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China and Russia: A United Front

China and Russia: A United Front
21 May 2024 09:15

The writer is the Head of the Media Communications Department at TRENDS Research & Advisory and the Deputy Head of the TRENDS Youth Council

China has recently been active on the international stage in issues concerning Europe and the situation in Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who just returned from a European tour that included France, Serbia, and Hungary, is now hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing. This visit is Putin’s first official trip abroad since starting his fifth term, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the Soviet Union’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China.

In recent years, relations between Moscow and Beijing have grown significantly, driven by a new vision for the global order and a multi-layered strategic partnership, particularly evident in the economic field and their view of the international system. Putin’s decision to make China his first foreign trip in his new term is meant to send a message to the United States, particularly after the American warnings for Beijing to stop supporting Russia in the Ukraine war.

The Beijing-Moscow summit was used as a platform to criticise the United States for “expanding nuclear deterrence” by deploying nuclear missiles that pose a threat to Russia and China, leading the AUKUS alliance with the UK and Australia, and developing high-precision non-nuclear weapons, in addition to other international issues, including the US dealing with Afghanistan and North Korea. In addition to denouncing the US, China and Russia pledged to work together to confront the “destructive and hostile” American pressures as a “united front”. Both countries aspire to build a multipolar world where nations can operate under different rules instead of those set by the US and Western countries.

The war in Ukraine has made the Russia-China relationship more important than ever, especially since Beijing has been a key economic partner of Moscow amid stringent Western sanctions and its loss of European energy markets. China has benefitted from importing cheap Russian energy. This partnership pushed trade between the two countries to a record high of $240 billion in 2023, with 90% of transactions conducted in their national currencies. Furthermore, both countries are actively seeking to widen their cooperation in the energy and economic sectors.

Discussions between Moscow and Beijing included the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, a topic that was also raised during Chinese President Xi’s European tour. Beijing is keen to play a role in restoring peace and stability in Europe. However, the current situation on the ground is not conducive to peace, with Russia opening a new front along the north-eastern borders of Ukraine and Western countries being slow in supplying Kyiv with weapons. Despite that, China is determined to push for peace, but success depends on the warring parties accepting a de-escalation plan.

The visit represents a significant advancement in the China-Russia partnership, especially given that both countries are members of the BRICS group. With their extensive trade ties, the global influence of the BRICS will be further enhanced as Moscow and Beijing signed a series of new trade agreements.

The Russian President’s visit to Beijing is not expected to significantly affect the course of the war in Ukraine, given the difficulty in reaching a settlement between the involved parties in the current period. Russia seeks to maintain its territorial gains, which Ukraine and its allies oppose. Additionally, China, as it develops its relations with Russia, does not want to risk its international ties. Its foreign policy prioritises partnerships over alliances and aims to maintain a balance in its relations with the West, particularly in the economic and trade spheres. Nonetheless, there is a shared determination between China and Russia to strengthen their bilateral relations and prevent any external interference in their internal affairs.

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