From Rossiiskaya gazeta, March 24, 2023, p. 6. Complete text:
We can safely say that following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to Moscow, China and Russia are drawing closer, even though they were already close before. Nevertheless, we can see that there was no division between China and Russia on any of the topics discussed during the talks. Moreover, we can observe that Russian President Vladimir Putin supported China’s position on a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Ukraine. It is interesting that a discussion of the Ukraine crisis was somehow rolled into a number of other discussions, including ones related to the situation in Asia.
The talks between the Russian and Chinese leaders were protracted and difficult. That is, many attendant issues were apparently raised. It is no coincidence that the so-called informal conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping lasted four and a half hours. This was followed by another full day of intense negotiations, which proves that the issues raised during the meetings were complex.
The idea of driving a wedge between Russia and China did not come to pass. Contrary to the predictions of some experts in the West, Xi Jinping did not attempt to pressure Moscow. This was clear from the impressive number of deals made during his visit to Russia. These deals include agreements to increase deliveries of Russia agricultural products to the Chinese market, as well as oil and gas agreements. This suggests that China is giving our country the chance to use its market to compensate for the losses it has suffered in the West.
The Russian and Chinese presidents spoke about military-technical cooperation, without revealing any secrets, of course. And this is a very significant moment. In the past, Moscow and Beijing were mainly engaged in military-political cooperation; that is, they shared positions on key points. And this has become de rigueur. But in theory, military-technical cooperation involves the development of new types of weapons, information technologies and combat readiness and effectiveness systems. So there’s a lot of depth to this issue.
Another important nuance is that Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s support for China’s One Belt, One Road Economic Initiative, linking it with the EaEU and the aim of developing a greater Eurasian partnership. I should note that the idea of this kind of partnership has long been discussed in Russia. And China has never been, as it were, an intellectual part of this concept. Sometimes there was talk of [involving] Singapore, sometimes Vietnam. It seemed that China would not go for such an ambitious integration. However, we see that Vladimir Putin is talking about this, which indicates that there have been breakthroughs in this area.
Russia and China have finally started talking about working together with countries in Africa, Latin America and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. So it turns out that here China and Russia are developing common positions. They have never had them before, at least declared ones. In fact, observers have always pointed out that Moscow and Beijing could have tensions, for example, in Africa, since they are both aspiring to the same role. But we see that this is not happening. We can assume that Russia and China are approaching a kind of unifying idea of a non-Western core of countries. As Xi Jinping commented, relations between Moscow and Beijing have gone beyond bilateral relations and are of great importance to the world order. However, I believe that it is too soon to speak about the formation of a Russia-China geopolitical axis. Here everything depends on the success of Beijing’s and Moscow’s efforts to settle the situation in Ukraine. All that we’re seeing now are plans – very productive plans, but nonetheless just plans.
As Russian leader Vladimir Putin said, the Chinese plan to settle the conflict in Ukraine can be taken as a foundation This is important at a minimum because there is no other plan for Ukraine at all yet. And China is the first state not involved in the conflict to put one forward. If this initiative is taken as a foundation, then, of course, it will spell out issues related to negotiations. There are several other significant moments that should be mentioned. The first is China’s indication that it is prepared to help reconstruct areas affected by the fighting. The second concerns guarantees of the territorial integrity of all countries, which Beijing supports. And here, of course, there could be many disputes, because it is unclear which country’s territorial integrity this refers to. For example, the Ukrainians say that the Chinese plan is about peace and not about Russia. We have another interpretation. In the end, if we are talking about Russia after 2014, then at a minimum this refers to the Crimea as part of our country.
In any case, China does not want to get drawn into discussing questions of territorial ownership. In other words, Beijing is keeping its distance from these issues and considers them topics for the negotiation process. It believes that the most important thing at this stage is for the sides to end hostilities. And here China’s interest is also clear. Because by proposing its own peace initiative, Beijing is taking a big risk by gambling with its own reputation. After all, what if no one listens to the Chinese? But we see that Russia did. This means that half the work is done. Even if nothing comes of it in the future, China can always say that it was the only major power that was in favor of a peaceful settlement to the Ukrainian conflict.
I think China is 100% ready to talk to Ukraine. In this sense, Beijing is a flexible party that is able to negotiate. Let’s say Xi Jinping speaks directly with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. It’s possible that the Chinese side might discuss issues with Kiev at the foreign minister level.
We saw footage where the Chinese leader, bidding farewell to Vladimir Putin, who was seeing him off, spoke about upcoming changes that have not happened in a century. These words echo other statements made by the Chinese leader. Not long ago, he said that the world must prepare for winds and storms it has not seen in the recent era, that is, in the last century.
In sum, I can say that Russia and China are entering into a major geostrategic alliance. And there is one paradox here. If it weren’t for the immense pressure being put on China and Russia, our countries would still be drawing closer, but at a completely different pace or from a completely different perspective. The joint statement makes it clear that China needs a strong and successful Russia, and Russia needs a stable and prosperous China. Beijing has made its choice, and this is noteworthy. The Chinese always used to prefer to remain above the fray and on the sidelines. They are saying the same thing now, but it appears that Beijing’s position is closer to the Russian position than the American one.
Russia has its own anti-Western banner. China, however, is not displaying its anti-Western banner and is saying that it remains open to cooperation. In reality, it’s clear that our countries agree that they need a different world structure that does not include the policy of isolationism or the expansion of military blocs. This is how Beijing explains Russia’s position to itself. China never condones or accuses other countries. But here China understands Russia’s position, which forced it to take certain steps because of NATO expansion and the lack of any guarantees that Ukraine would not join this alliance. This history is understandable to China, because it jibes with the situation with Taiwan.