At the beginning of the Cold War, in the 1950s, Mao’s China obeyed its Soviet big brother. In the camp of the “Reds” it was subject to the guardianship of the USSR. Stalin had the upper hand. Today the situation is reversed. After a year of this war it waged against Ukraine, Russia finds itself dependent on China. In the relationship of “boundless friendship” that Moscow and Beijing say they have built, Xi Jinping is the dominant element – more every day.
Moscow’s aggression against Kyiv puts Beijing in a complex situation. Barely three weeks after sealing this “friendship pact” between their two countries in Beijing on February 4, Vladimir Poutin launched his “special operation”. Objective: to seize control of a Ukraine that is giving in to a Western tropism too pronounced for the Kremlin’s liking.
Surprised, misinformed, or not at all, China provides minimal service. She supports Russia politically and refrains from condemning it in a vote at the United Nations. She declares herself against American and European sanctions. It’s not just about “friendship” between states. Putin and Xi seem to have a very good personal relationship. More importantly, the two presidents are united in the same strategic goal: to end the – alleged – dominance of the United States, or the West in general, over the international system.
China, a friend who can count
But China is angry. She wants to be one of the most meticulous guardians of the principle of the inviolability of borders. Beijing gets away with it by declaring that the Russian offensive is the culmination of intolerable “Western” provocations – a cut-and-paste of Moscow rhetoric. The Chinese and Russians will soon be maneuvering together in the Pacific. For a year, Xi, who has spoken to Putin several times, has hinted that he does not like this war. However, he never made contact with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, just as little as China attempted the slightest mediation.
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Within the Sino-Russian pair, economics and demographics account for Chinese superiority. The two countries share a 4,200-kilometer border. With around 18,000 billion dollars (more than 16,600 billion euros), China (1.4 billion inhabitants) has a gross domestic product ten times higher than Russia (144 million inhabitants). Post-February 24, 2022 sanctions and the European Union’s boycott of Russian hydrocarbons are increasing Russia’s dependence on China — a situation described by Russian political scientist Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Foundation in an August 2022 article in Foreign Affairs magazine Title “China’s New Vassal”.
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