Sino-Russian Relationship By Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan

Sino-Russian Relationship By Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan

Many observers claim that the most important bilateral relationship in the world today is the US-China relationship. But there is another important bilateral relationship which is also important in the way it affects the global politics — and that is the Sino-Russian relationship.

How is the Sino-Russian relationship shaping up? Is it based on short-term interests in which China is only trying to provide a lifeline to Russia considering that Russia faces extreme pressure from the American-led western world? The thaw in the Sino-Russian relationship came at a time when Russia invaded Ukraine and so the basis of this important emerging bilateral relationship is China’s stand on the crisis. To the world, China continues to give signals that it is playing neutral, but the many steps Beijing has taken clearly demonstrates that it supports Moscow in this crisis. China has blamed NATO for trigging this crisis by not only its progressive enlargement but also its eastward expansion that has brought NATO forces right on the Russian borders. China doesn’t support the Russian invasion of Ukraine but has stood up to throw an economic lifeline to Russia at a time when the Russian economy struggles to cope with the economic crisis created by western sanctions.

China has so far refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and the day the Russian invasion took place, China instead accused the US and its allies of “fanning the flames”. China blames the US for the Ukrainian conflict and when President Xi Jinping, during a meeting with President Joe Biden, cited a Chinese proverb that “only he who tied the bell to the tiger’s neck can untie it”, it clearly suggests that he considers Biden responsible for it. For China, the Sino-Russian partnership is a long-term investment. Geopolitically, it suits China if the US and its Western allies are tied up against the Russians as it gives China the strategic opportunity and space to serve its own interests in the Western Pacific region. This doesn’t mean that there are no joint Sino-Russian interests. Both powers fear that if they don’t stand up together as partners, their sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific will be gobbled up by the imperialist Western powers. Both powers accuse the US and its Western allies of ideological encroachment and of triggering and supporting revolt and revolutions in their sphere of influence. An example from the last year is how in January 2022, President Xi publicly offered support to Russia in its efforts to put down the colour revolution in Kazakhstan, which is a former Soviet Republic but with which China also shares a 1782 km long border.

The world can make a lot of sense from what transpired between President Vladimir Putin and President Xi in the two one-to-one meetings between the two leaders over the past 24 months. What the two leaders shared and discussed and what was made public clearly suggests that there is an awakening and the East is rising up against the West under the Sino-Russian leadership. The world is clearly getting divided between the rising global South and a global North that is declining. What was it that the two leaders discussed and agreed in their meetings?

One meeting was held in February 2022, just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and the other in March 2023, just a day after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant of arrest for President Putin.

In the February 2022 meeting, both leaders issued a joint statement, agreeing to: keep the US influence out of their neighborhood; call the US alliances cold war relics; defend their own model of autocratic governance; and declare that the Sino-Russian partnership had no limits.

In the second meeting for which President Xi travelled to Moscow, both leaders agreed that they have brought their ties into a new era of cooperation and called for a responsible dialogue to end the war in Ukraine. They spoke about deepening the strategic partnership and bilateral ties that were entering a new era. About the conflict in Ukraine, Xi said China was guided by the UN principles and that China was always for peace and dialogue. The joint statement said that Washington was undermining global stability and that NATO was barging into the Asia-Pacific region. Putin on his part said, “We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and Kyiv.”

China also proposed a 12-point paper calling for de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine. Xi also reiterated his neutral position on Ukraine and called for a dialogue. The agreement also pushed forward the planned Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, which would deliver 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia to China via Mongolia. Putin said Moscow was ready to increase oil exports to Beijing after Russia, China and Mongolia had completed all agreements on a planned pipeline to ship Russian gas. The pipeline has gained urgency as Moscow seeks to replace Europe as its major gas customer.

Many observers believe that Ukraine is the first salvo fired in a new Cold War between two emerging power blocs. West considers that ideologically, democracy and authoritarianism divide these blocs and economically it is the state-centred economics and free market economics. So, in order to dominate the other bloc politically and economically, the Western world has launched a political warfare that is leading the world into another Cold War. This is not acceptable to Russia and China and they demand an end to Western interference in their sphere of influence, as well as an end to their geopolitical encirclement and their economic stagnation. This is not good as the more the US and the Western world does this the more it brings the two powers together.

Look at the emerging trends, BRICS is moving up the political and economic ladder to accommodate more countries and stand up to challenge G-7. De-dollarisation is another trend, bringing together states in global South which are not aligned with the Western geopolitics. The countries are moving away from trading in dollars, and the dollar dominance in the world economy is gradually decreasing. There may be many factors driving all these changes but the biggest factor is the strong Sino-Russian relationship and the growing confidence that the countries in global South are placing in these two powers and their ability to lead them.

Sino-Russian Relationship By Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2023.


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