Xi-Putin summit yields united stand on Taiwan and Nato

  • China and Russia voice opposition to expansion of US-led security alliance in Europe
  • Both countries take joint aim at Aukus and Taiwanese independence in any form

China and Russia moved a step closer to forming a quasi-alliance after a summit on Friday ended in a coordinated stand on Taiwan and Nato – and by default Ukrainian membership of the US-led alliance.

In a lengthy joint statement after Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the two countries said some nations continued to push unilateral approaches in international relations and interference in the internal affairs of others.

The statement said China and Russia were concerned that the formation of the Aukus security alliance – a deal in which the US and Britain will help Australia build a nuclear-powered submarine fleet – would increase the risk of an arms race in the region.

It said the two countries agreed to take steps to reduce the risk of nuclear war and any armed conflict between countries with military nuclear potential.

Without referring to Ukraine, Russia and China said they also opposed expansion of Nato – a key Russian concern in the crisis with Ukraine, describing it as a cold war approach to international affairs. Russia also reaffirmed that Taiwan was an integral part of China and it opposed Taiwanese independence in any form.

No state should ensure its security “at the expense of the security of other states”, the statement said.

The summit in Beijing is a show of solidarity on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics, with both sides using the meeting to signal coordinated efforts to counter the United States.

In his opening remarks, Putin hailed his country’s close ties with China as “unprecedented” and said China and Russia had supported each other in a wide range of areas, from foreign affairs to economic development.

“[Our bilateral relationship] is indeed unprecedented in the spirit of friendship and strategic partnership, and the relationship between the two countries is an example of a good relationship that facilitates mutual development and also helps to support each other in development,” Putin said.

For his part, Xi said political and strategic trust between the two nations had been consolidated further.

“Facing the profoundly complex and evolving international situation, China and Russia are committed to deepening back-to-back strategic cooperation and safeguarding international fairness and justice side by side,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

“This is a strategic decision that has far-reaching influence in China, Russia and the world, and will not be shaken.”

The trip is Putin’s first to China since 2019, and Xi’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign state leader since early 2020, when he met the leaders of Cambodia, Mongolia and Pakistan in Beijing.

The Russian leader is using the occasion to court his increasingly powerful neighbour to help offset the US’ network of alliances.

The US and its allies have threatened sanctions against Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine. On Thursday, the US State Department also warned Chinese firms they would face consequences if they sought to evade any export controls imposed on Moscow in the event of Russia invading Ukraine.

Beijing is facing a diplomatic boycott against the Winter Olympics over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang as well as sanctions from the US and its allies. It is also irked by increasing US support for Taiwan and military deployments in the disputed South China Sea.

A day ahead of the Xi-Putin meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said both nations opposed the formation of any “blocs” seeking to trigger confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The Russian side also briefed the Chinese side on the latest developments in the relations between Russia and the US and Nato, and stressed the principle of indivisible security, for which the Chinese side expressed its understanding and support,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement after the foreign ministers’ meeting.

The two nations pledged cooperation beyond geopolitics, agreeing to connect the development plans of the Eurasian Economic Union – a group of former Soviet states – to the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure and trade link launched by Xi in 2013. The development of the Arctic region was also mentioned in the statement.

In addition to the joint statement, the two sides signed 15 other cooperation deals, including the delivery of natural gas from Russia to China, and an agreement between Russian energy giant Rosneft and China National Petroleum Corporation on the supply of 100 million tonnes of oil to China through Kazakhstan for 10 years.

The two nations have set a goal of reaching US$200 billion in trade by 2024. Russia’s data suggests China is already Russia’s largest trading partner and trade jumped by one-third to a record US$140 billion last year.

Energy consumption and commodities are the main drivers of the trade. Russian officials had earlier said Moscow supported further increasing coal supply to China.

The two nations also hit back at Western allegations that they are not democratic, with the joint statement saying attempts by any nation to impose their democratic standards on others was an example of trampling on democracy.

It said only its people had the right to judge whether a state was democratic.

Five people are travelling with Putin – Lavrov, Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, CEO of Rosneft energy firm Igor Sechin and presidential aide Yury Ushakov.

Danil Bochkov, from the Russian International Affairs Council, said that while the statement did not include a breakthrough in military ties, it did underline growing trust on mutual interests.

“All the security-related statements mentioned in the communique signal that Russia-China entente grows more trustworthy and is becoming very integrated, since both states recognise and endorse mutual interests in a very outspoken way – something that hasn’t been seen before,” Bochkov said.

He added that the two countries would probably develop a very flexible and agile structure of cooperation, including militarily, but free of any mutual obligations.

The agreements on energy and agricultural purchases were also more than a superficial show of mutual support, but a testimony to the growing “energy alliance” between the two, he said.

“It becomes especially pertinent amid the challenges faced by Russia in the European energy market. Moscow plays a long-term game here anticipating more tensions with the West and hedging the unwelcoming risks,” he said.

By referring directly to Nato’s expansion in the statement, China showed more support than ever for Russia’s security concerns in Europe, said Zhang Xin, associate professor of international relations at Shanghai’s East China Normal University.

“It used to only refer to unspecified military alliances without naming Nato in this context,” Zhang said. “This is a limited upgrade of China’s support for Russia’s security concerns but it still has not yet taken a clear stand against Ukraine.”

He said he expected the areas of coordination between the two governments to expand beyond the four areas – democracy, development, security and global order – touched upon in the statement.

Authors: Teddy Ng, Jun Mai, SCMP

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