Putin soon retracts his promise to Xi that he would not use nuclear weapons overseas, but a fresh Sino-Soviet rift is not imminent.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met last month in Moscow, China delivered a clear warning to Russia about its nuclear threats towards Ukraine.
In a joint declaration, Putin, who has previously threatened to deploy nuclear weapons in retribution for numerous wartime escalations, agreed that they should not be used.
At least for a few hours, he did. China and Russia pledged that “All nuclear-weapon states should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons abroad,” which was one of the commitments highlighted.
However, as soon as Xi had departed Moscow, Putin disregarded the agreement and declared intentions to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a nearby nation that may serve as a staging area for Russian invading troops.
China answered right away. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Mao Ning, told reporters in Beijing on March 27 that “under the current circumstances, all sides should focus on diplomatic efforts for a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis and work together for de-escalation.”
It was an extremely dramatic illustration of the conflict that underlies some parts of the apparent consensus between Russia and China on Ukraine policy. Despite providing Russia with significant economic and media backing, China wants to be seen as a peacemaker rather than a belligerent.
On the other side, Putin claims that Ukraine poses an existential danger to Russia that must be eliminated.
When working with Putin, Xi in effect sometimes finds himself on a tightrope. He wants to maintain it within the parameters of his fundamental foreign policy while while praising the closeness of the two sides’ “no limits” ties, a welcome diplomatic boost amid a conflict that is not going Russia’s way.
But occasionally even China needs to give in, like in the case of Ukraine. Consider the subject of respect for sovereignty, which is central to China’s stated foreign policy.
China’s foreign ministry unveiled a 12-point peace proposal for Ukraine a month before the meeting in Moscow. The declaration specifically stated that “All countries’ territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence must be effectively maintained.”
Respect for sovereignty was not mentioned in Moscow by either Xi or Putin, and it was also absent from their jointly released comments.
Also take into account Putin’s general reaction to China’s peace proposal. He didn’t say which parts of the proposal were objectionable, but he made it clear that some of it was.
Many of the terms of the Chinese peace proposal are in line with Russian viewpoints and may serve as the foundation for a peaceful resolution, according to Putin.
The Russian leader then added a kind of last-ditch escape from having to make a choice: Kiev and the West had to agree first. The idea is rejected by both Washington and Kiev because it doesn’t call for the complete withdrawal of Russian military from Ukraine.
However, it is very improbable that these disagreements would result in a rift between China and Russia. The general population has not been adequately prepped for this drastic transition by Beijing. Chinese authorities also blame American hegemony and bullying for starting the conflict in their public pronouncements, and this criticism is prevalent in the country’s media.
Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, a foreign policy think tank in Washington, stated that “no matter how the US and Europe try to convince China otherwise, in Beijing’s view, the convergence of Chinese and Russian interests in countering the US will outweigh their dig interests, such as the competition for regional leadership and sphere of influence.”
Outsiders believed the Sino-Russian conference will concentrate on Ukraine before to it. The US administration voiced anxiety that China might make a statement during the summit indicating its readiness to provide Russia armaments.
Those expectations proved to be unfounded. According to official reports, the situation in Ukraine was considered a lesser concern.
On March 21, the first day of the summit, Xi brought up the problem and said that China will continue to look for a “political settlement” and was opposed to “adding fuel to the fire” (a hidden allusion to the United States).
Ukraine was barely referenced once in a nine-paragraph report of a news briefing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on March 24. China, according to Xi, has adopted a “objective and impartial position” on the matter. Rather, Xi prioritized business, industrial collaboration, and “people-to-people” interactions.
Although the Chinese claimed he “welcomes China’s willingness to play a constructive role,” Putin mentioned nothing regarding Ukraine.
Some analysts concluded that Xi is not in a rush to urge for the conclusion of the conflict. The war has depleted American military capabilities; already, the US and Europe are realizing they don’t have enough ammo to supply Ukraine. At the same time, the war is increasing fuel prices for Western economies while China buys Russian oil at below-market, amicable prices.
Additionally, certain political voices in practically every Western nation are opposed to engagement, most notably those of the US Republican Party and the smaller parties in France and Italy.
Any outcome—whether a catastrophe for Russia or a Kremlin win over Ukraine—would likely benefit Beijing if China merely maintains its composure. Martin Sebena, a researcher with the Slovakia-based Central European Institute of Asian Studies, writes.
Sebena said that China stands to benefit from the conflict in Ukraine.
He predicted that although loss would leave Russia economically disadvantaged and “tied to China,” triumph would empower a Chinese ally “at the expense of the West.”
China has benefited economically from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Over the last year, Chinese exports to Russia have doubled. Cheap Russian fossil fuel is imported by China, which took over from Germany as Russia’s top energy importer last year.
Regardless of any diplomatic roadblocks that may arise, Putin appears to anticipate the friendship to endure. He published a 42-page foreign policy manifesto on March 31 that included strategies for strengthening connections with nations that reject Western “dominance.”
He named China and India as two important prospective allies. India has refrained from voting on resolutions at the UN to denounce Russia’s invasion while rejecting sanctions and purchasing Russian oil at a reduced price. India’s oil imports from Russia more than doubled last year.
Putin’s declared objective was to “eradicate the remnants of the dominance of the United States and other hostile countries in world politics,” according to the memo.