Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met on the first day of the Beijing Olympics to stage an unprecedented show of solidarity against the West.
“The friendship between the two states has no limits,” read a joint statement issued Friday by Moscow and Beijing. “There are no ‘prohibited’ areas of cooperation, the strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither directed against third countries nor affected by developments in the international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries .”
The statement reads largely as a jab at Washington, Moscow and Beijing opposing “further NATO enlargement” and calling on the alliance to “abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches…” The opening paragraphs denounced “[c]Some states attempt to impose their own ‘democratic standards’ on other countries,” reflecting points raised in a November 2021 op-ed co-authored for national interest by the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the United States, Anatoly Antonov and Qin Gang. The statement insisted that both China and Russia have “long-standing democratic traditions”, adding that “it is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their state is democratic”.
The two countries exchanged mutual assurances on a range of regional issues. “The Chinese side understands and supports the proposals put forward by the Russian Federation to create long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe,” the statement read, referring to the security proposals vis-à-vis the EU. NATO and Washington released by Russian Defence. Ministry in December. Moscow, for its part, reaffirmed that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China” and denounced “any form of Taiwan independence”. Russia has joined China in expressing deep concern over the AUKUS trilateral defense alliance between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, with the statement saying the alliance undermines “the security objectives and sustainable development” in the Asia-Pacific region. Both sides have claimed they oppose the “politicization” of ongoing investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic – a clear show of Russian support against the West. accusations that Beijing covered up the outbreak in its crucial early stages.
The Putin-Xi meeting comes amid a standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine, with Moscow accused of mustering more than 100,000 troops along the country’s eastern border. The White House announced earlier that the Kremlin plans to fabricate a pretext to attack Ukraine with a “very graphic propaganda video” depicting apparent atrocities against Russian speakers in the east of the country. As of this writing, the Biden administration has not provided evidence of the conspiracy; Moscow denied the allegation.
The joint statement was accompanied by a 30-year gas deal between Moscow and Beijing that will see the construction of a new pipeline to supply China with 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The deal, which will be settled in euros, is expected to significantly increase the already considerable volume of gas exports from Russia to China. The deal would not allow Moscow to divert gas otherwise slated for Europe, as Russia’s Chinese and European markets depend on different pipeline networks. It could, however, help Moscow mitigate the financial damage and volatility of potential Western sanctions.
Hours before the meeting, State Department spokesman Ned Price warned China that Washington and its allies “have an array of tools” to punish Beijing for helping Moscow circumvent possible sanctions. “If Russia thinks it will be able … to mitigate some of these consequences through a closer relationship with [China], This is not the case. It will actually make the Russian economy more fragile in many ways,” Price added. The Biden administration has not specified what form these punitive measures might take.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, called the statement an attempt by Russia and China to pressure the United States and Europe, calling it “an important development for the country already close.” [Russo-Chinese] romantic relationship.” However, it also highlights a subtle imbalance in the bilateral relationship: while seemingly reciprocal at first glance, the statement’s litany of mutual assurances belies an underlying asymmetry in favor of China. So that Russia’s support for Chinese positions, whether on AUKUS, Taiwan or the origins of Covid-19, has concrete political implications, China’s endorsement of Russia’s goals is vague and abstract. its support for Russia’s security demands in December on terms that require no specific commitment from China and are worded so opaquely that they cannot reasonably elicit a Western political response. Without reservations from Russia to the “one China principle” regarding Taiwan, Beijing is in no hurry to recognize Crimea – absorbed by Russia in 2014 following the events of the Euromaidan solution in Ukraine – as sovereign Russian territory. The statement condemned “bullying” and “unilateral sanctions” in what appears to be thinly veiled against Washington, but made no mention of China’s recent unilateral sanctions and coercive diplomacy against Australia and Lithuania.
Friday’s joint statement is the clearest expression yet of China and Russia’s longstanding efforts to present a united front against the United States and Europe. But as the contours of an informal Sino-Russian coalition begin to take shape, so do the tensions and imbalances implicit in the relationship.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National interest.