BEIJING (AP) – Three weeks ago, the leaders of China and Russia declared that the friendship between their countries “has no borders” when they met in Beijing on the eve of the Winter Olympics. But that was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a gambit that tests how far China is willing to go.
The nuclear-armed neighboring giants have grown closer in recent years, which has lifted the ghost of an alliance of authoritarian states that could challenge an American-led Democratic West in a new Cold War. Yet China has a lot to lose in such a scenario, and so has President Xi Jinping spoken against the “mentality of the Cold War” of those who portray his country’s progress as a threat.
The emergence of a China-Russia axis is far from a matter of course. Trade with Europe and the United States is a major driver of China’s economic growth, although its alienation from the United States and its appetite for energy have led it to deepen ties with Russia.
“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine will reveal whether there is a deeper bond, or whether the relationship is essentially transactional,” said Anthony Saich, a China expert on a question and answer published on the Harvard University Ash Center website. for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
He outlined three possible actions that would indicate that “China has thrown its lot with Russia.” These include Beijing, which uses a veto, rather than a waiver, of any UN resolution to criticize Russia’s actions; recognition of a puppet regime in Ukraine introduced by Russia; and a refusal to call the attack an invasion, even after civilian deaths is clearly confirmed.
China together with India and the United Arab Emirates, which had already abstained a UN Security Council resolution on Friday demands that Russia stop its attack on Ukraine. Russia vetoed. China abstained another vote on Sundayeven though it was a procedure not open to veto.
“The two omissions show that China has taken a more cautious stance than before in the midst of the extremely widespread criticism and protest from the world against Russia’s all-round attack,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University of China.
Li Fan, a Russian professor at Renmin, said China and Russia have “a neighborhood, friendly strategic partnership,” but that China is not taking sides in the current crisis. “It’s not like China is supporting Russia’s military operation,” she said.
Russia’s move to put its nuclear forces on high alert on Sunday, which is escalating the crisis, could make China more cautious.
This balancing act helps explain Beijing’s sometimes conflicting views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and officials’ persistent efforts to avoid being stuck on certain issues – including whether they call what is happening an invasion.
China has said that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations must be respected – an attitude that is contrary to an invasion – while opposing sanctions against Russia and blames the United States and NATO’s expansion to the east to be the cause of the crisis.
“China is trying to get its cake on Ukraine and also eat it,” Asia Society President and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote in a post on the Asia Society Policy Institute’s website. He noted that China has lifted import restrictions on Russian wheat, which could offset some of the economic pain of sanctions.
For many of those imposing sanctions, China’s actions are in support of the invasion.
“One does not go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period where they are invading another country,” said Australia’s current Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
In a series of calls with European colleagues late last week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that “the current situation is something we do not want to see.” He called for negotiations to end the crisis, but he refrained from criticizing Russia.
It is unclear whether Putin sought Xi’s support when he came to Beijing to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on February 4th. The Russian leader’s participation was a face-saving event for Xi after the United States announced a diplomatic boycott of China’s human rights record and many major countries did not send representatives.
A joint statement was issued after Xi and Putin met, declaring that “friendship between the two states has no boundaries, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.”
Without mentioning Ukraine, the Russo-Chinese declaration was clear against NATO enlargement and coalitions “intensifying geopolitical rivalry” – a likely reference to US President Joe Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with other democratic nations in light of China’s progress.
It accused unnamed “actors” of advocating unilateral approaches and resorting to power to resolve international issues that could affect not only US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The communication also stated that the “new intergovernmental relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances in the Cold War era.”
Harvard’s Saich called the statement “a dramatic step forward in the relationship”, but added that it was too early to consider it a definitive alliance.
Half a century ago, in the midst of the Cold War, it was China and the United States that found common ground against Russia. This month marks President Richard’s 50th birthday Nixon’s groundbreaking trip in 1972 to China.
By that time, China’s ties to the Soviet Union had been strained, and its leaders worried about a Soviet invasion. Fifty years later, the relationship between the three great powers has changed in difficult ways. Relations between the United States and China are on the rocks, and Beijing and Moscow are reaching out to each other instead.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Ken Moritsugu, AP news director for Greater China, has been covering Asia for more than 16 years.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine