Analysis: War in Ukraine tests growing China-Russia partnership


BEIJING — Three weeks ago, the Chinese and Russian leaders said their countries’ friendship “has no limits” when they met in Beijing on the eve of the Winter Olympics. But that was before Russia invaded Ukraine, a gamble that tests how far China is willing to go.

Neighboring nuclear-armed giants have grown closer in recent years, raising the specter of an alliance of authoritarian states that could challenge a democratic, US-led West to a new Cold War. Yet China has a lot to lose in such a scenario, and President Xi Jinping has spoken out against the “cold war mentality” of those who portray his country’s rise as a threat.

The emergence of a China-Russia axis is far from a foregone conclusion. Trade with Europe and the United States is a major driver of China’s economic growth, even as its estrangement from the United States and appetite for energy has led it to deepen its ties with the Russia.

“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine will reveal whether there is a deeper connection or whether the relationship is essentially transactional,” Anthony Saich, a China expert, said in a Q&A posted on the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation website. from Harvard University.

He outlined three possible actions that would indicate “China has set its sights on Russia.” These include Beijing using a veto, rather than abstention, from any UN resolution to criticize Russia’s actions; recognition of a puppet regime in Ukraine set up by Russia; and a refusal to call the attack an invasion even after civilian deaths were clearly confirmed.

China, along with India and the United Arab Emirates, already abstained from voting Friday on a UN Security Council resolution calling on Russia to halt its attack on Ukraine. Russia vetoed it. China again abstained in another vote on Sunday, although it was a non-vetoable procedural vote.

“The two abstentions show that China has taken a more cautious stance than before amid the world’s extremely wide-ranging criticism and protests against Russia’s all-out attacks,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at the International Relations Office. Renmin University of China.

Li Fan, professor of Russian studies at Renmin, said China and Russia have “a friendly and good-neighborly strategic partnership”, but China does not take sides in the current crisis. “It’s not that China supports Russia’s military operation,” she said.

Russia’s decision to put its nuclear forces on high alert on Sunday, deepening the crisis, could make China more cautious.

This balancing act helps explain Beijing’s sometimes contradictory positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and officials’ diligent efforts to avoid getting stuck on certain issues, including whether they call what is happening a invasion.

China has said the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations must be respected – a stance that goes against an invasion – while opposing sanctions on Russia and blaming the United States. and NATO’s eastward expansion to be the root cause of the crisis.

“China is trying to have its cake on Ukraine and eat it too,” Asia Society President and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote in an article on the Asia Society Policy Institute website. . He noted that China had lifted import restrictions on Russian wheat, which could offset some of the economic pain from the sanctions.

For many of those imposing sanctions, China’s actions amount to support for the invasion.

“You’re not going to throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they’re invading another country,” said current Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

In a series of calls with his European counterparts late last week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “the current situation is something we don’t want to see.” He called for talks to end the crisis, but refrained from criticizing Russia.

It is unclear whether Putin asked for Xi’s support when he came to Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on February 4. and many large countries did not send representatives.

A joint statement was released after Xi and Putin’s meeting stating that “the friendship between the two states has no boundaries, there are no ‘prohibited’ areas of cooperation.”

Without mentioning Ukraine, the Russian-Chinese statement clearly opposes NATO expansion and coalitions that “intensify geopolitical rivalry” – a likely reference to US President Joe Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with other countries. other democratic nations face the rise of China.

He accused unnamed “actors” of advocating unilateral approaches and using force to solve international problems, which could apply not only to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to Russia’s war in Iraq. Ukraine.

The statement also said that “new state-to-state relations between Russia and China are superior to Cold War-era political and military alliances.”

Harvard’s Saich called the statement “a dramatic step forward in the relationship”, but added that it was premature to consider it a definitive alliance.

Half a century ago, in the midst of the Cold War, it was China and the United States that made common cause against Russia. This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking trip to China in 1972.

At the time, China’s ties with the Soviet Union had deteriorated and its leaders worried about a Soviet invasion. Fifty years later, the relationship between the three great powers has changed in ways that are hard to imagine. US-China relations are on the rocks, and Beijing and Moscow are reaching out instead.


EDITOR’S NOTE – Ken Moritsugu, AP News Director for Greater China, has covered Asia for more than 16 years.


Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at


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