Together against the USA

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin became the first foreign leader to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in more than two years. Not only did they attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics together, they also held a meeting beforehand. In it, in addition to reaffirming their good personal relations, they demonstrated the growing rapport between the two powers, with common interests in the current international geopolitical scenario.

Both Putin and Xi agree on their idea of becoming a counterweight to the U.S. and its Western allies, with the crisis in Ukraine giving them a new reason. Both signed a statement calling for a halt to NATO enlargement and the abandonment of “ideologized Cold War approaches,” a recurring demand from Moscow in which Beijing now joins. They denounce “external counter interference” in the “color revolutions”; if China supports Russia in Ukraine, Moscow supports Beijing in its intentions about Taiwan. In a relationship that is more pragmatic and strategic than ideological, Putin and Xi are joining forces to counter liberal democracies.

This is a strategic alliance that, in the face of possible Western sanctions if there were a Russian attack on Ukraine, also has an important economic significance. Both sides have signed an agreement to supply more Russian gas to China. Exports will increase to 48 billion cubic meters a year due to a new gas pipeline, and Russia also aspires to be the main supplier of oil to its neighbor. The West fears that Xi will provide Putin with a kind of back door, buying gas and oil from him, which would soften the impact of such sanctions.

Beijing is closer than ever to Moscow. Russia is the country that has received the most aid from China, but Putin, in need of an ally to avoid his isolation, must be cautious in his moves toward Ukraine, since it is unknown how far Xi’s lifeline will go What both autocrats certainly have in common is their ambition to expand their international influence.

The Chinese-Russian relationship has had its ups and downs. At the end of the Cold War, it had already improved; then, the bond strengthened further when Xi came to power in 2013. Since then, a strategic relationship has been created on commercial, military and geopolitical issues that has grown at the same time as Russian and Chinese disagreements with the U.S. They work for a common agreement that strengthens them against the West, but at the same time they look at each other with suspicion, since neither of the two parties wants the other to become too powerful.

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