by Katherine Bayford
Friday, 16
September 2022
Analysis
17:00

China and Russia remain friends — for now

Cracks in the relationship are starting to surface
by Katherine Bayford
Credit: Getty

Earlier this month, China’s third-highest official signalled explicit support for Russia. Rather than being “crushed” by western sanctions, Russia had instead “achieved stability and showed resilience.” The official added

“We see that the United States and its NATO allies are expanding their presence near the Russian borders, seriously threatening national security and the lives of Russian citizens. We fully understand the necessity of all the measures taken by Russia aimed at protecting its key interests; we are providing coordinated support.’’

But whilst the Russian State Duma published photographs and videos from these talks, and translated the comments into an official English-language press release, they barely featured in Chinese media. And a few days later, when Eurasian state leaders gathered this week in Uzbekistan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, it appeared as though relations between the two countries had cooled. Videos from Xi Jinping’s discussion with Vladimir Putin in Samarkand following the Russian humiliation in north-east Ukraine showed a visibly distressed president attempting to assuage the “concerns” of his Chinese counterpart. 

But we should be careful not to read too much into these comments. Although recent Russian humiliations have left Xi Jinping visibly uneasy, Chinese leaders remain supportive of Russia’s strategic aims and benefit from an alliance in the face of shared Western hostilities. Indeed, as recently as February this year, the head of the Chinese Communist party stated that the two countries’ friendship had “no limits”. 

China desires a weak and disunited West, and it has been making use of rising European gas prices as part of its evening propaganda. The CCP hopes to shift the European gas narrative from a noble sacrifice in the West to one of unfair exploitation, and China hopes that a brutal winter will ensure that Europeans consider themselves ‘used’ by a powerful America insulated from the energy crisis through domestic reserves.

But, more fundamentally, Russia remains useful to China. The Middle Kingdom is enjoying record levels of oil trade over the summer with Russia, and has led a strong PR offensive against American-led western unity. Especially important for Beijing is Russia’s influence over Vietnam and India, both of which have fraught relations with China. Since 2010, Vietnam has received approximately 80% of its weapons imports from Russia while India has imported 62% of its arms from Russia during the same period. Today nearly 70% of India’s military equipment is Russian-made. Were Jinping to drift too far from Putin, Moscow could use its influence over these two countries to discourage them from aligning closer to the West.

China can bear a lack of outright success in Ukraine, but not a loss. Whilst it is true that China has ‘concerns’ regarding the course of the invasion, they have much less to lose from a stagnation in Ukraine than Putin’s internal allies do. If Russia is weakened by the war, but does not outright lose, then China becomes an increasingly dominant partner in the alliance. If Russia achieves its aims in Ukraine, the West is weakened on both economic and geopolitical fronts. China is allowing Russia to take the brunt of losses, buying unprecedented levels of its oil and gas, and learning from Russia’s tactical and strategic mistakes. Xi Jinping is warning Putin that, if fortunes were to turn much more against Russia, China’s benevolent attitude might, too.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
25 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
16 days ago

Putin’s attempts to bring China “on board” show signs of increasing desperation. President Xi is a much more skilled operator and his using of Russian aggression as a lodestone for further Chinese expansionism has the rest of the world watching with obvious interest. Both Putin and Xi know this.
Now is not the time, i feel, to be less than diplomatic with China. We’re all aware of its failings with human rights, and we’re doing well in the UK to have taken the necessary step of abandoning Chinese input into our 5G networks. The voices from politicians to rescind the invitation of China to the Queen’s funeral are, however, foolish and lacking in political savvy. Such an invitation isn’t an endorsement of the Chinese regime, but the absence of an invitation would be a snub that would reverberate around Beijing.

Aaron James
Aaron James
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Biden’s Forcing Russia into China’s arms is showing major signs of increasing negative effects on global balance of power.

Next Biden’s Insane closing of SWIFT may well rush the loss of USA Global Reserve Currency status.

Biden and his equally corrupt mini-me, Boris, are about to bankrupt Eu and UK between the mad and self harm of the covid response, and then having to get into the war which was none of their business.
The Big guy gets his 10%, I wonder if Boris, the little guy, gets 2%?

Biden is the single most destructive force in USA in its history. Boris can claim the same for his – and Truss is saying how great Boris was at covid and this insane war! Truss is bad news. She has them readying the printing presses for Overtime……

martin logan
martin logan
14 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

You’re sounding very much like Soviet blather about their nation “overtaking and surpassing the West.” It was the basis of all Soviet propaganda.
Up until the year 1991…

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
15 days ago

In the mid nineteenth century the Russians extorted a huge area of Siberia and Manchuria from Qing China.
The Chinese have not forgotten and want it back.

Last edited 15 days ago by stanhopecharles344
Jack Tarr
Jack Tarr
15 days ago

There is another possibility, if Russia is humiliated in the Ukraine.
Russia is a vast country (the world’s biggest, about 70 times as large as the UK) with a sparse population and enormous untapped resources, especially in Siberia. These resources would be of great benefit to a country that is rapidly industrialising and has a very large population. Furthermore, much of Russia outside of Moscow is neglected and economically run down.
An economically-damaged, militarily-humiliated Russia might be vulnerable to Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road’ programme, or something like it (for diplomatic reasons China would not want to make it too obvious that it regarded Russia in the same light as central Asia). Although China would not (at this stage) want to meddle in European Russia, Siberia would be a good candidate for Chinese ‘development’.
Perhaps Xi is biding his time, until the outcome of the war in Ukraine is settled. If Russia wins, Putin will be Xi’s best friend and a joint China-Russia geopolitical axis will emerge. If Russia loses, it will be a liability and China will extend its tentacles northwards.

Jim R
Jim R
16 days ago

Beginning to feel like this is also a proxy war for China. Just as the West thought the war would be a way to weaken Russia, China sees the war as a way to weaken the West. While Russia is depleting is military capabilities and future influence, the West depletes its economic power and future influence.

Aaron James
Aaron James
16 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’

When Biden set out to crush Russia he just made the real enemy of the world, China, stronger.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
15 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Absolutely correct. Astonishing that most have missed this.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
13 days ago

Absolutely wrong. Astonishing that some think this is the case,

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
13 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Well yes, sort of. Putin’s expansionism made it imperative to stop him, whatever the implications re China.
You have to shoot the wolf closest to the sleigh.

David Jack Smith
David Jack Smith
15 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

Err, Russia is NOT “depleting” its military capabilities. But it is completely destroying Ukraine’s capabilities and its obsolete NATO arms. You’ll note how little HIMARS are being crowed about these days.
Where do you get that disinformation from? The UK Military of Defence, which continue its bizarre daily briefings about a foreign conflict, as if it’s 1982 and we are steaming to the Falklands.
As to “future influence? Are you kidding. It’s the US/UK/EU/NATO which is peeing that away.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
14 days ago

“Err, Russia is NOT “depleting” its military capabilities. But it is completely destroying Ukraine’s capabilities and its obsolete NATO arms. You’ll note how little HIMARS are being crowed about these days.”

You have absolutely no evidence to support this.

martin logan
martin logan
14 days ago

It was this Ukrainian weakness that made tehm retreat to Kuynsk and Izyum.
They may well fall back east of teh Oskil River.
When Ukraine ignominiously retreats to Moscow, we will know that Putin has won.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
13 days ago

If Russia is doing so well why are they having trouble recruiting troops and keeping their forces in the field intact. Winning armies suffer less desertions than losing armies.

Susan Bennett
Susan Bennett
13 days ago

How’s the weather in Moscow this time of year, David Jack Smith, or should I call you Sergei?

Dominic A
Dominic A
14 days ago

Autocrats and their regimes have no friends; they don’t understand the concept. For them it is not a question of ‘How to win friends and influence people’, but ‘How to buy allies and manipulate people’.

Buck Naked
Buck Naked
15 days ago

Russia is a ethno-nationalist country believing slavs to be the superior race on Earth. China believes Han chinese to be the crown achivement of human evolution, Both countries are practically ruled by nazis. Of course they can’t get along.

martin logan
martin logan
14 days ago

Putin has been reduced to the rank of “Prince of Moscow.” As in the 14th Century, he is now the vassal of the new ruler of Central Asia–China.
As we see, Prince Putin must regularly go to do obeisance to the Khan. If he is obedient, the Khan may even grant him the title of “Grand Prince.” Perhaps a new cap even?
But if Putin displeases the Khan.
The Khan will just choose a new Prince.
It will be interesting to see how many centuries it will take Russia to free itself from their new “Tatar Yoke.”

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
13 days ago

It’s win win win for the west. Increased nato border with Russia with Finland and Sweden, bottling up their navy too; stronger Turkey controlling the Black Sea and taking on Russia in Azerbaijan; destruction of a huge proportion of Russian military; and unification of almost all the former Soviet countries, with increased military spending. And a largely unified west to boot. And then China, cursing Putin for doing such a great job on achieving these wins for the west – and delaying its takeover of Taiwan for 10 years at least – and by then India will be our barrier against Chinese expansionism as it stamps its rapidly increasing GDP and authority on Asia.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
16 days ago

This article is nonsense Western propaganda…. Although recent Russian humiliations have left Xi Jinping visibly uneasy

Last edited 16 days ago by Dennis Boylon
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
16 days ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Why is it western propaganda? The tone of Chinas comments have changed as the war has taken its course, from no limits of friendship through to being uneasy about the conflict. Your objections seem more to be based on your predetermined opinion than what has actually been said

David Jack Smith
David Jack Smith
15 days ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Correct. To be honest, most people don’t really give a genuine crap about the conflict, and most likely couldn’t point to Ukraine on map. Even those with their virtue-signalling yellow/blue flags in their twitter bios.
They know nothing about the US engineered coup in 2014. The ethnic Russians killed since then. Ukraine’s flouting of the Minsk accords. That Ukraine is a sink of corruption and anti-democratic actions. The Nazi problem. The US inspired provocations. The real reasons for the conflict. Why it’s called a Special Military Operation, and the constraints that puts on Russia. The fact that most of the ground fighting in the Donbass region comes NOT from the large Russian regular army, but local militias with Russian air/ground support. Basic stuff like that.
Even so, the ridiculous government-controlled western corporate media agit-prop is the most insidious I have ever seen.
Ukraine is far better at PR Offensives, than military offensives.

Last edited 15 days ago by davidjacksmith3
martin logan
martin logan
14 days ago

Putin has been retreating for the last six months to LURE UKRAINE INTO A TRAP.
The tens of thousands of dead Russians, the thousands of wrecked Russian vehicles, and destroyed aircraft were actually ingenious means of lulling Ukraine into a false sense of security.
And once Ukraine takes Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea THE TRAP WILL SPRING.

Last edited 14 days ago by Martin Logan
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
13 days ago

Wow so it’s local militias that have lost all those hundreds of tanks and guns, and 70,000 soldiers! There’ll be nobody left there to fight their war then.