China and Russia unlikely to support each other militarily, analysts say

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (left to right on screen) shake hands in an official ceremony, via teleconference, to start Russian gas supply to China via the Eastern Route .

Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images

BEIJING – International pressure may have brought China and Russia closer together, but not enough for the two countries to send each other military support, US-based analysts have said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the second time this year. It came just days after the United States and the other major Group of 7 economies condemned Russia’s military build-up and its “aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine.”

“Beijing and Moscow are forging closer ties because the two governments see deeper bilateral cooperation as beneficial to their respective national interests, and not primarily because of an ideological affinity between Xi and Putin,” said Neil Thomas, analyst. for China and Northeast Asia in a consulting firm. Eurasia Group.

China and Russia would prefer to “distribute Washington’s political attention between strategic hot spots in Europe and the Indo-Pacific,” he said in an email.

Beijing’s position on Ukraine is unclear, but China has been the subject of similar international scrutiny over human rights issues and land claims on the democratically self-governing island of Taiwan.

Neither of them specifically approved of the other’s stance in terms of their sensitivity points, so I think they both want to maintain some sort of flexibility.

Guillaume Courtney

Deputy Principal Investigator, Rand Corp

This year, as Moscow sent troops to the border with Ukraine, Beijing stepped up military activities near Taiwan. US President Joe Biden recently made confused statements about whether Washington would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack.

Beijing probably wants to make sure that if it took military action against Taiwan, “the Russians would do nothing,” said Angela Stent, professor emeritus and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at the university. of Georgetown.

“I think both sides recognize, Putin knows, that if he invades Ukraine, China [isn’t] will send military aid, “she told CNBC’s” Squawk Box Asia “Thursday.” But they will remain completely neutral and that will allow them to do whatever they want in what they consider to be their sphere of influence. “

Official reports from Beijing and Moscow described the two leaders’ virtual meeting on Wednesday as another friendly conversation that strengthened relations between the countries.

Analysts pointed to the rare and more personal use of “you” in Xi’s speech to Putin, released by China’s Foreign Ministry.

However, “neither of them specifically endorsed the other’s stance regarding their points of sensitivity, so I think they both want to preserve some sort of flexibility,” said William Courtney, researcher. Senior Deputy at Rand Corp. on CNBC’s “Capital Connection” Thursday. He is a former US Ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan.

During the video call, Xi said he looked forward to meeting the Russian leader in person at the Beijing Olympics in February. The Chinese leader also “reaffirmed China’s commitment to firmly support Russia in maintaining long-term stability,” according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Russia talks about China’s goodwill

Moscow adopted an even more optimistic tone.

In the video call, Putin said Russia’s relations with China were at their best, according to statements from both countries.

A Kremlin aide also told reporters after the meeting that Xi said the bilateral relationship is stronger and more effective than that of the allies, although the two sides do not have such a formal alliance.

“President Xi stressed that he understands Russian concerns and fully supports our initiative to develop appropriate security guarantees for Russia,” said Yury Ushakov, Russian presidential adviser on foreign policy.

Putin has said Washington should not allow Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in exchange for assurances that Russia will not invade. But Biden told Putin in a virtual meeting last week that Washington would not accept such a request.

An attack on a member of NATO – a powerful military alliance – is considered an attack on all member countries. Ukraine has wanted to join NATO since 2002, but Russia opposed it on the grounds that such a move would constitute a direct threat to its borders.

China’s diplomatic interest

Chinese foreign ministry statements do not describe the relationship with Russia as some kind of alliance. The two countries are major trading partners, with China buying significant amounts of energy products from Russia.

“China does not want a formal military alliance with Russia, because it wants to avoid getting involved directly in the disorderly international policy of the destabilizing movements of Moscow in Eastern Europe, and has an” independent foreign policy of peace “which opposes military conflicts and emphasizes the importance of dialogue,” said Thomas of the Eurasia group.

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“Russia is really the junior partner in bilateral relations,” Thomas said. “And Moscow’s ambition in Ukraine [is] not important enough for Beijing to abandon its long-standing opposition to formal alliances in international affairs. ”

While taking care of its own interests, Beijing claims a fundamental principle of “Xi Jinping’s reflection on diplomacy”: “to build a community of destiny for humanity in order to defend world peace and promote common development”.

Earlier this week, China’s Foreign Ministry said Xi had sent a message of condolences to Biden for the deaths and other destruction caused by strong tornadoes in the United States.

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