“My best friend and a closest international colleague are President Vladimir Putin, and I value our relationship”. This is how Chinese President Xi Jinping described his relationship with his Russian counterpart during a state visit to Moscow in June 2019. At the time, Washington and Beijing were in the middle of a trade war, and US-China relations had already reached an all-time low.
In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Putin and Xi had signed a formal agreement earlier that month in which it was agreed that the Sino-Russia relationship knew “no limits.” Since then, China has been spreading Russian propaganda, stating that the conflict started because the Russian Federation fears NATO’s expansion, causing the war.
Trade with China has provided a crucial lifeline for the Kremlin
Moscow has become much more dependent on Beijing. Since Russia is facing sanctions from the West after the Russia-Ukraine War, China is more important to Russia than it has ever been. Bilateral trade between the two states increased by 40.7 % during the first half of 2023 in comparison with the same period a year before, exceeding the entire amount of trade for the year 2020. Fossil fuels make up the vast majority of China’s imports from Russia.
In 2022, China imported pipeline gas, coal, LNG, and oil from Russia worth $81 billion, compared to $52.1 billion in 2021. China still gets its energy from Russia. From January to May of 2023, there was a $93.8 billion gain in bilateral trade between China and Russia, which is a growth of more than 40% when compared to the same time in 2022. Since January 2023, China’s exports to Russia have reached $42.96 billion, up 75.6% from 2022.
China is Russia’s top provider of products, technologies, and equipment for manufacturing. China imports a substantial amount of its energy, minerals, food, and fertilizers from Russia. China also imports oil from the Middle East and to reduce dependency on oil from the Middle East transported via the Indian and Pacific Ocean marine routes, where China is more vulnerable to the United States in the case of a confrontation, Beijing views Russia as a significant source of its energy imports. China is Russia’s main resource importer and the only significant substitute for the West in terms of supplies of goods, machinery, and technology.
Putin Xi-Jinping Friendship has stood the test of time.
The primary motivating factor binding China and Russia’s alliance is their combined opposition to a US-dominated liberal world. The joint Sino-Russian declaration, which was released in February 2022, is evidence of the efforts made together to establish a global framework that further deepens their relationship. Both the political contexts in China and Russia present the United States as a threat.
According to a February 2023 paper on “US Hegemony and its Perils” published by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that “Since becoming the world’s most powerful country after the two world wars and the Cold War, the United States has been more active in getting involved in the internal matters of other countries, trying to maintain and misuse its power. Russian politics is also known for its strong dislike towards the US.
The recent Russian Federation Concept of Foreign Policy, states that the anti-Russian policy of the US is aimed at weakening Russia in every possible way, including undermining its creative civilizational role, its power, economic, and technological capabilities, limiting its sovereignty in foreign and domestic policy, and destroying its territorial integrity”.
In his 2022 Victory Day parade speech Vladimir Putin explained his reasoning for invading Ukraine: “We saw how the military infrastructure was being deployed, how hundreds of foreign advisers started working, and how the NATO countries were delivering the most modern weapons. “Russia responded to the assault in advance as the threat grew daily. It was an imposed choice”. China explains Russia’s weak position in the West as justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
China has supported Russia and has not supported efforts by the US and its allies at the United Nations to condemn Russia, instead increasing its energy imports from Russia and becoming a significant provider of consumer goods to the Russian market.
After the invasion, China has consistently blamed NATO and the West for provoking Russia to take action and not taking Russia’s legitimate security concerns into account. In response to a question about whether China’s views and stance on Ukraine go against the idea of upholding state sovereignty, the spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, said: Has the US ever thought about the potential outcomes of pushing a big country to the wall by expanding NATO towards Russia and deploying offensive weapons, despite promising not to?
Russia-China alliances have historically been strengthened by Western pressure exerted on one or both countries. The International community sanctioned China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, further strengthening relations between Russia and China. After the US imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014, Beijing and Moscow reached several military and economic agreements.
Both Xi and Putin think the United States’ authority is in decline. However, they also acknowledge that China and Russia need support from each other to construct a new multipolar world. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and Russia have been actively promoting multilateral organizations that they lead, such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Six countries, including Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, will join BRICS in 2024. Putin was invited by Beijing for the “Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation”.
Putin is seen next to Xi in the official group photo of the leaders of state and government, and an online video appears to show Xi and Putin walking side by side, with Putin clearly in front of the other state representatives. There are a few important key takeaways from the Xi-Putin meeting. Xi emphasized the significance of reinforcing China-Russia ties first.
According to Xi Jinping, the strong bond between China and Russia is not just a temporary arrangement but a long-standing commitment based on mutually beneficial cooperation and friendship. Xi disagrees with those who believe that the China-Russian relationship is only for convenience. Xi and Putin both reminded that the two countries will complete 75 years of diplomatic relations in 2024.
The rivalry between the US and its collaboration with Russia and China is being reflected in worldwide conflicts. While the US has given Kyiv billions in aid, in return China has provided the Kremlin the crucial diplomatic and economic support it needs to support its aggressive invasion of Ukraine.
Over the last couple of years, Russia and China have conducted joint military exercises in the Sea of Japan. Russia has also shared significant submarine technology with China, which could potentially give them an advantage in a conflict with the United States allies in the Pacific. Additionally, the leaders of both countries have committed to collaborating on the development of advanced weapons. China is not interested in seeing Russia as a weak ally or defeated in a war because it would hurt China’s interest in the region.
China also wants to prevent a complete collapse of the Kremlin, which could lead to risks associated with nuclear weapons.
The Russia-China alliance is primarily driven by their shared opposition to the dominance of the US-led liberal world order. Western sanctions have further deepened the alliance. The deepening economic ties between the two countries, especially in the energy sector, have made China a long-lasting trading partner of Russia.
The Author is currently an MPhil scholar in International Relations from the National Defense University Islamabad. His areas of interest are Great Powers Competition and Pakistan‘s Foreign Policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org