Russia may be suffering massive battlefield losses in Ukraine and Western sanctions, but China stands firm in support of President Vladimir Putin and an “unlimited” friendship.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping will meet Putin at a regional summit in Uzbekistan this week, in a public show of solidarity ahead of the US-led campaign to isolate Russia over the conflict. war in Ukraine.
Although Beijing did not explicitly endorse Moscow’s invasion, it solidified its economic and strategic relationship with Russia during the six months of the war, and President Xi assured him. that he supported Russia’s “sovereignty and security”.
Analysts say that as Sino-US relations plummet, Beijing believes it needs to nurture its relationship with its giant northern neighbour.
“Regardless of whether Russia wins (in Ukraine) or not, China will pursue close alignment with Russia, which is determined by the current US-China relationship situation more than anything else,” Yun Sun said. , director of the China Program in Washington-based at the Stimson Center, told AFP.
As the world’s second-largest nuclear power, “Russia is not a geopolitical power that can be eliminated,” Sun said.
China sees Russia as an important partner in mobilizing international institutions away from Washington’s sphere of influence.
On Monday, senior diplomat Yang Jiechi told Russia’s Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov that Xi and Putin could work together to “promote the development of the international order in the direction of fairness and harmony.” more reasonable”.
And on trade, China has ramped up its oil purchases from Russia in recent months, with Russia becoming China’s top oil supplier for three consecutive months from May to July, helping to offset the loss. bad for Moscow.
Sino-US relations have been strained for years, with the trade war showing no sign of abating while Washington accuses Beijing of human rights abuses.
In August, relations hit a significant new low when US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited self-ruled Taiwan, angering Beijing by considering the island part of its territory.
The Chinese government responded with military exercises and massive missile launches around Taiwan, and canceled cooperation with the United States in many areas, including key climate negotiations.
Last week, Mr. Xi sent top government lawmaker Li Zhanshu to Russia, where he met Putin.
“The political mutual trust, strategic coordination and pragmatic cooperation between the two countries have reached an unprecedented level,” Li said, according to state media.
Mr. Li’s visit comes as Russia undergoes a series of major military reversals in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s army retaking much of the territory.
But if Russia is “weakened in the war, that’s not necessarily bad news for China, as it will become more dominant in bilateral relations,” Sun said.
Russia ‘especially hopeful’
A closer look at Li’s trip also shows that China still wants to avoid the effects of Western sanctions over the Ukraine war – even as Moscow portrays Beijing as a supporter of its invasion. .
Russia stated in a reading to parliament that Li had said “we fully understand the need for all the measures that Russia takes to protect its main interests, which we are supporting”.
This line does not appear in official Chinese reports on the interaction, implying a disconnect in the two sides’ messages.
“As Russia’s position deteriorates, Putin will seek increased support from China,” said Hal Brands, professor of global affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Brands, professor of global affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Xi and Putin will meet face-to-face this week, on the sidelines of a summit of regional leaders.
This will be their first meeting since the Russian leader visited Beijing in February, where the two presidents declared that “the friendship between the two states knows no bounds”.
Joseph Torigian, a foreign policy expert at American University in Washington, D.C., said the meeting came “at a very flexible time on the battlefield, which could mean that Russia is particularly hoping for assistance.” China’s help”.
“We don’t know how difficult the requests will be and how much China thinks it can help without sacrificing its own economic interests,” he told AFP.
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