China-Russia relations

Written by  //  June 10, 2022  //  China, Russia  //  No comments

(The World) Russia and China have opened a new cross-border bridge between their two nations in an attempt to boost trade. Moscow has been reeling from Western sanctions over its war in Ukraine, and both China and Russia have been at odds with the United States and its allies. Russia’s Ministry of Transport said the bridge would help boost bilateral annual trade to more than one million tons of goods. It links the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk to the Chinese city of Heihe, known in China as the Heilongjiang. Its construction began in 2016 and was completed in 2020, but the opening was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Russia and China open cross-border bridge as ties deepen

24 May
China’s leader thought he couldn’t lose from backing the Kremlin’s war, but it is ending in tears
Roger Boyes, Diplomatic Editor
(The Times) … Xi was subjected to some rude shocks from the first weeks of Putin’s invasion. There was no surrender by Volodymyr Zelensky, no puppet regime installed in Kyiv, no triumphant welcome of Russia’s tanks, no Russian military governor. Just very public setbacks for the Russian military, and the creeping realisation that China was going to have to bankroll a protracted war in Europe, and to accept, too, that it was in harness to a military incompetent.
Since so much of the theatre of this unhappy axis was based on a personal understanding between the two supposedly invincible leaders, Xi will take a political hit. Suddenly, due to extend his presidential tenure later this year, Xi does not seem to be infallible. The quietly ambitious prime minister, Li Keqiang, may soon be considered to have sounder judgment than Xi.
After a fortnight of combat, Moscow was already asking for ammunition and kit, and only then did Xi realise he had walked into a mantrap. Russia, after all, was Beijing’s main arms supplier: what kind of crisis on the battlefield could have so dramatically reversed that role? China was ready to buy Russian oil when Europeans started to boycott it, but even then it demanded a rebate. It was also ready to help Putin sidestep western sanctions. Hatred of western financial warfare was, after all, a common cause. But rearming Russia would make China an active participant in the war, multiply the sanctions risk from the US and close down options.
Xi is having to learn plenty about his friend Putin. How can he stand shoulder to shoulder with a regime that has plainly been so deeply penetrated by western intelligence agencies? Chinese spooks now see Russian military technical data as a legitimate hacking target. How can Russia be cut out of the global financial system with such ease? Xi is determined before autumn to make China siege-proof. And perhaps, just perhaps, he will change the way China is governed. “Maybe allowing one man to turn an authoritarian system that was benefiting myriad interest groups into a personalised fiefdom that risks everything isn’t such a good idea after all,” writes the Cold War scholar Stephen Kotkin in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.
Chiefly, Xi has to understand that the Ukraine war, with its Putinflationary effect on global food and fuel prices and his supposed meeting of minds with the Kremlin leader, is a shortcut to catastrophe for China. The souring bromance on top of other governing blunders is leading to huge capital outflows, plunging growth rates and an increasingly open questioning of Xi’s judgment. It may even require him to rethink his confrontation with the US.

6 May
Putin and Xi are accelerating their push against democracy. Here’s how the US can fight back.
(Atlantic Council) Both Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping view the expansion of democracy as a threat to their grip on power and key to the advancement of US and allied influence around the world. Disrupting democracy and strengthening authoritarianism globally are therefore central elements of their strategic competition with the United States.
Before Putin’s brazen invasion of Ukraine, both he and Xi had long recognized that interference in open societies to advantage illiberal friends is preferable to and far less costly than military invasion. There is no shortage of examples: In Ethiopia and Kenya, for instance, Beijing has invested in training the ruling parties on the same strategies and tactics the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses to stay in power. It has also poured money into countries such as Cambodia and Serbia without demanding progress on human rights or democratic development, reinforcing authoritarian trends there. For its part, Russia actively uses a range of online information operations to advantage illiberal populist allies abroad—from bolstering euroskeptic actors in the Netherlands to promoting a Kremlin-friendly narrative in government-controlled media in Hungary.
Chinese and Russian efforts to undermine democratic institutions and bolster illiberal leaders also frequently complement one another. Russian disinformation campaigns and efforts to exacerbate societal divides are often more effective in countries that are increasingly dependent on Chinese investment and convinced by its promotion of an authoritarian development model. While these efforts are typically undertaken independently, there is mounting evidence of coordination, particularly on propaganda and disinformation.
The Kremlin’s evident failings in Ukraine will likely spark fear among among Putin, Xi, and their elite support networks that this could snowball into more democratic successes in their neighborhoods. As this perceived threat escalates, so too will the dedication among the leaders of Russia and China to advance illiberalism and undercut democratic movements.

20 April
China looks to learn from Russian failures in Ukraine
(AP) … No country is paying closer attention than China to how a smaller and outgunned force has badly bloodied what was thought to be one of the world’s most powerful armies.
China’s military is highly opaque and outside the purview of civilian judges and corruption investigators, so it’s difficult to know how thoroughly the organization has been exorcised of practices such as the selling of commissions and kickbacks on defense contracts.
For Xi, the military’s primary mission remains to protect the ruling Communist Party, and he has followed his predecessors in fighting back hard against efforts to have the military shift its ultimate loyalty to the nation.
Xi’s overriding political focus could mean the lessons he draws from the Ukraine conflict are off base, Graham said.
“Xi Jinping will always apply a political solution because he’s not a military specialist or an economic specialist,” Graham said. “I think the military lessons have to go through a political filter, so I’m not sure that China will take the lessons that are abundant and on show for everyone to see.”

18 April
Thomas L. Friedman: China and Russia Are Giving Authoritarianism a Bad Name
The last decade looked like a good one for authoritarian regimes and a challenging one for democratic ones. Cybertools, drones, facial recognition technology and social networks seemed to make efficient authoritarians even more efficient and democracies increasingly ungovernable.
The West lost self-confidence — and both Russian and Chinese leaders rubbed it in, putting out the word that these chaotic democratic systems were a spent force.
And then a totally unexpected thing happened: Russia and China each overreached.
Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and, to his surprise, invited an indirect war with NATO and the West. China insisted that it was smart enough to have its own local solution to a pandemic, leaving millions of Chinese underprotected or unprotected and, in effect, inviting a war with one of Mother Nature’s most contagious viruses — the Omicron mutation of SARS-CoV-2. It’s now led China to lock down all of Shanghai and parts of 44 other cities — some 370 million people.
In short, both Moscow and Beijing find themselves suddenly contending with much more powerful and relentless forces and systems than they ever anticipated. And the battles are exposing — to the whole world and to their own people — the weaknesses of their own systems. So much so that the world now has to worry about instability in both countries.

4 April

Stimson Center

Bristling Against the West, China Rallies Domestic Sympathy for Russia
China’s Communist Party is mounting an ideological campaign aimed at officials and students. The message: The country will not turn its back on Russia.
While Russian troops have battered Ukraine, officials in China have been meeting behind closed doors to study a Communist Party-produced documentary that extols President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a hero.
The humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union, the video says, was the result of efforts by the United States to destroy its legitimacy. With swelling music and sunny scenes of present-day Moscow, the documentary praises Mr. Putin for restoring Stalin’s standing as a great wartime leader and for renewing patriotic pride in Russia’s past.
To the world, China casts itself as a principled onlooker of the war in Ukraine, not picking sides, simply seeking peace. At home, though, the Chinese Communist Party is pushing a campaign that paints Russia as a long-suffering victim rather than an aggressor and defends China’s strong ties with Moscow as vital.

20 March
Chinese article urging country to cut ties with Putin gets 1m views
Essay on US site republished in China before being censored, reflecting balancing act between Russia and west
(The Guardian) Despite being published late on a Friday evening in the Carter Center’s US-China Perception Monitor, Hu Wei’s essay soon gained a million views in and outside China, and was republished into Chinese blogs, non-official media sites and social media accounts.
Then came the backlash, as the article was criticised for being “reckless and dangerous” vitriol. Personal attacks on Hu and the USCPM followed. By Sunday morning, their websites were blocked in China.
… China’s position on the invasion and how far it is willing to go in supporting Russia is one of most stridently debated topics of the war, but inside China the conversation is strictly controlled, with little tolerance for dissenting views.
Published in English and Chinese, Hu’s essay argued that Russia’s advancement was faltering and China needed to cut ties with Putin “as soon as possible” to avoid being on the losing side and facing “further containment” from the US and the west.
Since the 24 February invasion, China has struggled to navigate an awkward position as a close ally of Russia but one unwilling to share the international condemnation and economic sanctions. It has sought to hold incompatible positions respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and what it calls Russia’s “security concerns”. The confusion is reflected in its media and public statements.
Possible Outcomes of the Russo-Ukrainian War and China’s Choice
(US-China Perception Monitor) Text of article by Hu Wei, vice-chairman of the Public Policy Research Center of the Counselor’s Office of the State Council, chairman of Shanghai Public Policy Research Association, the chairman of the Academic Committee of the Chahar Institute, a professor, and a doctoral supervisor. (12 March)

18 March
U.S. seeks China’s help to end Russia’s war in Ukraine
(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden sought to prevent Beijing giving new life to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a video call with his Chinese counterpart on Friday as stalled Russian forces pressed on with bombardments of towns and cities.
China is the one big power that has yet to condemn Russia’s assault, and Washington fears Beijing may be considering giving Moscow financial and military support, something that both Russia and China deny.
“The Ukraine crisis is something that we don’t want to see,” Chinese state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in the call, which they said was requested by the U.S. side.
NATO should hold talks with Russia to resolve the factors behind the conflict, Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying, without assigning blame to Russia for the invasion.

14-15 March
What China stands to gain—and lose—by wading into the Ukraine war
(Atlantic Council) How far will these autocrats take their “no limits” friendship? As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine grinds on, the Kremlin has reportedly reached out to Beijing for some extra military muscle. Meanwhile, there’s chatter among foreign-policy thinkers in both China and the West that President Xi Jinping could play a uniquely useful role in mediating the conflict. So today we’re taking a different approach to our Fast Thinking alerts. Call it Fast Forward: Insight from our top Sinologists about China’s potential options for dealing with its combustible next-door neighbor.

How plausible is Chinese military aid for Russia?
(AP) — The U.S. says Russia has asked China to provide military assistance for its war in Ukraine, and that China has responded affirmatively. Both Moscow and Beijing have denied the allegation, with a Chinese spokesperson dismissing it as “disinformation.”
Still, the claims have generated conjecture over how far Beijing would be willing to go in backing its “most important strategic partner,” as China’s foreign minister recently described Russia.
China “probably wants to avoid high-profile or big-ticket arms sales to Russia in the midst of a conflict which would expose Beijing to international sanctions,” said Drew Thompson, a former U.S. Defense Department official currently at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Beijing would be more willing to provide spare parts, consumables, ammunition, and dual-use items that don’t contravene sanctions and could fall below the threshold of international reprisals, Thompson said.
US warns Chinese on support for Russia in Ukraine war
(AP) — Face to face, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser warned a top Chinese official on Monday about China’s support for Russia in the Ukrainian invasion, even as the Kremlin denied reports it had requested Chinese military equipment to use in the war.
U.S. adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome, with the Biden administration increasingly concerned that China is using the Ukraine war to advance Beijing’s long-term interest in its competition with the United States.
Sullivan was seeking clarity on Beijing’s posture and was warning the Chinese anew that assistance for Russia — including helping it avert sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Western allies — would be costly for them.

11 March
China and Russia are joining forces to spread disinformation
Together, China and Russia have provided the world with what a 2019 Brookings report described as “technology-driven playbooks for authoritarian rule.” For China, implementing this playbook globally is a key objective, and Russia has an interest in pushing global norms that legitimate its own system of control.
David Bandurski
(Brookings TechStream) Though Russian and Chinese interests diverge in important ways, they are increasingly collaborating on the narratives being supplied to domestic audiences, feeding similar disinformation and propaganda to a citizenry increasingly cut off from the global web. In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Beijing has on the one hand avoided fully backing the incursion while on the other amplifying Kremlin propaganda on the issue. This week, for example, China’s foreign ministry repeated false Russian claims about the presence of U.S. biological weapons in Ukraine.
Against the backdrop of last month’s joint statement from Xi and Putin, this collaboration should be seen as part of a broader project to reshape the global information landscape to favor the Kremlin and Beijing’s authoritarian political projects.
In its ambition to be free of Western-controlled narratives, China has found a friend and compatriot in Russia, which shares its ambition for information control and has its own formidable machine of disinformation. Although Moscow and Beijing still have separate interests and strategies for information competition, the two sides have nonetheless grown much closer in recent years in their shared authoritarian vision of global information control and related questions of national sovereignty. A key part of last month’s joint statement was a call for the “internationalization of internet governance,” by which Xi and Putin mean that the internet should be subject to the control of sovereign states.

9 March
Why China could become a mediator in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine

7-8 March
China unsettled by Ukraine, but don’t underestimate Xi’s Taiwan resolve -CIA head
By David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina
(Reuters) – China appears to have been unsettled by the difficulties Russia has faced since its invasion of Ukraine, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s determination with regard to Taiwan should not be underestimated, the CIA’s director said on Tuesday.
David Leonhardt: China’s Russia Problem
The war is arguably the most problematic international development for China in years.
China is trying to shape and lead the existing world order. “It benefits enormously from international stability,” Fareed Zakaria, the foreign-policy journalist, has pointed out. As The Times’s Thomas Friedman wrote, “Peace has been very good for China.”
Russia is both weaker and less satisfied with the recent developments. “Putin may dream of restoring Soviet-era greatness,” Paul Krugman wrote yesterday, “but China’s economy, which was roughly the same size as Russia’s 30 years ago, is now 10 times as large.” Today, Russia’s economy largely revolves around energy exports, giving it an incentive to foment political instability; oil prices often go up when the world is unstable.
Has Xi Jinping miscalculated in aligning himself with Vladimir Putin?
Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University
(The Conversation) If not turning into a debacle for Vladimir Putin, the Ukraine war is carrying with it risks for his tenure. Russia’s economic stability is in peril in the face of global economic sanctions such as have not been witnessed in a generation or more.
Putin’s apparent failure to anticipate the full extent of a co-ordinated international pushback against his recklessness remains a mystery.
However, in all of this there is a bigger question. This has to do with China’s contradictory responses to Russia’s ruthless breach of a neighbouring country’s sovereignty.
‘No Wavering’: After Turning to Putin, Xi Faces Hard Wartime Choices for China
(NYT) Beijing aligned itself with Putin as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine. Now its efforts to edge away are constrained by leadership politics.

U.S. storing ‘dangerous pathogens’ at biolabs in Ukraine, China says
(Bloomberg) China accused the U.S. military of operating “dangerous” biolabs in Ukraine, echoing a Russian conspiracy theory that Western officials warned could be part of an effort to retroactively justify President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

2 March
China Asked Russia to Delay Ukraine War Until After Olympics, U.S. Officials Say
A Western intelligence report indicates that Chinese officials had some level of direct knowledge about President Vladimir V. Putin’s war plans or intentions.
(NYT) The report indicates that senior Chinese officials had some level of direct knowledge about Russia’s war plans or intentions before the invasion started last week. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing on Feb. 4 before the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Moscow and Beijing issued a 5,000-word statement at the time declaring that their partnership had “no limits,” denouncing NATO enlargement and asserting that they would establish a new global order with true “democracy.”

28 February
‘They were fooled by Putin’: Chinese historians speak out against Russian invasion
An open letter written by five historians denounced the war. They hope to persuade Beijing to make their stance clearer
(The Guardian) On Saturday morning, five renowned Chinese historians – Xu included – wrote an open letter denouncing Russia’s action on its neighbour and calling for peace. The authors of the letter hope to persuade Beijing to make its stance clearer: that what Russia is doing is wrong, and China should say it out loud.
In public, China opposes any act that violates territorial integrity. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, articulated this position again in a late-night post published on his ministry’s website on Friday. But over the course of the past week, as civilians were killed and western sanctions intensified, Beijing continued to echo Putin’s argument that Moscow’s action is a response to Nato’s eastward expansion.
Ukraine: Did China Have a Clue?
A careful examination of the events suggests that China was, in fact, played.
By Yun Sun
(Stimson Center) Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the most intriguing questions related to China is whether Beijing had been informed of the plan when China and Russia issued their Joint Statement on February 4. Given the strong language about mutual support in that document, if China did indeed know, it would mean it had played the role of an accomplice. The question is important as it defines the nature and depth of Sino-Russian relations as well as what can be expected from Beijing in the days to come. Despite the impression that Putin intentionally created, a careful examination of the events suggests that China was, in fact, played.
Chinese Dismissals of Potential Russian Invasion
Before Russia sent troops to Donetsk and Luhansk on February 21, the Chinese policy community did not believe that Russia was going to invade Ukraine, let alone lead a full-scale invasion. In a half dozen dialogues and roundtables with the Chinese experts on this topic since January, not a single Chinese policy wonk bought the idea. Only one expert on U.S.-China relations commented privately that he worried Russia might support the independence of the Donbas.

21 February
China’s Ukraine Crisis: What Xi Gains—and Loses—From Backing Putin
Xi’s growing alignment with Moscow presents something of a catch-22 for China. As it competes with the West over global order, Russia becomes a more attractive security partner. But by elevating the relationship with Russia—and choosing to do so in the middle of a Putin-provoked crisis—Beijing is inviting pushback it can ill afford.
By Jude Blanchette and Bonny Lin, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
(Foreign Affairs) The Ukraine crisis is primarily a standoff between Russia and the West, but off to the side, another player stands awkwardly: China. Beijing has tried to walk a fine line on Ukraine. On one hand, it has taken Russia’s side, blaming NATO expansion for causing the crisis and alleging that U.S. predictions of an imminent invasion are aggravating it. On the other hand, especially as the risk of military conflict has grown, it has called for diplomacy over war.
If Beijing had its way, it would maintain strong ties with Moscow, safeguard its trade relationship with Ukraine, keep the EU in its economic orbit, and avoid the spillover from U.S. and EU sanctions on Moscow—all while preventing relations with the United States from significantly deteriorating. Securing any one of these objectives may well be possible. Achieving all of them is not.
The crisis in Ukraine is exposing the limits of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. Beijing’s global aspirations are now clashing with its desire to remain selectively ambiguous and aloof. Although Chinese leaders may not recognize it, their country’s closer alignment with Russia is far from prudent. The upsides of this move are notional and long-term: Russia might someday return the favor by supporting Chinese territorial aspirations or cooperating on revising the structures of global governance. The costs to China’s larger global strategy, however, are real and immediate.
Beijing would no doubt prefer that the current crisis didn’t exist. For starters, Ukraine is an important trade partner for China in its own right, with more than $15 billion in bilateral trade flows in 2020. The country is also a vital gateway to Europe and a formal partner of the Belt and Road Initiative.

3-7 February
Russia and China Unveil a Pact Against America and the West
In a sweeping long-term agreement, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the two most powerful autocrats, challenge the current political and military order.
Robin Wright
(The New Yorker) Agreements between Moscow and Beijing, including the Treaty of Friendship of 2001, have traditionally been laden with lofty, if vague, rhetoric that faded into forgotten history. But the new and detailed five-thousand-word agreement is more than a collection of the usual tropes, Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, at the Wilson Center, in Washington, told me. Although it falls short of a formal alliance, like NATO, the agreement reflects a more elaborate show of solidarity than anytime in the past. “This is a pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder against America and the West, ideologically as well as militarily,” Daly said. “This statement might be looked back on as the beginning of Cold War Two.” The timing and clarity of the communiqué—amid tensions on Russia’s border with Europe and China’s aggression around Taiwan—will “give historians the kind of specific event that they often focus on.”
Beyond security, the declaration also pledged collaboration on space, climate change, the Internet, and artificial intelligence. Politically, the document claimed that there is “no one-size-fits-all” type of democracy, and heralded both forms of authoritarian rule in Moscow and Beijing as successful democracies.
Russia and China’s growing ‘friendship’ is more a public relations exercise than a new world order
By Marcin Kaczmarski, Lecturer in Security Studies, University of Glasgow, & Natasha Kuhrt, Lecturer in International Peace & Security, King’s College London
(The Conversation) … It was not until 2021 that NATO explicitly recognised the challenge presented by a Russia-China rapprochement. The two powers declared their “strategic partnership” in the 1990s and have since regularly signalled their growing convergence, coalescing around a shared antipathy to liberal democracy and opposition to what they perceived as externally sponsored regime change – for example, the “coloured revolutions”, when popular uprisings pushed such states as Ukraine or Georgia towards closer cooperation with the west.
But both the 2020-21 protests in Belarus and the stand-off between Russia and the west over Ukraine have created problems for Beijing, which has significant trade and investment ties with both countries which play key roles in China’s Belt and Road programme.
While the current Russian-western stand-off arguably diverts US attention away from Asia-Pacific and Taiwan, China would not want a potential armed conflict in Ukraine to cast a shadow over the Winter Olympics.
Given these differences, news of apparent security cooperation between the two should be taken with a pinch of salt. While there is growing collaboration between Chinese and Russian armed forces, the primary function of their military cooperation consists in political signalling, rather than in preparing for a joint military action
In Beijing, Olympic Spectacle and Global Power Games
The opening of the Winter Games gave Xi Jinping and Vladimir V. Putin a chance to cement their partnership against Western censure.
In a joint statement after Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin met, they said their friendship had “no limits,” and China sided with Russia on one of its critical security demands: an end to NATO expansion to the east and closer to Russia’s borders.
The two leaders called for the United States to abandon plans to deploy intermediate range missiles in Europe and Asia and denounced what they see as American interference in their internal affairs by fomenting “color revolutions,” the public uprisings in former Soviet republics like Georgia and Ukraine calling for greater democracy.
Russia and China tell NATO to stop expansion, Moscow backs Beijing on Taiwan
(National Post) – Russia and China called in a joint statement on Friday for NATO to halt its expansion while Moscow said it fully supported Beijing’s stance on Taiwan and opposed Taiwanese independence in any form.
The joint statement, including harsh criticism of the United States, was issued during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China for the Winter Olympics.
The Kremlin said Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held warm and substantive talks in Beijing and described the relationship as an advanced partnership with a special character.
Putin also unveiled a major new gas deal with China, a further sign of the deepening of the relationship between the two neighbours at a time of high tension in their relations with the West.

31 January
China-Russia ties: as the West forces them together, Xi and Putin show up for each other
The relationship may be the closest the two nations have been since 1950s honeymoon that followed China’s fight against US and allied forces in the Korean war
As the second-largest economy, China could provide Russia with some immunity against possible US sanctions over Ukraine
(SCMP) While US President Joe Biden got personal and threatened sanctions on Vladimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping tendered a warm welcome to the Russian leader as a guest of honour at the grand Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing on Friday.
And while Biden and his allied Western leaders announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games because of human rights concerns, the Russian leader will be among a limited number of foreign VIPs turning up to the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in support of the Chinese hosts.
It mirrors the situation in 2014 when Xi made a high-profile appearance at the Winter Olympics in Sochi as Putin was criticised by some Western leaders for Russia’s human rights record. In the following years, the two met nearly 30 times and became “best friends to heart”, as Xi described their relationship.

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