Precisely how far China will go in supporting Russia has been one of the most important questions of the war in Ukraine – and Xi Jinping will have to answer it following his three-day visit.
Judging by yesterday’s informal meeting between Xi and Vladimir Putin, the two sides exchanged all kinds of diplomatic niceties. While Xi re-emphasized China’s ties with Russia as “no-alliance, no-confrontation and not targeting any third party”, there appears to have been very little military discussions.
China’s foreign policy has always been shaped by interests rather than values. Even when it comes to Russia, the two countries’ bond is based mainly on shared resentment of US hegemony. By deepening their bilateral cooperation in recent years, they have been able to achieve a level of great-power status with which to counterbalance America.
Xi’s goal for this trip is to preserve the status quo with Russia, not to move an inch closer or pave the way for new cooperation.
Russia’s war has left the West more firmly united than it has been in years. And as China’s relations with the US have reached new lows, Chinese leaders want to avoid alienating the EU, which is one of the country’s biggest trading partners.
China also made strenuous efforts to avoid taking explicit sides. By all means, the war in Ukraine is not China’s conflict. As a result, an unconfirmed phone call between Xi and President Zelensky might prove necessary to seek that precarious balance.
The war in Ukraine continues to test China’s ability to navigate a thorny patch of conflicting interests and rapidly changing sentiments.