Russian President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping held a video conference on December 15, 2021. In the published remarks the two leaders were buoyant about the level of cooperation that had been achieved, and the high ambitions that they had to further develop the relationship. Vladimir Putin said:
"This year Russia-China relations have been dominated by the 20th anniversary of the Treaty on Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation. It has been extended for another five years. The consistent implementation of this fundamental document, which comprehensively reflects the deep historical traditions of friendship and mutual understanding between the Russian and Chinese people, has helped us to take our relations to an unprecedentedly high level.
"A new model of cooperation has developed between our countries, a model based, in part, on the principles of non-interference in each other’s affairs and mutual resolve to turn our common border into a belt of eternal peace and good-neighborliness...
"I would like to note that we invariably support each other in every aspect of international sports cooperation, including in condemning any attempts to politicize sports and the Olympic movement. I have no doubt that the upcoming Winter Games will be held at the highest level. They know how to do things in China."
Xi responded: "Our countries are acting as responsible powers should. They are advocating a unifying international agenda against the pandemic and upholding the true essence of democracy and human rights, which makes them a real stronghold of multilateralism and a defender of international justice and equality...
"Next year we will hold the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China, which is a big event for our country. And Russia will enter the main phase of its development program through to 2030. Our countries should exchange and share the opportunity to openly promote the implementation of the global development agenda, thereby setting an example of a new type of international relations and the community, of a common destiny for humanity."
Putin, as can be seen from the above, supported China against the West's diplomatic boycott of China's Winter Olympics over China's treatment of the Uighurs. China reciprocated by backing Russia's demand of written security guarantees from NATO against further expansion of the alliance into the post-Soviet space to encompass countries such as Ukraine and Georgia.
According to Yuri Ushakov, a senior aide to Putin, Xi Jinping supports Russia's concerns:
"What's very important, is that the Chinese president stressed that he understands Russia's concerns and fully supports our initiative to work out appropriate security guarantees for Russia. The parties agreed to maintain contact on this issue.
"And we will keep our Chinese colleagues informed of how negotiations and contacts with our US and NATO partners on this issue will unfold," said Ushakov.
In an article posted the day of the summit, Kommersant's foreign affairs specialist Sergey Strokan claimed that the rosy description of the relationship between Moscow and Beijing was not diplomatic window dressing and reflected the true state of affairs. Due to Western pressure, the two countries have had to back up each other, although Russia had greater latitude. The booming relations were reflected in both the military and the economic spheres and only the level of investments left something to be desired.
Strokan's analysis follows below:
Putin and Xi in the videoconference (Source: Ria.ru)
"Russian President Vladimir Putin will host a video summit on Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The talks will mark the culmination of a diplomatic year for Moscow and Beijing as they continue their convergence in response to the West's containment policy. Each side views the other as a support base for countering external challenges. For Moscow, these challenges are associated with United States and NATO activity in the post-Soviet space and in Europe, for Beijing - with anti-Chinese alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. Without entering a military alliance, the Russian Federation and China prefer to create a reliable rear for each other, acting, per the Chinese Foreign Ministry's definition, "back to back."
"The second Russian-Chinese summit this year, like the previous one held on June 28, will be held in the format of a video conference. Six months ago, the dialogue between the two leaders was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Russian-Chinese Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation. Now Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping will draw a line under the achievements of recent months and try to look into the future. 'The results of joint work on the development of a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2021 will be evaluated and the priorities of future cooperation will be discussed,' the Kremlin press service said, pointing out that 'an exchange of views on topical global and regional issues is also planned.'
"The coronavirus pandemic has introduced serious adjustments to the external contacts format between the leaders of Russia and China.
"Over the past two years, Xi Jinping has never left the country, and Vladimir Putin has made only two foreign visits. In June of this year, the Russian president visited Geneva to meet with US President Joe Biden, and on December 6 made a one-day visit to Delhi. After his return, on December 7, Vladimir Putin held the second summit this year with President Biden - this time in a videoconference format, which allowed a slight revival of the Moscow-Washington dialogue on Ukraine and strategic security, and also gave rise to cautious hopes for the beginning of de-escalation in relations between Russia and the West.
"In turn, the pause in the US-China high-level dialogue after the change of the US administration turned out to be unprecedentedly long. The first and only three-and-a-half-hour videoconference summit between President Biden and President Xi took place only on November 16. At the same time, earlier Xi Jinping rejected the American President's proposal to hold a face-to-face summit in order to break the deadlock in relations. Unlike Vladimir Putin, the PRC leader has decided against personally meeting with Joe Biden for now.
"Washington And Beijing Have Failed To Ease Tensions.
"On the eve of the summit of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, being in Jakarta, again signaled: the maximum program in relations with Beijing is to make strategic rivalry with it manageable. 'President Biden told President Xi that we share a profound responsibility to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict. Diplomacy will continue to be our tool of first resort in meeting that responsibility – ensuring the potential for conflict in the region is minimized,' said Anthony Blinken. In doing so, he reaffirmed his determination to 'ensure freedom in the South China Sea' and called AUKUS - the new US alliance with Australia and the UK - ' shining example of how to advance strategic interests and promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.'
"Secretary of State Blinken's remarks aroused a negative reaction from Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that 'the United States should facilitate the promotion of dialogue rather than create obstacles to the development of relations between the states of the region.'
"In a situation where both countries are experiencing a crisis in relations with the West, Russia and China continue to actively converge.
"Speaking on November 18 at the expanded Russian Foreign Ministry board, Vladimir Putin assessed the level of Russian-Chinese interaction as follows: “Currently, bilateral relations have reached the highest level in history and are in the nature of a comprehensive strategic partnership. We can say that they qualify as a model of effective 21st century interstate interaction. Of course, not everyone is pleased with this. Some Western partners are openly trying to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing. "
"In turn, the Chinese side throughout the year made statements about relations with Russia, confirming their unique character. In January, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, 'There is no end point in Sino-Russian strategic cooperation, no restricted areas, no upper limit.' Six months later, at a reception in Beijing in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Russian-Chinese Neighborliness Treaty, the same Mr. Wang Yi called for developing with Russia "not allied, but better than allied, relations of comprehensive strategic partnership." And finally, on the eve of the summit between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: 'We hope that the upcoming summit will further strengthen confidence between the two countries, and promote it to a new level, and advance the strategic partnership of the two countries in which they stand back to back.'
"The most notable convergence between Russia and China has occurred in the area of military cooperation.
"So, in October, the PRC naval forces conducted joint maneuvers with the Russian Navy in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. Then five Chinese and five Russian ships for the first time passed through the Tsugaru Strait, separating the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. In the region of the Izu archipelago, one helicopter from the Chinese ships and one from the Russian ships took off into the air, one helicopter each, in response, fighters of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces were scrambled on alert. And on November 19, Russian strategic aviation planes and PRC long-range aviation conducted joint patrols over the waters of the Japan and East China Seas.
"'Under pressure from the West, Russia and China are moving from the previous format of a non-binding 'strategic partnership' to a new stage of cooperation - a de facto military alliance, which, however, has not received international legal formalization, 'the chief researcher at the US Institute and Canada RAS Vladimir Batyuk told Kommersant. According to him, the evolution of military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing was predetermined by two key factors - efforts to bring NATO infrastructure closer to Russia's western border and building of an anti-Chinese 'cordon sanitaire' on the southern and eastern borders of the PRC."
Vladimir Batyuk (Source: Lv.sputniknews.com)
"According to experts interviewed by Kommersant, in this situation, the December 15 summit will be the culmination of a diplomatic year for Moscow and Beijing, which continued their convergence in response to the US containment policy.
"'In 2021, the parties have significantly strengthened political, military and economic cooperation. At the same time, tensions rose in Eastern Europe and East Asia. And each of the parties separately conducted its own difficult dialogue with the United States. In recent months, this dialogue looked more successful in Russia than in China,' Vasily Kashin, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, told Kommersant. 'At the same time, Moscow and Beijing constantly suspect the United States of attempting to undermine Russian-Chinese relations and strive to keep each other informed of their dialogue with the Americans. Despite the long road traversed in confidence building, certain doubts about each other's positions in the context of the new great power confrontation will persist for a long time.'
Vassily Kashin (Source: Eastrussia.ru)
"'The bilateral trade indicators serve as an encouraging backdrop to the summit of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping,' continued IMEMO RAN Deputy Director Alexander Lomanov. 'Over the past 11 months, it has grown by 34% to $ 130.4 billion. This is an absolute record. However, one cannot fail to notice that the volumes of bilateral investment flows remain insufficient, which indicates a lack of mutual trust between economic elites.' Commenting on the words of Wang Wenbin about the 'strategic partnership of the two countries, in which they stand back to back,' Mr. Lomanov noted: "This comes from martial arts. Each side realizes that it is fighting off its opponents: Russia - in the western direction, China - in the Indo-Pacific region. It is fundamentally important that, standing back to back, Russia and China have each other's back.'
"'In an effort to describe the level of relations between Moscow and Beijing, many try to confine themselves to the statement that they are "on the upswing" and "better than ever. " This greatly simplifies the situation; the Director of the Institute of Asian and African Countries Alexei Maslov explains in turn. 'Russian-Chinese relations are built on the finest nuances and reflect the situation surrounding each of the countries.' The expert continued: 'China suddenly found itself encircled by a mass of conflicts. This Includes the growing tension with India, the insolvable situation around the islands in the South China Sea, the conflict with Japan and, most importantly, the explosive situation in the Taiwan Strait.' According to Mr. Maslov, the Russian situation is much less conflict-ridden and is largely controlled by Russia itself. Therefore, not only is China Russia's most important trading partner, but, above all, Russia for China is the only absolutely reliable partner. 'Of course, the economic interaction between China, which occupies almost 19% of world GDP, and Russia, with its 3.1% share, cannot be simple, but the countries have found a positive modus vivendi for the next decade,' the expert summed up."
Sergey Strokan (Source: Yapolitic.ru)