The Feb. 4 meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin proceeded with the expected proclamations of “mutual trust” and “the spirit of friendship.”
According to the Kremlin, there were a total of 16 agreements across various spheres of cooperation reached during the meeting. These included economic trade, technology, and energy relations.
Coinciding with the opening day of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, part of the purpose of the high-level meeting was undoubtedly appearance based. Putin additionally wrote an article for Chinese Communist Party (CCP) outlet Xinhua in which he celebrated the growing relationship between Moscow and Beijing.
“Our countries play an important stabilizing role in today's challenging international environment, promoting greater democracy in the system of international relations to make it more equitable and inclusive,” stated Putin. The Russian president went on to explain that one of the primary means for accomplishing this goal is through support for the United Nations Charter.
A joint statement put out by the two countries following the Putin-Xi summit in Beijing went further. It stated that Moscow and Beijing seek to "to protect the United Nations-driven international architecture and the international law-based world order, seek genuine multipolarity with the United Nations and its Security Council playing a central and coordinating role."
These statements together place emphasis on the fact that Putin continues to see the U.N. as the primary body through which Russia is able to uphold its international influence. Citing the importance of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), on which Russia and China both permanently sit, Putin reinforces the primacy of the “democratization of international relations.”
Under the veneer of international stability and world peace, this latter point is what is truly of critical importance for actors such as Putin and Xi. The U.N. ensures that Russia has just as much power as the United States or its Western allies, especially considering its crucial veto on the Security Council. By allying with fellow UNSC member China, the two hold significant sway in influencing international decision-making.
Given Moscow’s current tensions with NATO over Ukraine, it makes sense that Putin would be highlighting the importance of the U.N. A constant refrain from the Kremlin regarding NATO expansion is that no country’s security should be enhanced in a manner that reduces the relative security of a third country. By referring back to the U.N., Putin claims to be relying on a neutral multilateral organization in which every country has equal standing—this, rather than Western-led institutions such as NATO.
Xi and the CCP also gain advantage from promoting this line of thinking. Besides also seeking the type of multipolarity that is referred to in these Russia-China joint statements, the international attention of the Olympics presents a favorable opportunity for the CCP to reference that it is not the United States or NATO that unilaterally set international policy.
It is reported that only about 25 countries have sent official diplomatic delegations to the Beijing Olympics. The United States and most of its Western developed allies have chosen to diplomatically boycott the Games over human rights concerns with the CCP’s internal governance of China. Placing the meeting with Putin on the opening day of the Games ensures that the spotlight cannot be ignored: the China-Russia bilateral relationship is secure and constantly growing. The continued reference to the U.N. and the Security Council additionally remind the West that the two nuclear-armed powers hold just as much institutional legitimacy as the United States and its allies.
Xi called on both countries “to maintain close high-level exchanges, give strong support to each other in safeguarding sovereignty, security and development interests.” This includes “deepening back-to-back strategic coordination and upholding international equity and justice.”
Reading between the lines of the frequent calls for international democracy and equality from two of the world’s most authoritarian regimes reveals the true message: We support one another in the right to conduct our domestic policies as we see fit, independent from the judgment of the United States or other democratic nations.
That does not mean that Beijing has irrevocably committed itself to Moscow. Even up until the Feb. 4 meeting, Xi withheld making any definite comment one way or the other regarding the escalating situation in Ukraine. This changed at the opening day of the summit. Following the meeting between Xi and Putin, the two countries released a joint statement on “international relations entering a new era and the global sustainable development.”
Notably, this included a joint call to halt further NATO enlargement and for the alliance to “abandon its ideologized cold war approaches.” Moscow also reaffirmed its support of Beijing’s stance regarding Taiwan, and both countries voiced their opposition to the AUKUS security alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
This is an important development as, again, Beijing has recently held off from committing itself on the Ukraine issue. The opening up of the Games and the absence of Western delegations may have emphasized the heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing. Putin is the most prominent guest at the Games.
As stated by Xi: “We are working together to promote a truly multilateral world. Efforts to uphold the real democratic spirit are a reliable foundation for rallying the world towards overcoming crises and protecting equality.”
A “multilateral world” is essential for Russia and China to uphold the legitimacy of their own internal systems. As the U.S.-led order continues to try and isolate the two regimes and cast international condemnation on them for their foreign and domestic policy choices, the strength of the Sino-Russian bilateral relationship is increasingly important to withstanding Western pressures.
Xi apparently calculated that the advantage of publicly aligning himself closer to Moscow at this period of heightened international tensions outweighed any potential negative cost.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Dominick Sansone is a doctoral student at the Hillsdale College Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship. He is a regular contributor to The Epoch Times, and has additionally been published at The American Conservative, The Federalist, and the Washington Examiner.