Vladimir Putin’s China Visit: Explaining Limitless Friendship – OpEd


The wheels of history took a 360-degree turn to witness Russia and China’s friendship, which existed during the turbulent initial years of the Cold War. Recently, increasing China-Russia proximity has marked the advent of a new axis in international politics. 

The origin of this axis has its roots in the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. The annexation of Crimea by Russia was vehemently criticised by the Western world. With a strong and powerful Russia on board, was construed as the beginning of a new Cold War era. China, with its anti-western rhetoric, soon became an ally of Russia, hence, a new geo-strategic equation came to the fore of the world stage. The two largest and most powerful authoritarian regimes joined hands to call for a new international order based on the principles of the UNO Charter of equality, international law, and justice. They openly discard the present International Order, dominated by the US and its western allies, which according to them, is discriminatory, unequal, and does not represent the voice of all.

The recent Russian President’s China visit on May 16 and 17, 2024, is an attempt to reinvigorate ties with China. The visit was his first foreign trip since he began his fifth term as president in March 2024. Putin has visited China 19 times since he took charge of affairs in 2000 and overall more than 40 meetings to their credit. This year, Russia and China are also celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations. “No limits friendship” and “Russian and Chinese are brothers forever” are the slogans to mark the recent bonhomie in bilateral relations. Their shared opposition to the US-led world order has given the two countries a chance to coalesce and emerge as a new power bloc in the global arena.

The bilateral relationship seems to be deeper than the sea and higher than a mountain and is evident by the statements of the top leadership. During the two-day meeting, the Chinese president welcomed Putin at his official residence, Zhongnanhai, which was an honour granted to very few foreign leaders including the former President of the USA, Barack Obama.  Myriad agreements pertaining to boosting bilateral trade, increasing the level of investment, the Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership, expanding military drills, and exporting Russian natural gas and energy to China were signed.  Russia has been witnessing isolation in the international arena ever since it attacked Ukraine in February 2022 and was hit hard by numerous sanctions imposed by western countries. China has not condemned Russian aggression on Ukraine but emerged as a pillar of support for Russia during its tough times. China has imported a huge amount of oil and natural gas from Russia, leading to bilateral trade reaching a whopping $240 billion in 2023, an all-time high for the two countries. Russia grew to become the fourth-largest trading partner of China, while China remains the largest trading partner for Russia. Talks are also underway to sign the ambitious Siberia 2 project, which would further enhance Chinese imports of Russian oil and natural gas from Siberia.

 President Putin also visited the Chinese north-eastern city of Harbin, which is also known as “Little Russia,” as Russian soldiers fought the Japanese army during World War II to protect China’s north-eastern border from Japanese attack. President Putin laid floral tribute to martyred soldiers there. He took an opportunity to inaugurate the China-Russia trade expo to further boost bilateral trade ties. He also visited the Harbin Institute of Technology, which is linked directly to the Chinese security and defence industries, implying closer Russia-China defence cooperation. It is to be noted that the US has imposed sanctions on HIT owing to its alleged “Chinese military ties.”

Russia has relied heavily on Chinese support since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022. China, in turn, has not criticised the Russian attack on Ukraine and has managed to help Russia by providing dual use machine tools and equipment necessary to produce weapons, especially drones and tanks. During the Chinese President’s Europe visit at the beginning of May 2024, French President Macron and EU Commissioner Ursula Von Dyer warned him to refrain from supplying dual-use technology to Russia. US foreign minister Blinken has labelled China the ‘top supplier’ of dual-use items to Russia with 70 percent machine tools and 90 percent electronic equipment, thus helping Russia to produce more weapons. The recent Carnegie endowment report says that China is granting $300 million of dual use technology to Russia every month. One more report from the London based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security says that Chinese are also helping by providing satellite images so as to strengthen Russian position in the battleground. This could have serious implications when the Russian president repeatedly threatens to use nuclear weapons.  Having  been badly affected by the sanctions and boycott, Russia is exporting a huge amount of oil and natural gas to China, and trade between the two countries is taking place in Ruble and Renminbi, undermining the dollar, which is the joint strategy to break the dollar monopoly.

Russia has also expressed its support for China’s 12-point peace proposal to end the conflict. More recently, Russia has also stated its willingness to end the war and come to the negotiation table. Kyiv and other western capitals had called on China to use its influence on Russia to help stop the war. China will have to play a big role in finding a political solution to the crisis. It is also trying to balance its strategic ties with Moscow and avoiding confrontation with the West amid fear of fresh US sanctions. China has no option except to adopt a moderate posture in order to procure succour from the west to revive its ailing economy. 

The Russia-China axis is the combination of two powerful authoritarian regimes, which also enjoy the support of other such regimes like North Korea and Iran. The emergence of this new axis brings new challenges to the world podium. The world is already passing through a difficult phase with the Russia-Ukraine war and the Palestine-Israel conflict. The outer space arms race is another important development among the US, Russia, and China that may have catastrophic outcomes. China and Russia are planning to establish nuclear power plants on the moon and endeavouring to jointly unfurl flags on Mars. China alleged that the USA has placed missiles in outer space, while Russia recently, vetoed a UN resolution to prevent placing nuclear weapons in space, citing reason to ban all kinds of weapons in space. All this reminds us of the age of uncertainty, leading to a question in mind, where is the world going? The world does not seem to be in a safe zone, at least for the moment.

Dr. Bhawna Pokharna

Dr. Bhawna Pokharna is a Professor of Political Science at Government Meera Girls College Udaipur Rajasthan India. She has done her Graduation and Post Graduation from Mohan Lal Sukhadia University Udaipur, Rajasthan India. She was awarded Gold Medal in Post Graduation. She was awarded Ph D on India - China Relations in the year 2001. She has 26 years of teaching and research experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *