“There have been many faultlines in the relationship between Russia and China, especially after the Sino-Soviet split.” However, after the Russo-Ukraine war, Moscow is very much weakened, and using this, China can counter the western block by establishing a new international world order with the key feature of authoritarianism.
Moscow had announced a military operation that has turned out to be a full-scale invasion. No one had anticipated that the war in Ukraine would prolong to this extent. The Kremlin has attacked major cities in Ukraine and also faced retaliation from the Ukrainian side. Following this attack, the US Treasury announced unprecedented sanctions against Moscow, imposing a swift and severe economic cost. This has crashed the Russian banks, and the oligarch’s assets in the US have been captured and grounded, crippling the Russian economy. The US-imposed sanctions can drive Moscow closer to Beijing and change the global order and financial system.
Recently, US officials stated that Russia has asked China for military and economic aid for the Ukraine war. In the winter Olympics, Xi invited Putin to China on the 4th of February 2022, 20 days before the military action, giving a clear signal of closeness between Moscow and China even before the conflict. Here, a joint statement was given by the Russian Federation and the PRC regarding international relations entering a new era and that “the friendship between two states has no limits; there are no forbidden areas of cooperation.” This clearly indicates their closeness before the Russian aggression towards Ukrainian territory. China had also criticised NATO and blamed Washington for the cause of the conflict in the first place.
China has been helping the Kremlin not militarily but rather economically. Firstly, Putin had hailed about $117.5 billion in China deals as Moscow squared off with the west. President Vladimir Putin revealed Russian oil and gas deals with China worth an estimated $117.5 billion, promising to ramp up Russia’s Far East exports at a time of heightened tension with European customers over Ukraine. Russia, already China’s third-largest gas supplier, will thus be able to keep increasing exports to China over the next quarter of a century. Further, Russian oil giant Rosneft and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) extended an existing deal to supply 100 million tones of oil over the next 10 years.
Secondly, after the US imposed sanctions, China supported the Kremlin by lifting restrictions on Russian wheat imports, a move that could address food security concerns in the world’s second-largest economy and ease the impact of Western sanctions on Russia. According to experts, it benefits both nations. At a time when world food prices are already very close to 10-year highs, it aids Beijing in securing food supplies. Additionally, the pact gives Russia a reliable customer at a time when exports to other nations may be hampered by financial penalties.
Thirdly, Russian banks switched to Chinese UnionPay after Visa and Mastercard suspended their operations. Its announcement came after U.S. payments firms Visa Inc. (V.N.) and Mastercard Inc. said they were suspending operations in Russia. These factors give a clear signal of increasing closeness in the Moscow Beijing’s cooperation and the sanctions imposed by the USA have somehow pushed Russia closer to China.
After the end of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, it is certain that the Russian economy will be weakened and dependent on China to a large extent. There is a possibility that Beijing can use Moscow as a counterweight to the Western bloc and create a new international order with features opposite to liberalism. If a new world order comes into being, then the authoritarianism will be one of its features.
There is quite a possibility for this to happen; why? because China is already aggressive towards the South China Sea and has asserted its sovereignty claims. China has fully militarised at least three of the several islands it built in the disputed South China Sea, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and fighter jets in an increasingly aggressive manner. These islands would expand the offensive capability of the PRC beyond their continental shores. China is already dominating the first chain of islands in the region, threatening US regional hegemony. However, it shows the indirect competition between Beijing and Washington.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter what the outcome of Russian aggression against Ukraine would be; it is certain that Moscow would be closer to China, and Russia, a huge territory with one foot in the European Union and the other towards the United States, would have its control in the hands of China. This will make China a proponent of a new international order with key features of authoritarianism and autocracy in opposition to liberalism and democracy.
Fahad Ali Jamali is an independent researcher and graduate in international affairs from University of Balochistan, Pakistan. His areas of expertise are Crisis management, European Affairs, International War, International World Order, Peace and security. He can be reached at [email protected]