Asserting its strategic choice, China backs Russia to the hilt

Instead of calling Russia to halt its military invasion of Ukraine, China is supporting its ally as fully as it can without triggering Western sanctions. The farewell hug between the autocratic leaders of the respective nations - Chairman Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin - made a mockery of China's profession of being a neutral party.

ANI | Updated: 21-05-2024 10:16 IST | Created: 21-05-2024 10:16 IST
Asserting its strategic choice, China backs Russia to the hilt
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (File Photo/Reuters). Image Credit: ANI
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Instead of calling Russia to halt its military invasion of Ukraine, China is supporting its ally as fully as it can without triggering Western sanctions. The farewell hug between the autocratic leaders of the respective nations - Chairman Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin - made a mockery of China's profession of being a neutral party. In his first overseas trip after commencing his fifth term in power, Putin visited China on 16-17 May. The occasion marked the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and a 7,000-word joint statement enthused that "Russian- Chinese relations stand the test of rapid changes in the world, demonstrating strength and stability, and are experiencing the best period in their history".

Beijing previously declared a "no-limits strategic partnership" with Moscow, and the state visit reinforced the closeness between the two regimes. Instead of urging an end to the war, Xi embraced the Russian strongman and issued assurances of undying support. The joint statement noted the nations would "further deepen mutual military trust and cooperation". This includes expansion of military exercises, regular maritime and air patrols, and strengthening bilateral and multilateral coordination. Cooperation will occur in security-related fields such as deep-space exploration, satellite navigation systems, open-source technologies, artificial intelligence, telecommunications, radio frequency coordination, Internet of Things, cyber and data security.

The two leaders, united in their defiance of the USA, accused Washington DC of violating the strategic nuclear balance and non-proliferation (even though Russia refused to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and China refuses to join any treaty), the deployment of land-based intermediate missiles, militarizing space and conducting exercises targeting Russia and China. Furthermore, at a joint press conference on May 16, the two allies agreed that "a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis is the correct direction". Xi added that his country would like to "play a constructive role" in restoring peace on the European continent.

However, China is in no position to act as intermediary. Xi has met personally or spoken to Putin by phone a whopping 40+ times in the past decade or so. By contrast, Xi has spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy just once since the Russian invasion, and that was more than a year after the invasion. This stark fact shows which side of history Xi is on. After meeting Xi, Putin visited the Harbin Institute of Technology in the northeast province of Heilongjiang on May 17. This institute is sanctioned by the USA because of its association with the People's Liberation Army. Putin was accompanied by his new Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, as well as Yuriy Borisov, who heads the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The Chinese government stated, "The relationship has become a fine example for major countries and neighboring countries to treat each other with respect and candor, and pursue amity and mutual benefit." Xi said too that "the steady development of China-Russia relations is not only in the fundamental interests of the two countries and the two peoples, but also conducive to peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world at large". Yet it is difficult to square "peace and stability" with Xi's ongoing support for Russia's warmongering.

Meanwhile, Putin laughably said the two sides are "jointly committed to promoting the establishment of a more democratic multipolar world order". Democracy is not in either regime's lexicon, but they are united in subverting the dominance of the USA. China repeated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, comprising mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; mutual non-aggression; non-interference in each other's internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful coexistence. At odds with this, however, Xi is mutually supplying equipment to keep Russia's aggressive war machine fighting.

Indeed, the USA has accused China of being the "primary contributor" to Moscow's war. Indeed, it allegedly provides some 70 per cent of Russian machine tool imports and 90 per cent of microelectronics. Earlier this month, the US Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on 22 Chinese companies for helping Russia circumvent Western sanctions. Only the most diehard supporters could believe China's machinations to appear as a neutral party and responsible stakeholder in the Ukraine conflict. Beijing has not once condemned Russia for its actions, and has upheld Putin's wild justifications for war at every opportunity.The meeting between Putin and Xi came hard on the heels of Xi's own journey to Europe to visit France, Hungary and Serbia. Incidentally, Xi's visit to Serbia coincided with the 25th anniversary of the American bombing of the Chinese Embassy there.

It was the first time for five years that Xi has been in Europe, as he dealt with turmoil at home, particularly COVID-19 lockdowns, an uncontained pandemic and economic malaise. Naively, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged Xi to use his influence with Putin to end the war in Ukraine and control the pipeline of dual-use goods from China to Russia. Doctor Yu Jie, Senior Research Fellow on China, Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House, commented that during his trip, Xi "must have discovered some parts of Europe have become an entirely different place since his visit five years ago".

With Europe intent on de-risking and moving away from overdependence on China, Xi was not pleased and he urged " EU institutions to have a correct view on China"! Dr. Yu assessed: "The main purpose for Xi's European tour is therefore damage limitation, preventing ties with Europe worsening even more, as they have with Washington. He is also seeking to exploit divisions within Europe on Ukraine and US relations, working towards China's vision of a more multipolar world." Dr. Yu added: "Since February 2022, Beijing made several attempts to justify its position on the invasion of Ukraine, hoping to prevent a sustained deterioration in relations. So far, Beijing's main achievement in the eyes of European countries is showing its willingness to restrain Putin from entertaining the deployment of nuclear weapons. But European leaders must not expect China to side with them on the war itself."

The Chatham House scholar concluded: "...Any improvement in EU relations would require President Xi and his lieutenants to reconfigure China's approach - but this cannot only be based on lofty talk of 'win-win' cooperation that is appreciated little in most European capitals." China is vulnerable. The economy is stuttering after COVID at home and abroad, and competition with foreign companies is intensifying. China is attempting to move away from overreliance on the property sector to become an exporter of high-value products such as automobiles. In fact, China today has enough capacity to manufacture half the world's vehicles.

At the same time, China's obstinacy over topics such as trade, human rights and its support for Russia have driven a sharp wedge in relationships. Despite empty epithets, most Europeans realize that Xi has little intention of exerting pressure on Russia to end the Ukraine conflict. Xi's utterance that, "China and Russia are committed to fairness and justice as the purpose of relations, and dedicated to the political settlement of hotspots," is just empty words. It is only the threat of sanctions from the USA and Europe that prevent Beijing from doing more. Nevertheless, China is acting as a vital hinterland for Russian goods such as oil. In 2023, bilateral trade exceeded a record USD240 billion, which was 2.7 times what it was a decade ago. Nevertheless, many Chinese banks are refusing to accept payments from Russia, and this may be affecting exports, as trade from China to Russia was down 16 per cent in March compared to a year earlier.

Despite the rhetoric and bonhomie, Putin must be wary of China's relationships in Europe. Chinese exports to Russia, amounting to just 3 per cent of Beijing's total volume, is far less than its exports to Europe. Also, Putin will not want China to attend an upcoming Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland. However, China's attendance would reinforce the rather threadbare Chinese narrative that it is seeking a peaceful solution. In their joint statement, Russia and China criticized US policy for stoking tensions on the Korean Peninsula. They demanded the USA "abandon intimidation, sanctions and suppression" of North Korea.

Putin did not travel to North Korea after his Chinese visit, though such a trip may come soon. China is desperate to avoid optics of a tripartite alliance between itself, North Korea and Russia. Beijing knows both parties are unpredictable mavericks. Dr. Euan Graham, Senior Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, noted, "North Korea [is] playing off Russia against China as it has from its inception. Trust is not a necessary ingredient for this triumvirate - they can achieve a lot together without it." North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wants to be less reliant on China, and the Ukraine war has presented him an opportunity to make his country useful to Moscow. Of course, it is worrying if the quid pro quo was that Russia assist North Korea with nuclear and missile technologies. The last time Putin visited North Korea was in 2000, before the current leader ascended the throne in 2011. Pyongyang has readily supplied items such as ballistic missiles plus anywhere from 1-3 million artillery rounds for Putin's war.

Russia's other ally is Iran, supplying thousands of drones, loitering munitions and missiles to Putin's military forces - plus Tehran helped establish drone production facilities in Russia. Russia wants to break the international order, whereas China wants to replace it with itself at the head. Indeed, Putin's wanton actions have created something of a headache for Xi, as his actions directly contradict Beijing's long-held policy of supposed "non-interference" in the sovereign affairs of others. Of course, it could be argued that Beijing's actions do not correlate with this policy anyway. Regardless, China is intent on building influence in the Global South, even if it means throwing the likes of Ukraine and Israel under the bus.

China is also prosecuting an active publicity campaign accusing the USA of hyping up a "China supporting Russia" threat. The fact is that Ukraine has become a proxy war, as the USA and numerous Western countries arm Ukraine against Russia's onslaught. Meanwhile, China is backing Russia and giving this pariah the materiel and diplomatic support it desperately needs. Two vast alliances, straddling the whole world, are squaring off in eastern Europe in what could be described as the first global conflict since the Cold War ended. To defend its support of Russia, Beijing is playing the "anti-China card". For example, in an article written by Zhang Gaosheng, an assistant researcher at the Department for World Peace and Security, China Institute of International Studies, and published on the Chinese military's official website, the author accused the USA of "attempts to lay the protracted Russia-Ukraine conflict to China's charge and incite disharmony between China and Europe".

"By persistently hyping up the argument of 'China supporting Russia', the US aims to create unfriendly public opinion towards China in Europe, leading the international community to ignore the fault of the US in pouring fuel on the crisis in Ukraine," the Chinese academic asserted. He also called American sanctions a "political stunt to obtain more electoral support". Zhang argued the "true intention behind the disguise is that the US wants to further suppress China's military industry development". He said, "Under the disguise of 'Chinese assistance to Russia', the true intention of the US is to contain China's military power development and maintain its own military hegemony."The author complained too that actions taken by the USA "will not only do no good to the solving of the crisis in Ukraine, but also undermine the international economic and trade rules and order, and endanger the security and stability of the global industrial and supply chains".

While these arguments reveal some of China's concerns, Xi remains ardent in his support of Russia and its ongoing war in Ukraine. The Chinese leader has shown little interest in resolving the conflict - wooing his bellicose Russian comrade with soothing words and hugs has little chance of ending the conflagration. (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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