uA recent joint statement by the leaders of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, respectively, explained that “although there is no military and political alliance”, relations between Beijing and Moscow “go beyond interaction between countries.”
The announcement, which coincided last year, was the twentieth anniversary of the Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation.
For Alexander Gabiv, director of the Russia Affairs Program in Asia and the Pacific at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, “This official formula has a touch of truth.”
At stake is the need to maintain peace along the 4,200 km border between the two countries, the economic integration of Russia which is abundant in raw materials but lacks the technology and capital that China possesses, and the authoritarian nature of the two regimes.
“These are the three internal motives for convergence,” Alexander Gabiev explains.
However, he notes that it is the joint rivalry with the United States that stimulates the deepening of the partnership.
Earlier this month, Xi greeted Putin in Beijing on the occasion of the opening of the Winter Olympics, which are being held in the Chinese capital, in the first meeting of the Chinese leader with a head of state in nearly two years, due to the epidemic. . from covid-19.
Then Xi and Putin issued a joint statement denouncing US interference in their affairs and opposition to NATO expansion. The document proposes a new multipolar world order, referring to a “redistribution of power,” as opposed to hegemony in North America.
However, analysts point out the divergence of interests between the two parties, the exclusion of the military alliance and broad coordination on international issues.
While he offered some support to Putin, Xi did not mention Ukraine or other pressing issues of Russian security policy, especially at a time when Beijing is trying to maintain its ties with Europe, its second largest trading partner.
Often, China and Russia conduct joint military exercises, including in the Baltic and Arabian Seas, and space exploration programs. Russia has also shared some of its most advanced military technologies with China.
But this has not translated into deeper economic or social ties. Altogether, China’s exports to the European Union and the United Kingdom are about 10 times higher than its exports to Russia.
In the face of growing calls for [a Europa] Reducing its dependence on China in supply chains, new restrictions on technology transfer and barriers to Chinese investment, the last thing Xi wants is for the Chinese economy to face potential sanctions if his support for Putin appears too visible.” Craig Singleton, former US diplomat and China analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Singleton points out that, compared to the Western alliance system, cooperation between Beijing and Moscow is essentially reciprocal and opportunistic.
Alexander Gabiv agrees, saying: “Both countries are very sensitive about their strategic autonomy and therefore seek to avoid legally binding security guarantees, such as those that unite NATO or the United States in the Indo-Pacific.”
The Moscow-based analyst also points to potential “frictions” in an increasingly unequal relationship.
“In many ways, China is expanding its leadership or is close to bridging the gap with Russia,” says Gaboyev, noting China’s increased nuclear and military capacity, as well as Russia’s growing economic dependence on the neighboring country.
In short, Russia needs China more than China does.
“As the strategic balance increasingly tilts in Beijing’s favour, Chinese leaders may be tempted to use this increased influence to force Russia to accept trade deals to its advantage or force Moscow to align itself on China’s foreign policy decisions that are not in Russia’s interest,” he concludes.
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