Strength of ‘unlimited’ China-Russia ties to be tested at summit | China
Major setbacks for Moscow’s forces in Ukraine will further test the “unlimited partnership” between China and Russia when their leaders meet this week for the first time since the invasion, analysts have said.
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin’s meeting, scheduled for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Thursday will likely lead to a struggle for influence in Central Asia, where the two world powers have long maintained a ” quiet rivalry”.
The SCO summit, an annual meeting of Eurasian leaders on regional politics, economics and security, comes at a crucial time when a rising China and a weakened Russia could shift the balance of power in Central Asia by favor of Beijing.
The two leaders also planned stops in Kazakhstan, where Xi first launched his Belt and Road foreign investment initiative in 2013. Highlighting the region’s importance, Xi’s visit will be his first international travel since the start of the pandemic and will not take place for another month. ahead of a crucial Communist Party meeting that is expected to cement his unprecedented third term as leader.
Central Asia was “at the heart of Xi’s strategies”, said Therese Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “If we think about China’s grand strategy…it’s pretty clear that they pushed west.”
Xi and Putin last met on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics, where they announced their partnership, just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian officials said the two leaders had a “comprehensive and detailed agenda” for the talks, and some analysts said they expected Putin to seek more help from China after Russia experienced one of his worst setbacks in the war.
Beijing has struggled to balance its support for Moscow with a desire to avoid the indirect impact on its economy of sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. He declined to condemn the invasion, instead accusing the West of stoking tensions. It has stopped providing arms support, but reportedly supplied drone parts and took part in joint military exercises in the Sea of Japan last week.
On Friday, Russia claimed Beijing’s third figure offered unprecedented endorsement of its actions in Ukraine. According to Moscow, Li Zhanshu told Russian lawmakers that China “understands and supports Russia”, especially “on the situation in Ukraine”. The Chinese reading simply said that Beijing would “continue to work with Russia to firmly support each other” on core interests.
The strength of the global response to the invasion and Russia’s recent losses have raised tough questions for Xi about his foreign policy acumen in aligning himself with Putin, but he is likely to remain supportive, the professor said. Elizabeth Wishnick, principal investigator and the Center for Naval. Analytics, on leave from Montclair State University.
“With Russia under pressure on the battlefield, Xi may feel compelled to voice greater rhetorical support for Russia, or at least be more critical of NATO and the United States,” Wishnick said.
Analysts have suggested that as Russia’s strength wanes, Beijing may gain ground on key issues of trade routes and defending its Xinjiang regime.
Niva Yau, a senior fellow at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, said China has a long-term goal of shifting global trade from sea to land, especially for trade routes from energy “that can cushion sanctions against China if it ever comes to a military takeover of Taiwan.” She said trade and transportation deals, or rebranded “belt and road” investments could be announced at the summit.
Russia had similar goals to China, Yau said, but with waning power, Putin would likely focus on ensuring Russia was not squeezed out of its regional interests by China’s plans.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has disrupted China’s overland trade routes, complicated Chinese investment in Central Asia and damaged Russia’s ability to be the dominant security presence in the region, Wishnick said. It left open the question of whether China was ready to take on a greater security role and whether Russia and the region would accept it.
Before meeting, Xi and Putin reportedly planned to each sit down with the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a key figure in the region, especially for China’s interests.
“What we expect from this trip is for Xi Jinping to really try to see what Tokayev looks like as president, and in terms of the fundamentals of China,” Yau said.
Tokayev, a former diplomat who speaks Chinese and Russian, came to power in 2019 after nearly three decades of rule by his predecessor. Analysts said that although Kazakhstan has traditionally leaned towards Russia – in January it appealed to Moscow for help in suppressing mass protests – it was also interested in China and its “deep pockets”. .
Another key factor for China will be securing regional support for its resistance to global condemnation of its human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan and is a Muslim-majority country. “Kazakhstan is arguably the most important country to board,” Yau said.