After the China-Russia summit

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 3 Jan 2023

The China-Russia summit meeting at the end of December ushered in a new year of high-stakes interactions between the world’s great powers, writes Hussein Haridy


Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin convened their third summit meeting of the year by video conference on 30 December of what had been a tumultuous year in international relations.

The year had seen the foundation of a new strategic pact between Beijing and Moscow when the Chinese and Russian leaders met in Moscow in the Chinese capital on 4 February.

The joint declaration released on this occasion spoke of the launch of a new pact between the two powers that would have no “limits”, whatever the long-term strategic implications of this formulation mean in concrete terms.

Obviously, the fact that these two powers have been strengthening their bilateral cooperation reflects a joint effort to counter-balance the US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in the world at large, in a confrontation intended to determine which great power will have the upper hand in a changing international system.

The second in-person China-Russia summit took place in September. The Russian “special military operations” launched in Ukraine 20 days after the 4 February Beijing summit took the Chinese by surprise and became a major cause of concern for the Chinese government.

Needless to say, the pact between China and Russia represented an immediate and serious security challenge for the US and its allies and strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. 

In a move to marshal support for the US strategy of promoting military and security cooperation among US allies in the two regions, US President Joe Biden made his first Asian tour in May, during which he visited South Korea and Japan. 

The visits centred around security and military cooperation through a trilateral alliance that aimed at countering China directly and through the setting up of a string of US-inspired and led alliances of a military nature that aimed at countering it indirectly and at countering the China-Russia pact of February 2022.

The tensions, political and military, between the US and China over Taiwan in the light of the visit by Nancy Pelosi, the then speaker of the US House of Representatives, to Taipei in August should be seen in this context. Moreover, the change of tone of the US declarations in defence of Taiwan’s territorial integrity and in opposition to any unilateral changes in the status of the island state, thus blurring the principle of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, has been linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The US message to both Beijing and Moscow is that the US is willing and, more importantly, capable of meeting the new pact between China and Russia in both the European and Pacific theatres. Furthermore, the message is a sort of deterrent to Beijing in case, hypothetical at best for the foreseeable future, the Chinese military tries to take Taiwan by force.

The Russian war against Ukraine, now in its 11th month and without the prospect of a clear military victory for Russia, has become a drag on the pact between China and Russia. The former does not want to lend military support, or visible or substantial economic support, to Moscow lest its relations with the US suffer unnecessarily. Nor is Beijing comfortable with Russia’s insinuation of a possible resort to nuclear weapons to impose its will on Ukraine.

In their summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 14 November, Xi and Biden saw eye-to-eye in this respect. Moreover, the Chinese leader, while abstaining from lending unqualified support for Russia, expressed his willingness to push for a peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine. It is significant to note that he repeated the same message to Putin in their virtual summit on 30 December.

It is to be hoped that the West and Russia will encourage China to play a prominent role in pushing for a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine.

 It will be interesting to see how the interactions between China, the US, and Russia unfold in 2023. International peace and security will largely depend on the path these interactions will tread.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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