Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Beijing, February 4, 2022
The most animating template of the West’s “information war” lately against Russia is, perhaps, its distorted projection of the China-Russia relationship in the context of the Ukraine crisis. This dubious enterprise has practical implications for the “endgame” in Ukraine, the West’s efforts to “erase” Russia and the US’ struggle with China — above all, it is fraught with consequences for the emerging world order.
Henry Kissinger, who is responsible for the hypothesis of the US-Russia-China triangle in Cold War history, recently made a pitch to invoke the spectre of a “permanent alliance” between Russia and China to give a shock therapy to the Western audience over their craving to isolate Russia from Europe. Kissinger advised Kiev to make territorial concessions to Moscow. The relevance of Kissinger’s hypothesis is debatable today, and, perhaps, a much bigger rationale needs to be found to explain the epochal nature of the China-Russia relationship, which is at an all-time high level historically.
Clearly, neither China nor Russia is seeking an alliance and their relationship is certainly not in the nature of a classic alliance but, paradoxically, it also goes far beyond the definable scope of an alliance. This comes out vividly from the document issued during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing in February titled Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development.
Against such a backdrop, the conversation between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 15 should conclusively scatter the West’s information war. Xi Jinping chose his birthday to make this call, attesting to the deep friendship between the two leaders over a decade, which provides not only a solid foundation to the relationship but great stability, considering the nature of the two political systems and the “alchemy” of their statecraft. The centrality of this singular factor is either deliberately obfuscated or not properly grasped in the West’s discourses.
From the readouts of the June 15 phone conversation (here and here), the following salients are to be noted:
- At its most obvious level, the two leaderships have underscored beyond doubt that the China-Russia strategic partnership characterised by a high degree of trust is not buffeted by the current events or the turbulence and uncertainty in the international situation.
- China and Russia remain committed to extending mutual support on matters regarding each other’s core interests and matters of paramount concern, such as sovereignty and security. The Chinese readout emphasised Putin’s support for China on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
- The West’s efforts to create daylight in the China-Russia partnership remain futile.
- Notwithstanding the West’s sanctions against Russia, the trade and economic cooperation between China has good momentum and is poised to make steady progress. China is willing to push for the steady and long-term development of practical bilateral cooperation despite the western sanctions against Russia.
- On the “Ukraine issue”, China assesses the situation in both its historical context and the merits of the issue and seeks a proper settlement in a responsible manner. In a significant rhetorical departure, there was no reference to sovereignty and territorial integrity questions or to “war” or ceasefire, etc.
- Broadly speaking, more than 100 days into the war in Ukraine, Xi has focused squarely on his support for Russia. The big message is that the events in Ukraine have not dented Xi’s basic commitment to the Sino-Russian partnership.
The bottom line is that China doubles down on its vision with Russia as spelt out in the joint statement of February 4. It is to be noted that Xi’s call was timed shortly before a European summit is slated to put on a show of solidarity with Ukraine and, equally, as countdown begins for a NATO summit at the end of this month, which is expected to approve a new “strategic concept” that will upgrade vigilance against Russia and also mention potential challenges to the alliance from China for the first time. The leaders of Japan and South Korea will be attending the NATO summit for the first time.
The key message here is that China and Russia have no choice but to jointly resist NATO’s all-round suppression through close strategic coordination, and further maintain the balance of the global strategic situation. Indeed, the 13-hour joint air patrol in late May by a task force of Russian and Chinese strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea bang in the middle of the Ukraine conflict speaks for itself.
The fact that Tokyo has overnight breathed life into the dispute over Russian “occupation” of the Kuril Islands just when Moscow is involved in a conflict on the western front, would bring Russia and China on the same page with regard to the ascendency of Japanese militarism, with US support and encouragement, as a new factor in the Asia-Pacific.
All in all, Xi Jinping call and the vehement expression and display of Chinese support and understanding has come at a time when Putin needs it most. The Kremlin readout explicitly stated: “It was agreed to expand cooperation in energy, finance, the manufacturing industry, transport and other areas, taking into account the global economic situation that has become more complicated due to the illegitimate sanctions policy pursued by the West. The further development of military and defence ties was touched upon as well.”
To borrow the undiplomatic words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Xi may have inflicted “a major reputational damage for China” in the West. Quite obviously, Xi has ignored the repeated warnings by US officials that the “sanctions from hell” to weaken Russia would visit China too if Beijing gave support to Moscow. Curiously, Xi rebooted the China-Russia partnership although Biden Administration officials are spreading a notion lately that a “thaw” is on the cards in US-China relations.
Following the meeting on Monday between Yang Jiechi, CCP Politburo member and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor at Luxembourg, the White House characterised the discussion as “candid, substantive, and productive,” while the Chinese press release was noticeably circumspect: “The United States should put China in the right strategic perspective, make the right choice, and translate President Biden’s remarks into concrete actions that the United States does not seek a new Cold War with China; it does not aim to change China’s system; the revitalisation of its alliances is not targeted at China; the United States does not support “Taiwan Independence”; and it has no intention to seek a conflict with China. The United States needs to work with China in the same direction to earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the two heads of state.”
Yang warned that “The Taiwan question concerns the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and if it is not handled properly, it will have a subversive impact. This risk not only exists, but will continue to rise.” The Chinese readout described the discussion as “candid, in-depth and constructive communication and exchanges.”
Xi’s call with Putin came two days later.