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China supports Russia, but without committing itself

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China supports Russia, but without committing itself

The two days of talks in Moscow between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended without major announcements: China and Russia will continue and in part intensify their economic collaboration and have reaffirmed their political closeness, above all with a view anti-Western. As regards Ukraine, the two leaders made a generic reference to the so-called “Chinese peace plan”, i.e. the document made public a few weeks ago in which China describes its position on the war in Ukraine: but there are no been real developments or significant diplomatic news, as some had hoped.

The mere presence of the Chinese leader in Moscow, on his first visit after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was an important sign of support for Putin, while the Chinese government has maintained its stance of support for Russia, while retaining sufficient ambiguity to avoid international economic sanctions. In general, Xi Jinping’s trip to Moscow showed that the relationship between China and Russia is increasingly biased in favor of the former, both due to the size of the economies of the two countries (the Chinese economy is worth ten times that of Russia) and because international isolation has made China an irreplaceable ally for Vladimir Putin.

In February 2022, China and Russia had defined their relationship as “a friendship without limits”. In Tuesday’s joint communiqué at the end of the works, the relationship is described in a more detailed and perhaps more cautious way: «The relations between the two countries, while not constituting a military and political alliance similar to those established during the Cold War, are superior to normal international cooperation. They do not constitute a bloc, have no oppositional nature and are not directed against third countries.’

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Diplomatic formulas aside, Russia has pledged to supply 98 billion cubic meters of gas a year to China by 2030: it is a sixfold increase compared to the current situation, but the volume does not replace the lost sales to European countries . In the joint communiqué there are no references to agreements for a new Siberian gas pipeline which, crossing Mongolia, would arrive in China: it was considered one of Russia’s economic objectives at this meeting, but it is probable, as he noticed Bloombergthat China wants to avoid depending too much on Russia’s energy supplies.

Russia then pledged to encourage the use of the Chinese currency, the yuan, in payments in Asia, Africa and South America. Economic cooperation will also take place in the field of forestation, soybean cultivation, television and industries in the eastern part of Russia. More generally, Chinese investments in Russia will increase, confirming an increasingly asymmetrical and unbalanced relationship.

The official dinner at the Palace of Facets in Moscow (Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Politically, China and Russia have accused the United States of endangering world security, have expressed opposition to the American and British decision to supply nuclear submarines to Australia and called for the opening of an international investigation into the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline . Putin defined the so-called Chinese peace plan on Ukraine as a “good starting point” on which to discuss when “Ukraine and the West are ready”.

The Chinese “proposals” on the “crisis” in Ukraine (both Russia and China refuse to talk about “war” or “invasion”) are contained in a document in 12 points published a few weeks ago, in which China defines its position on the war. The document calls for “respecting the sovereignty of all states” (a complex thing for Russia, which has invaded and annexed huge Ukrainian territories), to “put an end to hostilities” and to “resume peace negotiations”. The proposals do not imply any withdrawal of Russia from the occupied territories.

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– Listen to Globe: Could China contribute to peace in Ukraine?

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