Is the China-Russia summit a sign of ramped-up cooperation against the US?

Posted on : 2021-12-16 16:47 KST Modified on : 2021-12-16 16:47 KST
The summit came just weeks after both Russia and China held individual summits with the US
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Chinese leader Xi Jinping during a virtual summit held on Wednesday afternoon. (TASS/Yonhap News)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Chinese leader Xi Jinping during a virtual summit held on Wednesday afternoon. (TASS/Yonhap News)

The video summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday afternoon kicked off warmly with an exchange of compliments. Putin praised the relationship between the two countries as a “model of cooperation” in the 21st century, while Xi thanked Russia for its support for China’s efforts to uphold “key interests.”

Meeting shortly after the US targeted both countries with its Summit for Democracy on Dec. 9–10, the two leaders appear to have explored possible responses and ideas for cooperation against the US on the “two front lines” of Taiwan and Ukraine during their summit that day.

According to reports by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency and other foreign news outlets, Xi and Putin demonstrated their closeness by exchanging waves as the summit began on Wednesday afternoon.

In his opening remarks, Xi noted that “China-Russia relations have withstood the trials” of the turbulent times and demonstrated “new vitality.” Putin stated the two sides had “created a new model of cooperation where we respect one another’s interests without interfering in each other’s internal affairs.”

Putin also noted that China and Russia “invariably support each other on issues of international sports cooperation, including rejection of any attempts to politicize sports and the Olympic movement.” He went on to declare plans to meet with Xi before attending the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A still from Xinhua’s coverage of the summit.
A still from Xinhua’s coverage of the summit.

Their summit Wednesday drew particular attention for coming so soon after the US-China summit on Nov. 15 and the US-Russia summit on Dec. 7.

With China’s rise entering full swing in the mid-2010s and the Ukraine situation erupting in 2014, China and Russia have shown solidarity against the US whenever key issues have arisen. In a June 2019 summit, they exchanged opinions and explored a joint response to the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal; in a late August 2021 conference call, they did the same for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

During their latest summit, they appear to have exchanged views on a wide range of areas including their response to the Summit for Democracy, the situation in Ukraine — which has sparked rumors of war erupting early next year — and the Taiwan issue, which China views as a “key interest.”

Indeed, Xi decried “certain international forces” that “under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia, and brutally trampling on international law and recognized norms of international relations.”

Xinhua quoted Xi as saying, “efforts must be made to firmly reject hegemonic acts and the Cold War mentality under the disguise of ‘multilateralism’ and ‘rules.’”

Putin expressed Russia’s “staunch support for China’s legitimate position on Taiwan-related issues,” adding that it would “firmly oppose any force using the Taiwan issue as an excuse to harm China’s interests.”

He went on to say, “I resolutely oppose the forming of any ‘small fences’ in the Asia-Pacific region and hope to increase communication with China to protect the true democratic rights of our countries.”

The question on observers’ minds is whether China and Russia reached any concrete agreement on their plans for coordinating against the US.

Shortly after the US and NATO held their Global Thunder strategic weapons exercise, China and Russia held a defense ministers’ meeting via videoconference on Nov. 23, where they reached an agreement to step up their military cooperation. This led some analysts to observe that the two countries were “approaching a military alliance.”

In 2001, China and Russia concluded their Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, which they renewed when it marked its 20th anniversary last June. At present, they are not allies bound by mutual defense obligations.

By Jung In-hwan, Beijing correspondent

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