By Ambra Visentin
In February 2022, China and Russia signed a Joint Statement calling for the beginning of a new phase in international politics characterised by ‘true multilateralism’ and based on ‘peaceful coexistence in a climate of mutually beneficial cooperation’. In the same document, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that he supports the Kremlin in opposing NATO expansion in Europe and considers Putin’s demands for greater security guarantees to be legitimate.
China rejects ‘saviour’ role
While Russia has been pinning high hopes on China since the start of the war and has seen it as a ‘lifeline’ for its economy, Beijing has instead maintained a very cautious line. It is true that Russian exports to China, especially oil and gas, increased by 50 per cent between January and August compared to the previous year. But in the opposite direction, Beijing’s energy companies are careful not to circumvent sanctions imposed by the West. And so far, only a fraction of the technology it so urgently needs has arrived in Russia: imports from China grew by only 8.5 per cent until August.
The Samarkand meeting and the ‘Ukrainian crisis’
Last week, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Putin told Chinese head of state and party leader Xi Jinping that Russia ‘understands the questions and concerns about the “Ukrainian crisis”. Putin later said the same to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The meetings were interpreted as a sign of lack of support for the attack on Ukraine. China then made several efforts to downplay the significance of the Xi-Putin meeting after the Samarkand summit.
The meeting in Nanping
The Russian National Security Council issued a statement following a visit by its secretary Nikolai Patrushev, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, to the city of Nanping in south-eastern China. Patrushev met with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign official. According to the Russian secretary, the two countries had agreed to continue their military cooperation, and then stated that ‘the path of developing the strategic partnership with China is a top priority for Russian foreign policy’. Beijing, on the other hand, limited itself to talking about ‘consensus building’ of the two heads of state in their respective countries and an undefined ‘strategic strengthening’.
The US version and Joe Biden’s ‘non-threatening’ phone call to Xi Jinping
After the meeting between Xi and Putin, the US State Department again stated that the US was not aware of Chinese military support for Putin’s war of aggression. However, President Biden felt it necessary to warn his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping of the risk of investors fleeing if China violates sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, calling any violations ‘a gigantic mistake’. In an excerpt from an interview with CBS Joe Biden went on to explain that his warnings were ‘not intended as threats’.
From the Russian-Chinese agreement signed in February until today, there seems to have been a setback in relations between the two countries, and by going in the opposite direction to Russia’s needs, it puts the latter in an increasingly unstable situation.
Cover image: Fedor Odegov on Flickr