As Russia raises nuclear specter in Ukraine, China looks the other way | CNN

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When Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan last week, his mood was markedly different from the triumphant meeting in Beijing, just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Their “no limits” friendship was announced on the opening day of the Winter Olympics. Instead, Putin Admitted that Beijing has “questions and concerns”. In a subtle nod to the limits of China’s backing and the growing imbalance in their relationship, it is about its weak offensive.

Xi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, observed that in the Chinese readout of the meeting, Xi did not even refer to much of a “strategic partnership” between Beijing and Moscow. Xi said it was “the most sensible, or least important statement in years” issued by Xi on their strategic relationship.

The change in tone is not surprising given Russia’s humiliating battlefield defeats, which have exposed Putin’s vulnerability to friends and foes alike. The setbacks also come at a bad time for XI, who are just weeks away from trying to break the norm for a third term in a key political session.

Under Xi Jinping, China has developed closer ties with Russia than ever before. Already facing domestic problems from a sluggish economy and its relentless zero-covid policy, XI needed a projection of strength rather than weakness in its personally endorsed strategic alliance.

Six days later, in a desperate escalation of a devastating war, Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens in a televised speech, and even raised the specter of using nuclear weapons.

It is not known whether Putin discussed his planned escalation with Xi during their latest talks, as it is an open question whether Putin told Xi about his plans when they last met in Beijing. Told about the attack.

To some Chinese analysts, Putin’s failures and escalation of the war have given China an opportunity to lean away from Russia — a subtle shift that began with Xi’s meeting with Putin.

At Renmin University, Xi said China had no choice but to distance itself from Putin because of the escalation of war, his aggression and annexation, and the renewed threat of nuclear war.

“China does not want to fight this reckless friend. What his fate may be on the battlefield is not a business that China manages.

But others are more skeptical. Putin’s open acknowledgment of Beijing’s misgivings does not signal a rift between the two diplomatic allies. Instead, it could be a way for China to gain some diplomatic wiggle room, especially given how Russia has its The tacit support has damaged Beijing’s image in Europe.

“My impression was that Beijing just wanted a little piece of daylight between China and Russia, but I think a lot of people over-interpreted that,” he said. “I think it was more for a European audience.”

“For China’s long-term interests, they have to keep Russia on board,” Fallon added.

The two authoritarian powers are strategically aligned in their attempt to balance the West. Both leaders share a deep suspicion and hostility toward the United States, which they believe is bent on suppressing China and Russia. they also Share a vision for a new world order – One that better accommodates the interests of their nations and is no longer dominated by the West.

A few days after the meeting between Xi and Putin, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Petroshev and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi held security talks in the southern Chinese province of Fujian, and implemented the “consensus” reached by their leaders. Expressed determination to wear clothes. Deepen their strategic coordination. And More military cooperation.

According to Putin, the two countries are trying to deepen economic ties, with bilateral trade expected to reach $200 billion in the near future.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a big divergence between Russia and China,” said Brian Hart, a fellow at the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I see this as a continuation of China trying to walk its very thin line on Russia and ensure that it continues to support Russia to the extent that it does not violate its own interests. Is.”

Until now, Beijing has carefully avoided actions that would violate Western sanctions, such as providing direct military aid to Moscow. But it has offered a lifeline to the battered Russian economy by ramping up its fuel and energy purchases – at a bargain price. China imports Russian coal in August A 57 percent increase It also imports crude oil, at a five-year high, from the same period last year. A 28 percent increase from a year ago.

After Putin invoked military reservations about joining the war in Ukraine, Beijing has continued to walk a fine line by reiterating its long-standing position to negotiate a resolution to the conflict.

At a news briefing on Wednesday, when asked about Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman shrugged off the question.

“China’s position on the Ukraine crisis has been consistent and clear,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin. “We call on the relevant parties to achieve a ceasefire through dialogue and negotiation, and to find a solution that meets the security concerns of all parties as soon as possible.”

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

According to Chinese Readout, Wang stressed that China will “maintain its objective and neutral position” on the Ukraine issue and continue to “push for peace talks”.

But this “neutral position” was given in the evening’s primary newscast on China’s state broadcaster CCTV, the most-watched news program in China.

After a scathing report on Putin’s “partial mobilization” – without any mention of the protests in Russia or international condemnation, the program quoted an international observer who called the “conflict between Russia and Ukraine “Continuing” was blamed on the United States.

Conflicts between Russia and Ukraine should be resolved through dialogue. But the US continues to supply weapons to Ukraine, making it impossible to end the conflict, and the situation worsens,” a former national defense adviser in Timor-Leste was shown saying.

“The embargoes caused by the conflict have had repercussions all over the world… Oil prices in Timor-Leste have gone up too much. We are also suffering the consequences.”

The comments echo the Russian narrative that Chinese officials and state media have been promoting for months that the United States has pushed NATO to Russia’s doorstep, provoking war, and forcing Moscow into a corner.

Hart, with CSIS, said a key factor in the strategic alignment between Russia and China is the perception of threats by the United States.

“As long as this variation persists, as long as Beijing is concerned about the United States, I think it will continue to strengthen ties with Russia,” he said.

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