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Russia and China leave the West in uncertainty

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend the opening ceremony of the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 18, 2023.

Pedro Pardo | Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s close relationship with superpower China is under scrutiny as Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Thursday.

As the two countries’ ties with the West fracture over the war in Ukraine and global trade disputes, the latest meeting between the two countries is closely followed by signs that the leaders will deepen their own economic cooperation, military and geopolitical.

Before the two-day meeting, Putin told Chinese state media that “relations between Russia and China have reached an unprecedented level and even in the face of serious international situations, relations between the two countries continue to strengthen. strengthen,” Xinhua news agency said. reported.

The Russia-China relationship is “unmissable,” Sam Greene, director of the democratic resilience program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), told CNBC.

“It would probably be an exaggeration to call them strategic partners, but they are strategically aligned in many ways, perhaps not entirely of their own accord and perhaps not entirely to their liking, but inevitably because of the decisions they made and the decisions made by Western governments that really brought them together,” Greene said Wednesday.

“Neither Putin nor Xi can achieve what they want, both domestically and internationally, without each other’s support. That said, it is not symmetrical and China has many more options and many more flexibility than Russia,” he added. ” he added.

“Not an alliance” or a “marriage of convenience”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave after a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023.

Pavel Byrkin | Afp | Getty Images

Putin and Xi developed a great friendship during their respective 24 and 11 years in power, but analysts point out that the relationship is more nuanced than it seems.

“Essentially, it’s not an alliance, it’s a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted relationship that has been building and evolving for about 30 years now,” Natasha Kuhrt, a senior lecturer in war studies at the King’s College London.

“It may seem that the only basis for this relationship is animosity towards the West, and that is only one element, but there are a number of other factors that bring them together,” she said. added.

Russia benefits from continued Chinese trade, particularly in energy, Kuhrt noted, but Beijing also benefits from Russia’s shared interest in maintaining security and stability in Central Asia, as well as its military experience and its rapid development in the field of defense technology. .

“I think it’s a mistake to view this as simply a marriage of convenience, because that’s how people have looked at things for quite a long time in the West, which means we have fundamentally underestimated the strength of relationship,” Kuhrt said. said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony at the third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, October 17, 2023.

Sergei Savostianov | Afp | Getty Images

CEPA analyst Greene acknowledged that it was wrong to characterize the relationship as an unequal one, with Russia and China benefiting greatly from the partnership.

“China benefits a lot, materially, from this relationship,” he said, by allowing it to buy Russian hydrocarbons at preferential prices and access investment opportunities. Russia also offers it a gateway to the Arctic, a region it covets strategically and commercially, Greene said.

Russia, on the other hand, gets “a lot of rhetoric” and trade from this relationship “which allows it to keep money in its economy and that’s really an essential mission for Putin.”

“But this is not being achieved on what we consider preferential or friendly terms and China continues to negotiate very hard in all its trade relations,” he noted.

Caution prevails for China

Despite the united front presented by Russia and China, there are points of divergence and discomfort between the allies.

Russia’s war in Ukraine, for example, has not been openly criticized by Beijing, but it has disrupted global alliances and supply chains, making China uneasy at a time when its own economy is vulnerable to sluggish growth and demand.

Its support for Russia during the war has also made China a target for the United States, which seeks to punish countries it says are helping Moscow circumvent sanctions and trade restrictions.

In early May, the United States imposed sanctions on more than a dozen Chinese companies, accused of supplying Russia with dual-use components that could be used in Russian military hardware against Ukraine.

China has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, with Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, saying that “the Chinese side firmly opposes the illegal unilateral sanctions of the United States,” in comments reported by Reuters. Russia has previously denied asking China for military equipment and financial aid.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a welcoming ceremony ahead of Russia-China talks in Moscow, Russia, March 21, 2023.

Mikhail Tereshchenko | Sputnik | via Reuters

Unlike Russia, which appears to have accepted and openly accepted its economic and political isolation from the West, frequently congratulating itself on the fact that its economy has overcome the challenges posed by international sanctions, China is – for now – not so ready to “dissociate” from the West. West.

“Russia has been addressing China for some time with a proposition that ‘none of us like Western structural power in the world… so why not break that up, right?’ …But China, at this point, has not accepted that proposal,” CEPA’s Greene said.

“China is not rhetorically where the West would like it to be, but neither is it fully rhetorically and politically where Russia would like it to be.”

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