and “poses a serious threat to global and regional peace and stability and undermines the world order”.

Importantly, the joint statement on “International Relations Entering a New Era” emphasises that “a trend has emerged towards redistribution of power in the world” so that every country will have a voice “that promotes more democratic international relations”. The document insists that “there is no one-size-fits-all template to guide countries in establishing democracy” and that all countries “must respect the rights of people to independently determine the development paths of their countries”.

Russia and China have defined democracy “as a means of citizens’ participation in the governments of their country with the view to improving the well-being of the population and implementing the principle of popular government”. The document states that each country can choose its form of democracy, taking into consideration its history, culture, political and social background and that only people can decide whether their country is democratic or not. The document says that both Russia and China “are world powers with rich cultural and historical heritage (that) have long-standing traditions of democracy”.

U.S.’ unilateral approaches

The Joe Biden administration has been seeking to build “an alliance of democracies” to counter China and Russia. The U.S. has been demanding the Western model of democracy for all countries even while playing the role of a hegemon in international politics. “Some actors,” the statement said, “representing but the minority on the international stage, continue to advocate unilateral approaches to addressing international issues and resort to force”. Both Beijing and Moscow have become strong votaries for the “democratisation of international relations” which will give all nations a voice on the international stage.

The Russian side reiterated its support for the “One China principle”, confirming that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The Biden administration, like the previous Donald Trump administration, is vigorously trying to undermine the “One China” policy. The policy was the basis on which diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing were established in 1979.

At the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Melbourne in the second week of February, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was critical of both Russia and China. He branded Russia’s alleged military threats against Ukraine as a challenge to “rules-based order” and said that the crisis mattered to the Quad although Ukraine “was half a world away”. In an interview with The Australian newspaper, Blinken said that “China’s ambition over time is to be the leading military, economic, diplomatic and political power, not just in the region but in the world”.

He, however, went on to say that the U.S. and its allies were a far more formidable coalition than the emerging Russia-China alliance. Blinken said that Washington’s goal was to strengthen the alliance against China and Russia by bringing together “literally dozens of allies and partners” through NATO, the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe and through allies such as Japan, Australia and South Korea in the Indo-Pacific region. He said that Washington was “constantly putting new coalitions, new partnerships, together, whether it is the Quad or the AUKUS”.

Although Blinken and the three other Foreign Ministers continue to claim that the Quad is not a security grouping, the focus of the Melbourne meeting was China. In an editorial, The Australian said that it was common knowledge that “the Quad is designed to make sure that Beijing cannot exercise hegemony over a large part of the Indo-Pacific”. The paper said that the “Quad’s unity has put China on notice”.

Not satisfied with ratcheting up tensions in Eastern Europe, the U.S. now seems intent to do the same in the Asia-Pacific region as it seeks ways and means to confront Russia and China.

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