China still hasn't condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, almost a year after its launch, and you shouldn't expect her to, nor that it initiates a distancing vis-à-vis its “strategic partner”. Conversely, it is to be expected that it will condemn more than ever the positions and actions of the United States and its allies. Déjà, the 30 January, at a regular press conference, Mao Ning, one of the spokespersons of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused the United States of being “the ones who started the crisis in Ukraine” and who contribute in the first place to “prolonging and intensifying the conflict”, by sending weapons to Ukraine. “If the United States really wants an end to this crisis and cares about the lives of the Ukrainian people, then they should stop delivering arms and profiting from the conflict”, had she concluded.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the United States continues to be accused by China of adding fuel to the fire. From March 2022, Chinese propaganda has largely taken up Russian conspiracy theories on the presence on Ukrainian soil of an American laboratory producing biochemical weapons, as well as elements of Russian language on NATO provocations that would legitimize Russian actions.
As accusations against Washington and the wider “West” mount, China-Russia relations have been consolidating rapidly over the past year. The ambitious joint declaration of the 4 february 2022, signed on the sidelines of Vladimir Putin's visit to Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics, has not been challenged, far from there. “The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era has matured and grown in resilience,” Xi Jinping said on Monday. 31 december, during a remote exchange with Vladimir Putin. Fact, energy cooperation has been greatly strengthened since the beginning of the war. Russia is now, since may 2022, China's largest oil supplier.
And Russian gas exports to China are expected to increase gradually in the coming years.. Last September, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, the Russian energy minister announced the construction of a new “Siberian Force 2” gas pipeline between Russia and China, which should start in 2024 and end in 2030, and which would allow Moscow to redirect its gas deliveries to the east. This gas pipeline, who could deliver 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year, will be added to the one already in operation since 2019, "Siberian Force 1", which should gradually increase its deliveries to wait 20 billion cubic meters each year.
Moreover, China begins to pay for Russian gas in rubles and yuan. The Russian gas giant Gazprom notably signed, in September 2022, an agreement to start converting payments for gas deliveries to China into local currencies, a way to break free from the dollar. In addition to energy, bilateral trade has also increased in other sectors. According to figures from Chinese customs published in mid-January, the total volume of trade between the two countries increased in 2022 close to 30% over a year, compared to 2021.
If Russia mainly supplies energy resources to China (close to 70% of its exports to China), it also exports an increasing volume of agricultural products to it. On his side, China exports growing volume of tech products to Russia, including semiconductors, despite existing sanctions. In December, China and Russia jointly conducted new naval maneuvers in the East China Sea, following on from the numerous joint military exercises organized over the past decade (in Mediterranean seas, Baltic, of southern China or Siberia).
Fin 2022, Chinese diplomacy has launched a seduction offensive aimed at the European Union and several of its member states – an offensive that is still ongoing. China has said it is particularly ready to strengthen its ties with France, trying to capitalize on the meeting between the Chinese resident and his French counterpart, during the G20 in Bali. But when it comes to the Ukrainian file, China's position remains the same (no condemnation from Russia) and major differences of opinion, right down to the characterization of the facts (systematic refusal to speak of "war" or "invasion", diplomacy speaks instead of "Ukrainian crisis").
Chinese diplomacy seems to consider that it is possible to restore the relationship with its European partners without adjusting its position vis-à-vis Russia, even without addressing the Ukrainian file. This offensive of seduction can appear not only illusory but also superficial, given the differences in positions but also in deep perceptions. In reality, the European Union and its Member States, especially those who send arms to kyiv, are perceived in Beijing as "lackeys of the United States", according to the Maoist rhetoric employed with greater vigor over the past four years by Chinese diplomacy.
European diplomacy, For its part, seems to consider that it is able to bring China to adjust its position vis-à-vis Russia, given the weight of EU-China trade (China has become the European Union's largest trading partner in 2020, ahead of the United States). During his visit to China last December, European Council President Charles Michel had urged Xi Jinping “to use his influence on Russia so that it respects the United Nations Charter”, as EU representatives had already done at the EU-China summit in April 2022. A summit that had become a “dialogue of the deaf”, according to the expression used by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Commission for External Affairs and Security Policy. So far, trade has not been able to soften the morals.
During their online exchange of 31 december 2022, Xi Jinping told Vladimir Putin : “China is ready to join Russia and all other progressive forces in the world who oppose hegemonism and power politics., to reject any unilateralism, protectionism and bullying (…)». And the Chinese president could travel to Moscow for a state visit in the spring, in response to Vladimir Putin's invitation to him in December. In parallel, tensions with the United States, the common enemy, are getting stronger every day – evidenced by the cancellation of the visit of the head of American diplomacy to China a few days ago.
Over the past decade, Sino-Russian rapprochement has been underestimated : it has often been qualified – from 2014 – of simple pragmatic and temporary “marriage of convenience”, too unbalanced to last. We are now talking about the economic “vassalization” of Russia by China, which would be just as untenable. Betting on the limits of Sino-Russian rapprochement is risky. Taking full note of the structuring antagonisms and the solidarity of authoritarianisms would, on the other hand, make it possible to avoid wasting time..