Written by Ulrich Jochheim.
Hours before the Beijing Winter Olympics officially opened on 4 February 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a long meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the joint statement issued after the meeting, the Chinese leader for the first time voiced his country’s outright opposition to NATO enlargement and support for Russia’s ‘proposals to create long-term legally binding security guarantees’ in Europe. This stance might be seen as the culmination of a relationship, formed in 1992, between the newly proclaimed Russian Federation and a China that had just started emerging from the stupor following the Tiananmen Square massacre.
This relationship has seen major shifts since 1992. At the outset, China’s population was greater than Russia’s and both countries had a very similar level of GDP. Nowadays, thanks to China’s exceptional growth performance, its economy is more than eight times bigger than Russia’s. Similarly, trade with Russia is not of major importance to China in terms of value. However, the high share of raw materials (including food) in Russian exports and the transfer of Russian military technology are of strategic importance to China in these relations.
Since 2012, the relationship has evolved into an informal alliance in the face of what both countries consider a rising threat from the West to their regimes. At present, China’s response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine seems to be more favourable to Russia than it was in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. China has been critical of NATO’s enlargement to central and eastern Europe, and less insistent about respect for the territorial integrity of nations – something that it has traditionally upheld in light of the ‘open Taiwan question’. On 30 March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in China to discuss the bilateral relationship.
Experts posit that China is likely to support the kind of solution to the Ukraine war that would be the least likely to challenge the power monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party.
Read the complete briefing on ‘China-Russia relations: A quantum leap?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.