Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Russia this weekend, visiting his friend Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany. When they weren’t sitting side by side observing the lavish celebrations of that bittersweet victory, the two leaders were busy signing dozens of new agreements. The Atlantic has more:
As Russia’s relationship with the United States and its European allies grows worse, its ties to China have never been closer. On the eve of the parade last Friday, the two countries announced 32 separate bilateral agreements, including a non-aggression pledge in cyber warfare. The deals complement a $400 billion deal made last May, when Russia agreed to ship 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year between 2018 and 2048 to China. And next week, Russian and Chinese naval vessels will conduct live drills in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
It’s true that the countries seem to be getting closer. Xi is more than willing to play guest of honor at Putin’s big Victory Day Parade, and the two presidents seemed happy as clams discussing the hypocrisies of the West and not-so-coyly decrying any unnamed country that, they say, seeks to establish and maintain a “unipolar world.”
But there’s a world of difference between a rising revisionist power like China and a weak one like Russia, even if the latter has been punching above it’s weight lately. And the fact that these two countries have a common enemy isn’t enough to bring them truly together.
Notably, the deals signed at this weekend’s Xi-Putin lovefest didn’t do anything to get Putin what he must really want most: substantive change in the status quo on the two countries’ enormous energy trade. The terms and prices of the most important Russia-China deals we’ve seen since Moscow started it’s increasingly stark break with the international community have largely reflected the facts about each country’s relative bargaining position. Namely: Beijing needs to secure a steady flow of affordable gas and oil into China, but not as much as Moscow needs to secure a steady flow out of Russia.
China has not been restrained about driving hard bargains with a Russia that is light on geopolitical friends and potential trading partners for its all-important state energy industry. So as friendly as Putin and Xi may look, as far as we’ve seen this relationship is a story of Chinese opportunism, not largesse.