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When Russia raised the specter of nuclear in Ukraine, China looked the other way

No more offers of their “unlimited” friendship were declared on the opening day of the Winter Olympics. Instead, Putin admits that Beijing has “questions and concerns” about his faltering invasion, in a subtle nod to the limits of China’s support and the growing asymmetry in their relationship.

In China’s speech about the meeting, Xi did not even mention the “strategic partnership” between Beijing and Moscow, remarked Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. Beijing. Mr. Shi said it was “the most cautious or least important statement in years” about their strategic relationship.

The change in tone is not surprising given Russia’s string of humiliating defeats on the battlefield, which have exposed Putin’s weakness to his friends as well as his enemies. Those setbacks also come at a bad time for Mr. Xi, who is weeks away from seeking a breakout third term at a key political meeting.

Under Xi, China has increasingly forged closer ties with Russia. Already facing domestic woes due to a slowing economy and his relentless zero-Covid policy, Xi needs strength, not vulnerability, in a strategic alliance. personally approved by him.

Six days later, in the desperate escalation of the brutal war, Putin announced the “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens in a televised speech, and even raised the specter of using use nuclear weapons.

It is unknown whether Putin discussed the escalation plan with Xi during their most recent talks, as it remains an open question whether Putin told Xi about the planned invasion. of him when they last met in Beijing.

For some China analysts, Putin’s defeat and the escalation of the war provided an opportunity for China to turn its back on Russia – a subtle shift that began with Mr. Putin.

Shi told Renmin University: “China has no choice but (right) to move further away from Putin because of his war escalation, aggression and annexation, as well as the threat of war his new nucleus.

“China doesn’t want this emotionless friend to fight.

But others are more skeptical. Putin’s public acknowledgment of Beijing’s suspicions does not necessarily signal a rift between the two diplomatic allies; Instead, it could be a way for China to gain some diplomatic opportunities, especially as its tacit support for Russia has damaged Beijing’s image in Europe. Theresa Fallon, Director of the Center for Eurasian Russian Studies in Brussels.

“My impression is that Beijing just wants a little bit of daylight between China and Russia, but I think a lot of people have over-interpreted that,” she said. “I think that’s more relevant to a European audience.”

“It’s in China’s long-term interests to keep Russia on board,” Fallon added.

The two authoritarian powers are strategically aligned in an attempt to counterbalance the West. Both leaders share a deep suspicion and hostility towards the United States, which they believe is intended to hold back China and Russia. They also share a vision of a new world order – a solution that better meets their national interests and is no longer dominated by the West.
A few days after the meeting between Xi and Putin, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi held security talks in Fujian province in southern China. Nations, vowing to “implement the consensus” reached by their leaders, deepen their strategic coordination and further military cooperation.

The two countries are also looking to deepen economic ties, with bilateral trade expected to reach $200 billion “in the near future,” according to Putin.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a major split between Russia and China,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I see this as a continuation of China trying to follow its rather thin line towards Russia and to ensure that it continues to assist Russia to the extent possible without infringing upon its interests. themselves.”

So far, Beijing has been careful to avoid actions that violate Western sanctions, such as providing direct military aid to Moscow. But it has offered a relief to the battered Russian economy by ramping up purchases of its fuel and energy – at a bargain price. China’s August coal imports from Russia 57% increase over the same period last year, reaching the highest level in 5 years; Its crude oil imports also up 28% from a year earlier.

After President Putin called for reserve troops to join the war in Ukraine, Beijing continued on a good track, reiterating its longstanding position of dialogue to resolve the conflict.

“We call on all parties concerned to reach a ceasefire through dialogue and negotiation, and find a solution that meets the legitimate security concerns of all parties as soon as possible.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news conference on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Wang stressed that China will continue to “maintain an objective and fair position” and “promote peaceful negotiations” on the Ukraine issue.

But that “fair spot” was given away in the top evening news on China’s state broadcaster CCTV, the most watched news program in China.

Following a brief report on Putin’s “partial maneuvering” – without mentioning the protests in Russia or international condemnation, the show cited an international observer blaming United States for “continued to cause conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”

“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine should be resolved through dialogue. But the US continues to supply weapons to Ukraine, which makes it impossible to end the conflict and makes the situation worse,” one person said. former defense adviser in Timor-Leste said. sayings.

“The sanctions caused by the conflict have had consequences around the globe… Oil prices in East Timor have also gone up a lot. We are also suffering the consequences.”

The main factor driving the strategic alignment between Russia and China is the perception of threats from the United States, Hart told CSIS.

“As long as that variable stays the same, as long as Beijing continues to worry about the United States, I think they will continue to strengthen ties with Russia.”

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