On 28 January, Jamestown Foundation published an Opinion titled “Vladimir Putin’s Mission to Beijing.” The essay analyses the relations between Beijing and Moscow and the ongoing Ukraine crisis. In the last few months, Russia has amassed thousands of troops along the Ukraine border which has raised international tensions.
The author – John S. Van Oudenaren stresses the dilemma President Xi Jinping is facing amid the Ukraine crisis. On the one hand, Xi has an interest in averting an escalation of the standoff in Ukraine that could undercut the global economy, on the other, he recognizes the significance of the Sino-Russian partnership, which is seen as far more viable if Russia and the West remain at permanent loggerheads.
There are two major takeaways from the above opinion.
First, Beijing takes in the Ukraine crisis and its strategic partnership with Moscow.
In December, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: “China calls for the resolution of the Ukraine crisis through peaceful means and political dialogue” and “hopes all parties can work together, earnestly follow the Minsk-2 agreement and realize peace and security in Ukraine.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chided NATO for the crisis and called for the revision of the current European security architecture. China also reaffirmed its support for Russia.
The crisis highlights the difficulty in synchronizing the strategic interests of Beijing and Moscow, in the region. Beijing understands the importance of its relationship with Russia and has affirmed its commitment, but chances of a coordinated proactive response to current crises is limited. It has blamed the West for the current impasse and has urged Washington to address Russia’s legitimate concerns over NATOs presence in its neighborhood. Beijing also criticized the US “cold war mentality” (冷战思维, lengzhan siwei) as a primary reason for the current crisis.
The second takeaway is, over the economic and diplomatic challenges facing President Xi Jinping.
Escalation of tension between Russia and the West would undermine the global economy. For China, there would be serious indirect economic and diplomatic consequences. As Xi seeks to strengthen his position in the CCP, ahead of the 20th Party Congress in 2022, a major war will further drag the pandemic-stricken country’s economic growth. The possibility of increased sanctions on Moscow would put Chinese economic interest in Russia at risk of secondary sanctions from the West.
Russia’s revanchist policies along its periphery may have knock-out effects on China’s diplomatic outreach towards Central European countries. Due to the continuous threat of Russian aggression, CEE states will value China as a valuable economic partner, but the relationship with Washington will be their priority. Putin’s demands on the removal of NATO forces and assurances that Ukraine and Georgia never be given membership in NATO, might push countries closer to Washington, undermining China’s regional ambitions like its Belt and Road Initiative.
The author is with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore