Is China Benefiting from the Broken Peace in Ukraine?
The Moscow summit between the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was described as a visit that may change the world order by many international media. Xi’s visit came at a time of great need for isolated Putin, but the rest of the world remains puzzled about precisely how far China will go in supporting Russia in its horrific war in Ukraine.
While China demonstrates a willingness to maintain the status quo in its relationship with its biggest nuclear neighbour, Xi has still not provided a straightforward answer on exactly what kind of support is on offer, beyond deepening bilateral trade ties and elusively worded further coordination in international affairs. Nor is there a clear next step for Beijing’s “peace plan” until a call between Xi and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, takes place.
Judging from the joint communique issued by the two leaders, Beijing rehashed a call for political settlement on Ukraine. But the document offers little detail on how Kyiv and Moscow can reach that without military withdrawal by Russia.
The communique also tellingly omits any inclusion of the previously touted phrase of a “no limits” partnership with Russia, first referred to in January 2021. Instead, Xi stressed a relationship based on “no-alliance, no-confrontation and no-targeting against any third parties”. The removal of the no limits partnership almost certainly displays a new sense of agonising on Beijing’s bilateral ties with Moscow.
Putin’s mistaken gamble that the law of the jungle would prevail for his invasion ended when an international criminal court arrest warrant was issued. It would be unwise for Beijing to involve itself further, putting at risk its own nascent efforts to rehabilitate ties with major European economies. Russia, on the other hand, has been keen to exploit China’s ambivalence by presenting Xi’s visit as Beijing’s full endorsement of the invasion, and proving Putin still has friends in high places.