China foreign politician Wang in Moscow: On the handshake in the Kremlin

China foreign politician Wang in Moscow: On the handshake in the Kremlin

Wang and Putin celebrate their relationship. The friendly visit from Beijing makes the Ukraine peace initiative seem even more implausible.

Vladimir Putin enters the conference room with a smile and open arms

Great joy at welcoming Chinese foreign politician Wang Yi to Moscow Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/imago

BEIJING taz | The appearance left no doubt: when China’s leading foreign politician Wang Yi met the Russian President, the mood was demonstratively exuberant. The small oval table, at which the two took a seat after a warm handshake, is extremely intimate by Vladimir Putin’s standards. And rhetorically, too, they were emphatically friendly. Putin hailed the bilateral relationship as reaching “new frontiers”. Wang also said that the “comprehensive strategic partnership will be further strengthened”.

The top Chinese diplomat’s visit to Moscow, which also serves as a prelude to a planned summit between President Xi Jinping and Putin, has reiterated that China has not changed its dual – and also contradictory – position: In the West, they present themselves as a “neutral mediator” and “peace-loving nation”, while in the Kremlin they celebrate “solid” friendship. “So basically, China is trying to dance at two weddings at the same time,” Evan Feigenbaum, vice president of Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, summarizes in a recent podcast.

At least one thing has to be said about the Chinese position: it has been consistent since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. In its deliberations, the government is driven solely by its own interests. At the strategic level, it supports Russia; for example, with Chinese government officials taking over the propaganda from the Kremlin and even actively spreading its disinformation campaigns. In return, you can be paid for with energy supplies on favorable terms. Oil exports from Russia to China recently reached a record high in January. And trade relations could break the $200 billion mark in the current calendar year, which would represent an increase of almost 10 percent.

So far, Beijing has not let through even tentative criticism of Putin. Wang Yi’s visit to Moscow hasn’t changed that. So far, the only red line that Xi Jinping has drawn can be described as the minimum level of decency: neither the use of nuclear weapons nor the threat of them will be tolerated. Otherwise, in the Chinese state media universe, only one party is to blame for the war: the United States.

China could benefit from its current status

Putin’s suspension of the “New Start” treaty was only indirectly criticized in Beijing. The State Department said on Wednesday that the “last remaining arms control treaty between the US and Russia is of great importance for maintaining global stability.” It is hoped that the “differences” between the US and Russia in this regard can be resolved through dialogue “to ensure smooth implementation of the treaty.”

All of these are not good conditions for a world power that is still cocky during the Munich Security Conference has announced a “position paper” on the Ukraine war, which is intended to bring China into play as a diplomatic mediator. Here, too, it is probably primarily a matter of the country’s own interests: one sees an opportunity to present oneself as a responsible state power. However, China will never distance itself from Putin, the aggressor of the war.

Chinese experts are speaking up more and more openly, and in their analyzes they come to the conclusion that the Middle Kingdom is definitely benefiting from the current status quo. “I truly believe that the Asian century has already arrived. International geopolitics is shifting to East Asia, and the war in Ukraine is only an accelerator,” Zhou Bo, a retired colonel of the People’s Liberation Army, recently said on Indian television.

His assumption, common among the Chinese elite, implies that the political West is declining. Brussels and Washington are therefore also more isolated than they assume: Most of the large countries in the Global South, including India, took a pro-Russian stance similar to that of China in the Ukraine war.

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