China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, has met Vladimir Putin in Moscow, as China and Russia reaffirm their close bilateral relationship just days before the first anniversary of the start of the Ukraine war.
In brief televised remarks Wang said China and Russia were ready to deepen their strategic cooperation. Earlier on Wednesday, Wang met Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, where he said he expected to reach a “new consensus” on advancing the relationship between the two allies.
Putin said that “Russian-Chinese relations were proceeding as planned” and talked of reaching “new milestones” in areas such as bilateral trade. Putin said the two countries had “ongoing cooperation” in international affairs and expressed Russia’s gratitude to China.
Putin described the international situation as “quite complicated” and said Sino-Russian cooperation was “important for stabilising the international situation”.
Wang said “a crisis is always an opportunity” and that the Sino-Russian relationship was “never dictated by any third parties”. Both leaders emphasised the importance of “multipolar” approaches to international affairs – a worldview that rejects what China describes as the US’s “unipolar” approach to dominating global leadership.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine last year, China has claimed to be neutral, although it has made many comments supporting Russia. On Saturday the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said China could be on the verge of supplying lethal weapons to Russia, a claim China denies.
The meetings came during a week of diplomatic activity ahead of the Ukraine anniversary. On Monday Joe Biden met Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, in Kyiv during a historic trip, the first time a US president had visited the capital of a country at war without the US controlling the critical infrastructure.
Xi Jinping, China’s president, is expected to visit Putin in Russia in the coming months, although an exact date has not been announced.
Wang’s visit to Moscow, where he was due to meet other top officials such as Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the security council, shows that the “relationship is not only on track, but it’s expanding, growing”, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
On Tuesday China published a government paper on its global security initiative that described the principles underpinning Beijing’s policies. It proposed a UN-backed concept of “common security” that would “respect and guarantee the security of every country”. It said that “only security based on morality and correct ideas can have a solid foundation and be truly durable”.
The paper also explicitly rejected the use of sanctions as a means of resolving disputes. Xi has made repeated calls for China to become self-sufficient in key industries, such as semiconductors, as it faces a growing number of US export controls. Were China to attempt to take over Taiwan by force, the prospect of international sanctions, similar to those that have been imposed on Russia, would be one of the many hurdles in its path.
Xi is expected to give a “peace speech” on Friday, the anniversary of the invasion, which will probably build on the ideas outlined in the global security initiative.
Gabuev said he was sceptical about warnings that China was imminently planning to negotiate new deliveries of arms or munitions that would directly affect the war effort. Beijing could tie arms deliveries to similar US support for Taiwan, he suggested.
Rather than wanting to escalate the conflict, Wang’s visit to Moscow was a chance to promote the idea that China wants a “peaceful settlement”, said Rosemary Foot, a professor of international relations at Oxford University. The Chinese leadership emphasises the importance of stability in international affairs, both as an ideology and as a means of achieving its economic targets.
Foot said China also saw Russia as a buffer against western scrutiny. Last year Thomas Haldenwang, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, said that when it came to international security, “Russia is the storm, China is climate change”. Ken McCallum, the director of MI5, has made similar comments. This argument reinforced Beijing’s belief that “China would have to take more of the brunt of western criticisms and actions were Russia not to exist in its present form”, Foot said.
For Russia, expanding economic cooperation with China is key to surviving sanctions and maintaining the war effort.
“China is increasingly becoming a lifeline that keeps the regime afloat and prevents it from turning into a giant North Korea with an overly militarised industry and total destruction of normal life,” said Gabuev. “Of course Russia is a much more robust economy, but without the ability to sell to the Chinese market or access Chinese tech, life will be harder and the war effort would be harder to sustain.”
“So I think it’s absolutely essential for Russia to maintain and expand these ties.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Roth.
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