China Is Becoming The Big Brother In Its Friendship With Russia

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Forumlar Majmuasi Complex in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept. 15, 2022. Photo credit: Xinhua/Ju Peng

PRESIDENT XI JINPING and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have had their much-anticipated tete-a-tete on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Samarkand.

Like everyone else not in the room, this Bystander is scrambling for crumbs from the conversation. There is precious little of substance in the public reports of the meeting.

According to Xinhua, Xi told Putin that China is ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests. Other boilerplate text is available, although none that mentions Ukraine.

Unexpectedly Putin, before the meeting, acknowledged that China had (unspecified) questions and concerns over Ukraine but then picked up the pre-prepared script by thanking China for its ‘balanced position’ — a phrase we heard earlier in the week from the Kremlin — and saying that the US attempts to create a unipolar world would fail.

Both the Chinese and Russian readouts of the meeting mentioned Putin’s expression of support for the ‘One-China’ principle — the legerdemain Beijing and Washington devised for their relationship over Taiwan that Beijing now seems to be seeking to elevate into a universal principle.

However, Putin’s need to mention it points to how the balance of power in the Russia-China ‘no limits’ friendship is titling in Beijing’s favour. That is not to say that China is not offering Russia assistance, but it is becoming the ‘Big Brother’ and so gets first pick in setting the terms.

Those involve increasing flows of cut-price Russian energy eastward, but not so much by way of Chinese technology or investment going in the opposite direction, and certainly not any visible flows of military equipment or supplies.

If Putin had harboured any expectations of receiving an endorsement from Xi of his invasion of Ukraine — and the way the Kremlin has been rowing back from some fulsome comments about Chinese assistance suggests he did not — then meeting amid the disparate scrum of leaders attending the SCO summit gave Xi a perfect excuse not to offer one.

Meanwhile, Xi could get on with the task of deepening China’s infrastructure and energy ties to Central Asia, thus further chipping away at Russia’s historic sway in the region.

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Filed under China-Central Asia, China-Russia

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