On December 30, 2022, a meeting was held between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin via video conference. Inviting Jinping to Moscow in the spring of 2023, the Russian leader said he would “show the world how close (strong) Russia-China relations are”. Reminding that they have faced the pressures of the West together, Putin also stated that they aim to deepen military cooperation with China. Jinping expressed his readiness to increase strategic cooperation with Russia in the face of difficulties. After this meeting, the United States of America (USA) declared that it was concerned about China acting in harmony with Russia.
From this point of view, it can be said that there will be important developments in China-Russia relations in the coming months. However, it is not known what stance Jinping will take against Putin. In the said meeting, Putin spoke most of the time and Jinping gave short answers. For this reason, Putin may not receive the warm support he expects from Jinping, whom he will host in Moscow in the spring. Cinping may still have in mind ending the war in Ukraine and may consider putting pressure on Putin to do so. The Chinese leader may go to Moscow in the coming months in line with this goal.
Since it was not possible to learn the real thoughts of China regarding Russia, the USA evaluated this meeting between Jinping and Putin negatively for itself. The US State Department made the following statement on the issue:
“We are closely monitoring Beijing’s activities. Beijing claims to be neutral. But its behavior makes it clear that it maintains close relations with Russia.”
In other words, Washington states that Beijing is seeking rapport with Moscow again and is concerned about it. Indeed, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the USA has been monitoring whether China is providing financial support to Russia in this war. It has indicated that it may impose economic sanctions against China if it finds concrete evidence. Beijing, on the other hand, refrained from giving open support to Moscow in order not to spoil its economic relations with Washington.
As it will be remembered, it has been claimed that after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit held in Samarkand in September 2022, there was a conflict between Putin and Jinping. In order to take advantage of this situation, Western powers pushed Beijing and tried to deepen the differences between the parties. Certainly, in the midst of such a perception, the Western world was disappointed when the leaders of Russia and China met via video conference. Until recently, the leaders of the USA, Germany and France met with Jinping and asked its to use its influence over Putin. Perhaps this situation has not changed. Perhaps Jinping made this video conference call to use its influence over Putin and will travel to Moscow in the coming months with this aim in mind. However, it is too early to guess for what purpose Jinping started this dialogue.
Putin, on the other hand, aims to show power against the West by showing up with Jinping and to give the message “I am not alone”. However, Jinping’s messages in Moscow are important. The Chinese leader, who is expected to meet with Putin, may make statements to the world that Putin does not want to hear. Russia, on the other hand, does not want to lose China, the actor it can trust the most.
Beijing reiterates that they have not changed their stance on Ukraine from the very beginning, remaining neutral and not inciting war. According to the general perception in the West, China signals that it will deepen its ties with Russia in 2023. Accordingly, maintaining neutrality in the Ukrainian war is tantamount to Beijing deepening its ties with Moscow. Because the basic structure of bilateral relations has not unimpaired. These relations will continue to develop further every day Beijing refuses to take a stand against Moscow because of this war. In fact, after the SCO summit, it was claimed that Jinping was angry with Russia over the prolongation of the war in Ukraine and its nuclear threats. However, high-level talks between Russia and China continued in this process.
In November 2022, during the G20 Summit in Indonesia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held very few bilateral meetings, including one with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. In other words, in an environment where Moscow is isolated, it is Beijing that gives it the biggest support.
In this process, military cooperation continued. For example, on November 30, 2022, the Chinese and Russian air forces carried out joint patrol flights in the Western Pacific. China’s Ministry of Defense has announced that these are annual routine air exercises. In December of the same year, shortly after the Tokyo administration published Japan’s National Security Strategy Paper, China conducted naval exercises in the Sea of Japan, while Russia began air exercises.
The steps in question are examples that show that China and Russia are still acting together. In short, the nature of strategic relations between Russia and China has not been radically deteriorated. Jinping still holds his ties with Moscow as a trump card against the West. Although Moscow has been feeling lonely in the international arena lately, it continues to rely upon Beijing.
In conclusion, , Putin, who expected to receive open support from China when he launched a war against Ukraine in February 2022, was wrong in this plan. In the following months, it became clear from Jinping’s messages that something was not right in Russia-China relations. Moreover, Putin has not been able to crown the war in Ukraine with a diplomatic victory. With the pressure created by this, it started to withdraw in the field and turned to seek diplomatic support again. Therefore, any progress in China-Russia relations in 2023 could also determine the future of the war in Ukraine. Because China wants the war in Ukraine to end. Jinping has yet to explain exactly what he wants from Putin. If Beijing conveys to the other side its clear intentions to end the war, Moscow may think that this decision was taken under pressure from the West. In other words, Putin may think that Jinping has come to him as an “envoy of the West”. Fear that China will change sides may persuade Putin to peace.
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 “U.S. Concerned by China’s Ties with Russia, State Department Says After Putin-Xi Call”, RFERL, https://www.rferl.org/a/putin-xi-china-russia-ukraine-war-visit/32200326.html, (Date of Accession: 01.01.2023).
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