Big Picture

The Ukraine War and the Shift in Russia-China Relations

Russia-China relations have always attracted the world’s attention, though they are more often than not being misunderstood.  

Recently, the leaders of the two countries attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit 2022 at Samarkand, Uzbekistan. According to the content published on the official website of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese leaders put forward four suggestions for promoting cooperation between China, Russia, and Mongolia during the meeting. 

The first is strengthening trilateral cooperation, deepening political mutual trust, increasing mutual support, “respecting each other’s core interests and accommodating major concerns”, as well as enhancing coordination and cooperation in international and regional affairs.

The second is improving cooperation within the structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and jointly building a cooperation platform for addressing risks and challenges, thereby unleashing development potential;

The next is implementing the consensus reached on the “China–Mongolia–Russia (CMR) economic corridor, promoting the continuous deepening of cooperation economy, trade, people-to-people and cultural engagement, and tourism in adjacent areas. This is for the objective to build a high-quality exchange platform for the businesses of the three countries.

Finally, the Chinese side suggested cultivating more achievements in tripartite cooperation. This is to support the expansion of local currency settlement of trade between the three countries. China said it welcomes more financial institutions from Russia and Mongolia to join the RMB cross-border payment system to “build a regional financial security barrier”.

All these, are, of course, the Chinese perspectives.

It is worth noting that China’s relationship with Russia has actually undergone great shifts. If Russia still thinks too highly of itself and that it can “instruct” China on how to improve the latter’s relationship with it, this would be anything but practical. After all, the war in Ukraine has brought some major changes.

Perhaps the relationship between Russia and China can be summed up in this way. Chinese leaders do want to form a stronger relationship with Russia, but in this relationship, China must be in the leadership position, not Russia under Vladimir Putin. In addition, this alliance must also be realized according to the Chinese way, not the Russian way.

Vladimir Putin

Russia will certainly not be happy with such kind of outcome, and it can also have other options, but China obviously has a lot of time to wait for it to make a choice.

The change in the nature of the relations is clearly seen even by the West. An article in the German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost says quite explicitly, that after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, while China continues to cooperate with Russia, the nature of such cooperation is silently changing. 

Xi Jinping

The message of the article is obvious. The sanctions imposed by the West on Russia have made Putin passive. In this context, the conditions of cooperation between China and Russia are determined by China. It is only through this way can Putin obtain the resources he needs through trade between the two sides. The reality is that China is by far the biggest buyer of Russian crude oil, despite the fact that Russian crude oil is dispensable to China.

“Russland braucht China mehr als China Russland – mit steigender Tendenz (Russia needs China more than China needs Russia – and the trend is increasing)”, the article concludes. 

The outcome is obvious. Afterall, in the world’s geopolitical circle of friends, the weak will not be in a position to bargain.

Written by Chan Kung, founder of ANBOUND Think Tank.
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Chan Kung
Chan Kung, founder of ANBOUND Think Tank (established in 1993), Mr. Chan Kung is a well-known authoritative expert in the field of information analysis in China. He is also the author of The Art of Analysis, published in 1990s, and The Core of Information Analysis, published in 2010. Through these works on information analysis, Mr. Chan Kung has laid a solid empirical theoretical foundation for China's information analysis discipline. As a reformist scholar in China, Mr. Chan Kung previously served as a director of the China Society of Economic Reform. Mr. Chan Kung has also laid the mission and direction for ANBOUND as China's independent think tank to seek universal public welfare. With research of information analysis as the foundation, Mr. Chan Kung has outstanding achievements in the field of public policy research. In geopolitics, he introduced "new space theory", and in the field of finance and industry, he put forward the idea of geo-capitalism and excessive capital. His book Crisis Triangle has been widely endorsed and supported by scholars in the field of urban issues. In addition, Mr. Chan Kung was also the first scholar who predicted the emergence of U.S.-China trade conflict. His Pedestrian-Oriented Development (POD) theory in the field of urban research is now increasingly becoming the theoretical guideline of urban renewal in China. Mr. Chan Kung’s highly strategic and forward-looking views and thoughts have received wide attention from the society, and he is respected for his accuracy in forecasting. Chan Kung is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.