Monday, June 17, 2024

Putin’s Beijing Visit: Shaping a New Global Order – World News

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By Rahul Pandey

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited China from May 16 to 17, marking his second visit to Beijing in less than a year and his first foreign state visit since the beginning of his new term in March 2024. This visit commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.  Last year in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow on his first state visit after commencing his third term. This recent meeting in Beijing is the 43rd between the two leaders. The close relationship some call a ‘no limit’ partnership have many implications in the light of turbulent global politics. In bilateral relationships, 2024 and 2025 have been designated China-Russia Years of Culture. This year, Russia will chair the 16th BRICS summit, and China will take over the chairmanship of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This visit occurs amid escalating global tensions: Russia had launched a significant offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Israel is engaged in conflict with Hamas in Gaza, and a trade and chip war has escalated into a tariff war between the United States and China. Recently, the Biden-Harris administration imposed new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, advanced batteries, solar cells, steel, aluminium, and medical equipment, alongside heavy sanctions on Russia. The visit should be seen in these volatile moments of world politics.

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According to Chinese Customs Data, bilateral trade between China and Russia reached $240 billion last year, a 26 per cent increase from the previous year. China exported various goods to Russia, including cars, industrial machinery, and smartphones, while importing billions of dollars’ worth of Russian energy. China’s exports to Russia have tripled since 2015, from $34.8 billion to $76.3 billion on the eve of Russia’s military operations to $111.1 billion in 2023. Economic ties between China and Russia have been strengthening since 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent Western sanctions. The pace of economic cooperation accelerated after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. In 2023, China supplied 60 per cent of Russia’s imports of dual-use high-technology goods. These imports included $3.9 billion in telecommunications equipment (primarily smartphones), $2.3 billion in computers, $2 billion in microprocessors, and $1.7 billion in laboratory equipment, as reported by Financial Times.  In return, Beijing gains access to valuable natural resources and secures inland trade routes, making it less vulnerable to US pressure than Indo-Pacific Sea lanes. In addition, more than 90 per cent of trade settlements between the two countries are conducted in their national currencies, totalling about 20 trillion rubles or nearly 1.6 trillion yuan. China has been Russia’s key business partner for 13 years, and in 2023, Russia ranked fourth among China’s major trading partners.  In their joint statement on “Deepening China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for a New Era,” both countries agreed on ten key points covering bilateral economic relations, investment, finance, global governance, and the conflict in Ukraine.

Military Relations

Both leaders agreed to “further deepen mutual military trust and cooperation.” This includes expanding joint military exercises, scheduling regular joint maritime and air patrols, and strengthening coordination within bilateral and multilateral frameworks. On Friday, May 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Harbin Institute of Technology, a state-backed university renowned for its cutting-edge defence research. The institute is best known for its expertise in rockets, missiles, and space technology—areas in which Russia seeks advancement, especially given the war in Ukraine and the need for a more robust military-industrial complex.  The growing security ties between these two nuclear-armed powers were a key focus of Putin’s visit to Harbin. Although China and Russia are not formal allies with mutual defence obligations, their armed forces have increasingly collaborated in recent years. Their air forces and navies have conducted joint military exercises, including operations near Alaska and Taiwan, the latter being a self-governing island claimed by Beijing.

On the Ukraine Crisis

On Thursday, the two leaders supported their respective positions on Taiwan and Ukraine. While China has pledged not to supply Russia with lethal weapons, it remains Russia’s leading supplier of dual-use components, such as semiconductors and machine tools, which have both civilian and military applications.  In their joint statement, both countries endorsed China’s position paper on the Ukraine crisis, published on February 24, 2023. This 12-point plan, “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” outlines steps for resolving the conflict. During his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping presented four principles for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. These principles are part of Xi’s Global Security Initiative (GSI), which advocates for a standard, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security concept.  Both countries agreed to resolve the Ukrainian crisis through political and diplomatic means. They also committed to addressing the root causes of the crisis, adhering to the principle of indivisible security, and considering the legitimate security interests and concerns of all nations.

Global Implications:

Russia and China are challenging Western dominance in global politics. Since the early 1990s, global governance and security systems have been shaped mainly by American influence. However, China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence reject this Western-centric approach. They aim to create their networks to counter US hegemony. In this context, the deepening of the Russia-China relationship has significant implications for the turbulent global environment. Firstly, a closer military alliance between Russia and China could deepen global divisions and potentially lead to a new Cold War. Secondly, their strengthened ties will influence regional realignments in alliance politics. Europe is already split: Western Europe tends to support the American-led liberal international order. At the same time, Eastern Europe is more inclined towards the alternative global order championed by China and Russia.  Thirdly, decoupling industrial supply chains from the West could shift economic activity to regions such as Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Global South, impacting the existing global economic and financial systems. Fourthly, the growing tensions between countries supporting the liberal international order and those advocating for a new world order could further fragment the global system. Lastly, urgent global issues like climate change, nuclear proliferation, poverty, and inequality may be neglected as major powers focus on power politics.

In conclusion, the Sino-Russian alliance is crucial as both countries are significant economic and military powers. This visit will likely deepen their cooperation in critical sectors such as semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries, military technology, and other strategic areas. Understanding this relationship is essential for navigating the evolving global landscape.

The author is PhD Candidate in Chinese Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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