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China applauds Putin’s win, backs Russia on Skripal case, hails China’s ‘strategic partnership’ with Russia

Messages of support for Russia and its “comprehensive collaborative strategic partnership” pour in from China

China's President Xi Jinping (L) is welcomed by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) during the opening ceremony of "The Year of Chinese Tourism in Russia" in Moscow, on March 22, 2013. China's new president Xi Jinping arrived today in Moscow on his first foreign visit since assuming the presidency earlier this month. Xi Jinping and his counterpart Vladimir Putin are set to oversee the signing of a number of energy and investment agreements including a deal that will see Russia ramp up oil supplies to China. AFP PHOTO / POOL / SERGEI ILNITSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI ILNITSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

President Putin’s massive election victory and the fallout from the Skripal case have provided Global Times – an English language newspaper published under the auspices of the People’s Daily, the official organ of China’s Communist Party, and therefore reflecting the views of China’s leadership – with the opportunity to give Russia strong backing as it comes under renewed Western pressure.

The first editorial, published on 16th March 2018 under the title “West hopes to hurt, intimidate Russia”, makes clear that China sides with Russia over the handling of the Skripal case

This new round of “bullying” of Russia by the US and its European allies is quite abrupt and acute. London ignored usual diplomatic procedures to issue an ultimatum to Moscow and began sanctions. It feels like racing against time.

(bold italics added)

The second editorial, published on 19th March 2018 under the title “Western sanctions boost support for Putin”, makes the same point, though rather more trenchantly

Before the just-concluded election, the UK issued an ultimatum to the Kremlin to account for the poisoning of a former Russian agent on British soil, without solid proof. It was a humiliation for Moscow.

(bold italics added)

Both editorials see the Skripal case as a continuation of the Western campaign to undermine President Putin in order to disrupt Russia’s independent course.

Both editorials link the Skripal case to Russia’s Presidential election which took place on 18th March 2018.

The first editorial – published before Russia’s Presidential election – puts it this way

It makes people think of the upcoming Russian presidential election on March 18. The West wrestling with Russia at this particular moment has become a major factor for Russia’s elections. It is hard to distinguish how much of the antagonism reflect its true severity and how much is designed to target Russia’s elections.

The past couple of years has witnessed the most strenuous period of Russia’s relations with the West. The improvement in their relations since the end of the Cold War has almost run out. However, today’s Russia, without satellite states, is incomparable with the strength of the former Soviet Union when dealing with the strategic pressure from the West……

Analysts believe Putin will win the election without a doubt, and that the West’s sanctions will likely provide new momentum for Putin’s supporters. But maybe some Western elite think the other way and wish to drain Putin’s votes or undermine his authority via a new round of sanctions that may pressure the Russian public.

(bold italics added)

The second editorial – published after President Putin’s overwhelming victory in the Presidential election – makes the same point, whilst noting that the plan to undermine public support for President Putin in Russia has failed, with the West’s ongoing anti-Russian and anti-Putin campaign instead consolidating Russian society behind him

The past six years have seen the most intense conflicts between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War and Western countries have imposed severe sanctions against Moscow. During the same period, the price of oil stayed low. The Russian economy was hence facing a double blow. With the increasing cost of its national defense, the Russian government found available funds diminished to invest in improving people’s living standards. The Western political logic was like this: Even if Putin remains in his post, his support will decline. 

But the election showed the opposite. It seems that Russian people generally attributed the nation’s current difficulties to pressure and sanctions piled on them by the West. Meanwhile, they believe that Putin is the one defending their interests and without him, their situation would be even worse.

(bold italics added)

Both editorials note that Russia’s economy has proved highly resistant to the West’s sanctions, and both explain why.

The first editorial says “Russia’s rich natural resources make it highly self-sufficient to counter sanctions”.

The second editorial goes into more detail

Sanctions against Russia……economically….will…have little effect. The Russian economy returned to modest growth in 2017. Russia enjoys rich resources, high-level intellectuals and in the Soviet era, abundant technological breakthroughs. It is not a nation that can be besieged to death.

Global Times then proceeds to draw lessons from this for China, which is itself now starting to come under economic pressure from the US.

Firstly, as the first editorial points out, the West is as capable of applying sanctions pressure on China as it is against Russia

Western countries have been quite freewheeling in imposing sanctions on Russia, as they don’t see much cost in doing so.

The harsh attitude of Western countries toward Russia resembles their unity in the face of major geopolitical and value challenges despite problems in their own camp. Any non-Western competitor could become their shared target, which is part of the current world order.

Independent forces, including China, all face such risks.

(bold italics added)

Secondly, Russia has managed to resist the West’s pressure in part because of its “rich natural resources” – ie. its economic self-sufficiency – but also because of the strong national spirit of its people

The Western powers should reflect on the fact that they are not setting themselves against Putin alone, but against the entire Russian nation which defeated Napoleon and Hitler and is not afraid of anyone. Patriotism and self-esteem as citizens of a major power are pervasive in the Russian people. When the West fights these sentiments, its efforts amount to nothing….

Sanctions against Russia have failed politically because they have only promoted the unity of Russian society….

Discussions about how Russia will transition toward a post-Putin era have already started in Western nations, but they do not understand Russia in believing that Putin’s emergence was an accident. The truth is Putin represents the country’s national interest. The support he won reflects the support Russian people have for their national interest.

The implication is clear enough: in order for China to be able to resist Western pressure – the application of which I suspect the Chinese leadership believes is only a matter of time – China needs the same two things that have enabled Russia to resist Western pressure so successfully: a spirit of national unity and economic self-sufficiency.

Following my visit to China last August I have no doubt about the Chinese people’s spirit of national unity.  However these words in the second editorial are no doubt in part intended to remind China’s people of the cost they will pay if they ever lose it and succumb to the allure of the West

Moscow once tried to integrate with the West. Losing the Soviet Union was the price it paid for that. But in the end, its enthusiasm encountered the cold shoulder of the West. NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe was widely considered by Russian people as Western treachery following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Today Russian society is filled with desire to see their country rise again.

As to economic self-sufficiency, China though possessing an economy many orders of magnitude larger than Russia’s, unlike Russia is not economically fully self-sufficient.

However Global Times points to the solution, which it turns out is an ever-closer relationship with Russia

The China-Russia comprehensive strategic collaborative partnership also made sure that the West would fail to contain either Beijing or Moscow.

(bold italics added)

In other words the Russian-Chinese alliance guarantees each country’s security from pressure by the West.

Russia can to look to China to supplement its financial resources.  China can look to Russia for the food, energy and raw materials it needs.

Though the two editorials don’t say so, and the point is never publicly spoken about, the main purpose of President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road Initiative is to tie the economic resources of the China and Russia together, with Russian President Vladimir Putin being President Xi Jinping’s essential partner in the whole enterprise.

President Putin alluded to this fact in his message of congratulation to President Xi Jinping following the latter’s recent re-election as President of China

This decision by the National People’s Congress of China has become another proof of your great authority, a recognition of your efforts in ensuring dynamic socioeconomic development of the country and protecting its interests on the global stage,” the Russian President stressed.

Vladimir Putin noted the unprecedented high level of relations between Russia and China achieved recently to a large extent due to the personal efforts of Xi Jinping. These relations have become a true example of equal and mutually beneficial cooperation between leading powers.

The President of Russia conveyed to his Chinese counterpart that he would be happy to have new meetings with him, and expressed confidence in further strengthening, through reciprocal efforts, the Russia-China comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, in filling it with new content which will contribute to the prosperity of the two friendly peoples and to greater security and stability on the Eurasian continent and in the whole world.

President Xi Jinping then reciprocated in his message of congratulation to President Putin following the latter’s re-election as President of Russia a day after

In the message, Xi said that over recent years, the Russian people have united as one in firmly advancing on the path of strengthening the nation, realizing rejuvenation and development, achieving remarkable success in economic and social development, and playing an important constructive role in international affairs.

Xi expressed the belief that Russia will definitely be able to keep creating new glories in national development.

Currently, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership is at the best level in history, which sets an example for building a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, cooperation and all-win results, and a community with a shared future for mankind, Xi said.

China is willing to work with Russia to keep promoting China-Russia relations to a higher level, provide driving force for respective national development in both countries, and promote regional and global peace and tranquility, Xi said.

I would finish by referring to the remarkably fulsome language Global Times uses to describe the current relationship between China and Russia.

What was once referred to as a ‘strategic partnership’ became a few years ago a ‘grand strategic partnership’.

Now Global Times calls it “the China-Russia comprehensive strategic collaborative partnership”.  Note that both President Putin and President Xi Jinping referred to it as a “comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership” in their respective telegrams to each other.  It appears that this is now the agreed formula used to describe the relationship.

I wonder for how much longer the Chinese and the Russians will go on pretending that their relationship is anything other than what it obviously is, something which can be summed up altogether more simply, with one word: alliance.

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