China’s cautious silence on Russia policy since the beginning of the Ukraine war has been moving towards cautious cooperation since the two leaders spoke on the phone on June 15. China is aware that the economic sanctions Russia is facing could one day be applied to it and is seeking to take preventive measures against it.
According to reports on the meeting between Xi Jinping and Putin, the two countries want to develop their relations in the fields of energy, finance, industry and transport. They also discussed the development of military cooperation and “the deteriorating economic situation around the world due to the West’s illegal sanctions,” according to a Kremlin statement.
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Military cooperation between the two countries has a history. China has received help from Russia to modernize its military and this cooperation is still ongoing. China is drawing on Russia’s experience in guerrilla warfare in the event of an invasion of Taiwan. This is not new information for the West.
One of the most important reasons for China’s new rapprochement with Russia is the problematic situation with its neighbors. China has territorial or continental shelf disputes with 15 of its neighbors. These problems, especially Taiwan, can evolve into a war at any time. A partner like Russia, which is both experienced in invasions and has confronted the Western world, can always come in handy.
Another issue that China is worried about is the unions and initiatives against it. The US is also supporting these formations. Biden reiterated this support during his last visit to the region. The newly established Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) is an organization created entirely to break China’s power in this region. IPEF, of which countries such as India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Brunei, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore are members, is not only a balancing power against China but also a serious political rival.
The IPEF’s first objective is to develop projects to counter China’s Silk Road project. Since 2013, China has been extending loans under the Silk Road project that are very difficult to repay and has built political influence in the countries to which it has extended loans. When the loans for the projects cannot be repaid, China acquires the rights to operate these projects and becomes a permanent power in these regions.
Another factor driving China to cooperate with Russia is the Zero Covid strategy that Xi Jinping wants to implement at all costs. This obsession has plunged China into an economic crisis. According to May data, the youth unemployment rate in China has reached 18.4 percent.
With costs rising, China is losing its position as a cheap production center. Many companies have shifted their production centers to Vietnam and Cambodia. Japan and Taiwan have also started to produce in their own countries what they used to produce in China.
Russia, whose economy is not even the size of the Netherlands and Belgium combined, does not actually have a significant commercial attraction for China. Although cheap gas and oil and Russia’s unprocessed minerals could be an economic opportunity for China, Russia is more important as a military and political partner. This potential is reason enough for concern.