How does China see Russia and the relationship they have?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in 2022.Alexei Druzhinin | AFP | Getty ImagesChina’s relationship with Russia has deepened in recent years with both countries sharing a similar aim in challenging and dismantling what they see as the West’s — or, for them, the U.S.’ — dominance in global affairs.The dynamic between Beijing and Moscow is more nuanced than it appears on the surface, however, with power imbalances and conflicts of interest, particularly since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, throwing a curveball at the global economic order.Some analysts have likened the relationship to the tale of “Goldilocks” in which a middle ground is sought, with China wanting its ally Russia to not be either too strong, where it could challenge Beijing, nor too weak where it leaves China ideologically isolated against the West.While Beijing has been careful not to criticize Russia during the war and remains an ally, it has also been able to exploit its privileged relationship with Moscow, knowing Russia desperately needs a powerful friend and trading partner for its discounted commodity exports like oil and metals, the sales of which are vital to keeping Russia’s economy, and the war, afloat.Political analysts say China has no interest in seeing Russia weakened to a large degree, however, and does not want Russia to be defeated in the war as this also makes China’s own standing look weaker. It could also be seen to embolden the West and cause political instability in Russia, essentially China’s backyard.”China needs to strike a balance between keeping Russia as weak as possible to ensure that it doesn’t pose a threat to China, while also ensuring that Russia can still be an irritant to their common rivals, Western democracies led by the United States,” Etienne Soula, a research analyst at the Alliance for Securing Democracy within the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., told CNBC.”China, like many Europeans, will also want to avoid a total collapse of Russia, with the nuclear proliferation risks that might pose. In addition, and unlike Europeans, China might also want to avoid the impression that Western democracies have ‘defeated’ Russia,” Soula added, saying this could have negative consequences for Beijing too.”China’s narrative about its own rise to the center of global governance is contingent upon the matching idea that Western democracies, and the United States in particular, are declining irreversibly. Having those countries defeat one of the largest autocracies in the world, a nuclear-armed Security Council member, via proxy, without even having boots on the ground, would be a big setback for the story China tries to tell the world about the future,” Soula said. CNBC has contacted China’s foreign ministry for comment and is awaiting a reply.Not so clear cut?China is seen by international observers as being one of the few countries that could exert its influence on Russia in bringing about an end to the war in Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met earlier this year, hailing their deepening economic and political ties and their “friendship” as leaders.China then later on sent representatives to Ukraine as it looked to push its own peace plan for the region, one that was lofty in ambition but short on substance. Analysts said at the time that Beijing was more interested in positioning itself as a peace broker on the global stage than actually bringing an end to the war.But some political analysts believe China’s tacit support for Russia following its invasion of Ukraine actually shows Beijing is willing to risk its own economic and geopolitical standing, to a certain limit, showing that the power dynamic between Russia and China isn’t so clear cut. They also question just how much power China has to either strengthen, or weaken, Russia’s economy too.Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.Xie Huanchi | Xinhua News Agency | Getty ImagesYurii Poita, head of the Asia section at the Kyiv-based New Geopolitics Research Network, said he mainly agrees with the “Goldilocks” theory; that China looks to carefully balance its support for Russia while also keeping it at arm’s length, but he questioned the extent to which China could strengthen Moscow in any case.”There is no way actually for China to make Russia stronger without jeopardizing Chinese interests,” he told CNBC.China could supply Russia with high-tech military technology or dual-use components like semiconductors, for example, he said, but feared Western sanctions on Chinese firms: “Let’s imagine how they could make Russia stronger, [such as] by delivering Russia high tech technology in terms of the military. It would definitely hurt the Chinese economy due to the severe sanctions [they would face if they did so],” he said.China weighs risksTo some observers of the Sino-Russian relationship, Beijing has given more support to Moscow than expected since the outbreak of war, a conflict that has disrupted global trade, and energy and food security.China has already gone far enough with Russia to risk its own reputation, one analyst noted, saying this showed that Beijing was willing to risk geopolitical capital to aid its ally.”I just don’t see any evidence that China is looking to extend its power lead over Russia, to make it a junior partner” since the war began, Jude Blanchette, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC.”It seems to me that China has been the one willing to pay a diplomatic economic reputational price with Europe, with the United States, to continue in support of Russia.””So …if you were looking at Russia and how China has been positioning itself vis-a-vis Russia since the outbreak of the war, I would say that it is Putin who has basically been able to extract support and concessions from China against China’s other interests.”Blanchette said he struggled to find the evidence that China was creating a “client state” out of Russia when the rational move for Beijing would be to distance itself from Russia “given that it is a toxic asset.””I don’t see wholesale evidence that China’s backing out of the room — they’re careful on sanctions, they don’t want Chinese firms to be caught up in secondary sanctions. But that just means that there’s a ceiling for how much China will support Russia — I’m looking for the floor, and it strikes me that Beijing is willing to go to some pretty significant lengths to diplomatically, reputationally, economically back Moscow as it engages in this incredibly costly and risky war,” he added.

Show More

Related Articles