24th February 2023 – One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the relationship between Russia and China has remained relatively stable despite international condemnation of Russia’s actions. A joint statement was issued by the leaders of Russia and China prior to the invasion, declaring an “unlimited” and unrestricted friendship between the two countries. Trade between the two nations reached a record high last year, with China emerging as the largest buyer of Russian oil. Despite Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine, China’s position on Russia has remained mostly neutral, avoiding taking a firm stance on either side. However, experts point to a shift in China’s stance, as Beijing pushes for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. China has refrained from accusing Russia of instigating the war and instead seeks to offer “Chinese wisdom” for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, while also ensuring that Russia does not lose, as this would leave China isolated against a united West.

Several Western media outlets have pointed fingers at China, despite the country not being involved in nor the instigator of the conflict in Ukraine. These media outlets have been spreading the “China’s special responsibility” theory, with some even suggesting that China may be content with the conflict continuing. The toxic environment created by these media outlets has made it difficult to comprehend the true nature of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, China has taken a proactive stance on promoting peace talks, providing humanitarian aid, and abstaining from any geopolitical aspirations.

While the world’s attention remains on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it is crucial to acknowledge that there are more than 30 military conflicts and wars taking place across the globe. In light of this, the pursuit of peace and development requires a reevaluation and adjustment of societal values. It is now incumbent on the international community to work collaboratively and put an end to the ongoing conflict.

The Current Relationship Between China and Russia

Although the Ukraine crisis has strained relations between Russia and the West, China’s relationship with Russia has largely remained unchanged. In fact, China has been able to gain strategic advantages from the crisis, including the acquisition of discounted oil and gas from Russia and increased influence in Central Asia. China has also become a crucial economic partner for Russia as it faces growing international isolation through sanctions and censure. However, experts warn that China’s position is not entirely secure, as the balance of power has shifted heavily in China’s favour, and Russia’s dependence on Chinese economic support continues to increase.

The Future of China-Russia Relations

While China’s relationship with Russia has been largely stable in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, experts warn that tensions may emerge if Russia continues to escalate its conflict with Ukraine. China has maintained a rhetorical commitment to its partnership with Russia but is also cautious about its relationship with Moscow. As China seeks to assert itself in the Indo-Pacific space, it is wary of being dragged into a conflict with the West. China’s strategy is to remain semi-neutral in the current crisis, offering diplomatic solutions while avoiding being seen as taking sides. However, if Russia’s actions continue to threaten China’s interests, the relationship between the two countries may be in jeopardy.

In a recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, the two sides engaged in a deep discussion regarding the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. During the meeting, Wang expressed China’s appreciation for Russia’s commitment to resolving the issue through dialogue, highlighting China’s objective and fair position in the political settlement of the crisis.

Wang further emphasised that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination has never been targeted, interfered with, or coerced by a third party. He noted that the solid political, economic, and cultural foundation of the relationship, combined with historical experience, has resulted in a calm and sober approach to international affairs.

Both sides also discussed the importance of promoting a multi-polar world and greater democracy in international relations, which aligns with the trend of the times and the aspiration of the majority of countries. Putin praised the recent 20th CPC National Congress, stating that Russia-China relations are moving towards set goals, with fruitful cooperation in various fields and coordination in multilateral organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS.

Putin emphasised the significance of strengthening solidarity and coordination in international affairs, which is critical to promoting democracy in international relations and maintaining balance and stability in the international landscape.

The meeting between China and Russia is indicative of their commitment to promoting peace and stability in the region and beyond. As the international community continues to face numerous challenges, including the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, this partnership between China and Russia may prove to be a valuable asset in addressing these global issues.

What’s Next After the Ukraine Conflict?

Most experts predict that China and Russia’s alliance will continue to grow even after the end of the war in Ukraine, as long as the current leaders remain in power.

This trend has been in motion for some time, with Russian President Vladimir Putin stating that a pivot towards Asia is a crucial part of nation-building for Russia, according to Associate Professor Sussex.

After the conflict in Ukraine, China may have opportunities to further align Russia with Chinese preferences and take part in Ukraine’s reconstruction. However, China runs the risk of becoming embroiled in Russian security traps, particularly in relation to border insecurity.

At the September 2022 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Russia is a member, China issued a “stern” warning against military adventures that could threaten Kazakhstan. This indicates that there will be boundaries drawn in the partnership, and these limits will mostly be set by Beijing rather than Moscow, predicted Associate Professor Sussex.

Assistant Professor Benjamin Ho of the China Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), on the other hand, sounded a more cautious note, stating that there is no natural alliance between Russia and China. Russia has been significantly weakened by the conflict in Ukraine, while China’s economic growth has slowed down.

Both Beijing and Moscow should seek out other partners in the world instead of relying solely on each other, said Assistant Professor Ho.

Future of China-Russia Ties

Despite these differences in opinion, it seems likely that China and Russia’s partnership will continue to grow stronger in the coming years.

China has become increasingly important to Russia as a trading partner and a counterbalance to Western influence, while Russia is an essential source of natural resources for China.

Furthermore, the two nations have been working closely together on projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to increase economic cooperation between Asia and Europe. While there may be some challenges ahead, China and Russia’s closeness is expected to persist in the long term, and the two nations are likely to continue to deepen their strategic partnership in the years to come.