China’s Tacit Approval of Moscow’s Ukraine Policy

Since Moscow initiated military operations in Ukraine in February 2014, China has seemingly adopted an ambiguous stance as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and destabilization of southeastern Ukraine evoked international condemnation. During the past year, Beijing and Moscow strengthened their strategic partnership by deepening economic ties and enhancing bilateral military cooperation. China’s comparative silence on the Ukraine crisis has given way to unusually blunt remarks from a Chinese diplomat in Brussels who recently expressed tacit support for Moscow (UNIAN, February 27). Such remarks and the continued dynamic growth of Sino-Russian relations contradict efforts by the United States and the European Union to diplomatically and economically isolate Russia. Moreover, they leave open the question as to whether Beijing and Moscow are forming a de facto military alliance.

Russian assessments are mixed on issues of the growth of Sino-Russian relations toward some form of alliance or on possible support for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Most Russian experts see the former principally driven by economic factors and the latter as more complex—though some level of Chinese backing for Russia is commonly assumed. In terms of economic cooperation, the underlying message coming out of Moscow is “business as usual,” with no indication that Beijing’s policies toward Russia are impacted by events in Ukraine. Russian specialists on China openly declare that economic ties form the long-term basis of the bilateral relationship, and this also feeds into cooperation in multilateral forums such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) or BRICS (loose political grouping of rising economies Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Bilateral trade is increasing, while the May 2014 energy deal agreeing to supply 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian natural gas annually to China over 30 years for $400 billion set a new record. Military cooperation is also growing, but has its limits, with Moscow traditionally proving reluctant to supply more high-technology items to Beijing (, March 4).

In these varied Russian assessments of the development of bilateral ties with China during the past year, a complex and balanced picture emerges tying this relationship primarily to economic cooperation. But the Ukraine crisis has de facto pushed Russia closer to China while the latter has avoided at crucial points any clear condemnation of Russia’s actions. The remarks by China’s ambassador to Belgium add an extra dimension to this narrative. Moscow clearly fails to perceive itself to be “isolated” by the West’s reaction to the crisis, which may be linked to Russia’s close ties with its Asian partner.

Full article: China’s Tacit Approval of Moscow’s Ukraine Policy (Jamestown Foundation)

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