Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Getty Images
Chinese diplomats attended Ukraine peace talks in Saudi Arabia, signaling a possible rift with Russia.
While China’s attendance is notable, the country is still benefiting from its relationship with Russia.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping wants to be seen as an international stakeholder, an expert said.
China and Russia’s “no limits” friendship may be beginning to reach its limits as the war in Ukraine drags on.
China made waves this week after its diplomats attended peace talks held in Saudi Arabia where several international delegations, including Ukraine, discussed options to end the conflict in Ukraine nearly 18 months after Russia invaded.
Moscow did not participate in the summit and slammed the event as “doomed to fail.” Participants in the talks, however, saw China’s presence as a major win for Ukraine, the Financial Times reported.
“Chinese attendance in Saudi is certainly bad news for Putin, who has isolated Russia even further from its dwindling list of friends,” Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Following the talks, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi reassured his Russian counterpart that the country is still committed to being “impartial” in the conflict, telling Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the two allies are “reliable good friends and partners,” CNN reported.
But China’s attendance in Saudi comes as the country fails to give Russia the full military support Putin has requested and after China angered the Kremlin by refusing to approve a gas pipeline from Siberia that would boost the Russian economy, signaling a possible rift growing between the two.
Even if China is losing patience, however, Russia need not fret about being dumped any time soon, Miles said: The two are still in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Xi is eager to diminish the United States’s presence on the global stage and decrease the superpower’s ability to be a deciding factor in international events — an aim enthusiastically shared by Putin, making the two countries natural allies, Miles said.
“At the end of the day, Xi is still well served by having a close relationship with Russia to balance against Western pressure,” he told Insider.
But the authoritarian Chinese leader harbors a second aim that isn’t fully compatible with his US antagonism, Miles said. Xi is also seeking to increase China’s own status within the existing international order, which requires him to avoid angering Ukraine’s European allies, many of whom are key trading partners for China.
“So Xi wants to be seen as a responsible stakeholder — even as he rattles his saber towards Taiwan,” Miles said.
Tensions in the South China Sea have risen as Beijing ramped up military and political pressure over the independently-governed Taiwan in recent years.
“Thus, his heart’s not really in it, to put it mildly,” Miles said of Xi’s peaceful posturing.
Sergey Radchenko, a Cold War historian at Johns Hopkins University wrote in The New York Times last month that it would be unwise for Putin to rely too heavily on China, given the country’s historical tendency to play opposing countries against one another to its own benefit. And as Russia becomes more and more reliant on China, in an increasingly outsized way, Jinping could be laying the groundwork for a duplicitous turn down the line whenever it suits him best.