China and Russia have repeated their commitment to strengthen their relationship as the White House announced the first summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin next month.
The June 16 meeting is widely seen as an olive branch from the US President to his Russian counterpart and some observers said it may be another attempt by Washington to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing.
In a phone conversation on Tuesday with President Xi Jinping’s top diplomatic aide Yang Jiechi, Putin said relations between the two countries were “the best in history” and said it was essential for the two leaders to maintain close contact, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.
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Putin made similar comments a week ago when he and Xi launched via video link a project to build four new nuclear reactors in China using Russian technology. At the same event Xi also spoke highly of their “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”.
Xinhua said Putin also pledged to work with China to preserve global strategic stability and defend multilateralism – a possible veiled reference to Washington’s drive to use its relationship with its allies to target authoritarian governments.
Yang, who was visiting Moscow for strategic and security talks, again stated China’s commitment to strengthening relations in the call with Putin, which touched on “several pressing global issues” according to the TASS news agency.
“China is ready to work with Russia to comprehensively implement the consensus reached by the two presidents and turn the high-level political mutual trust into more results from strategic coordination,” Yang said, according to Xinhua.
During his visit, Yang also co-chaired the annual bilateral strategic security consultations, a dialogue mechanism set up in 2005, along with Russian security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev on Tuesday.
Analysts noted that Beijing and Moscow are edging closer together in the face of mounting pressure from the West.
Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University, said the Geneva summit showed Washington was trying to ease tensions with Moscow.
“The Biden administration has softened its stance and tried to stabilise ties with Russia since it imposed sanctions on Moscow in April. It has become apparent that Washington will be more focused on China,” he said.
Beijing suspected that the previous US administration also wanted to drive a wedge between China and Russia, with Donald Trump making repeated efforts to readmit Moscow to the Group of 7.
Vladimir Portyakov, deputy director of the Institute of Far Eastern Affairs at the Russian Academy of Sciences, also described the Biden-Putin summit as an attempt to “slow down the Russian-Chinese rapprochement, and if successful, to pull Russia and China away from each other.”
“I hope that Moscow understands this and will not play ‘equidistant’ from Washington and Beijing. I would also like to believe that Beijing will stop considering relations with the United States as a ‘priority of priorities’ and will gradually reduce its importance in China’s foreign policy,” he said.
But Zhu said: “Both Beijing and Moscow have a growing interest in working with each other to confront the US and other Western countries. Strengthening their coordination is their best choice, and probably the only option to some extent.”
In an editorial on Wednesday, the tabloid Global Times, controlled by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, also attributed close China-Russian ties to “the US and its main allies’ suppression of the two countries”.
Artyom Lukin, an associate professor at Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University, also said both China and Russia need each other. While Moscow has increasingly leaned on Beijing economically after the Covid-19 crisis, Beijing relies on Russia when it comes to the military-strategic realm and particularly hi-end military technology.
“Moreover, the position of Russia may be crucial in the event of an increasingly likely military conflict between China and the US. Strong relations with Moscow would, at a minimum, secure China’s northern and Central Asian borders – and it cannot even be ruled out that Russia would provide direct assistance to Beijing in a Sino-US war,” he said.
Lukin said that the Geneva summit was likely to bring about some short-term normalisation in US-Russia relations, but deep-seated tensions and disagreements made a full rapprochement unlikely.
“I don’t think Washington will be seriously trying to drive a wedge between China and Russia. The people in the Biden administration are smart enough to understand it is not going to work.
“Even if they try to do that, such a policy would almost certainly fail because the Russia-China political relationship is quite robust and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” he said.
But Zhu said Moscow and Beijing were unlikely to form a full alliance. “China’s top diplomatic priority is to prevent further disengagement with the US and the West. I doubt that a strategic alliance will be in Beijing’s interests or help achieve that goal,” he said.
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