The increased Western pressure on the Sino-Russian alliance
    Hunt for a partner

    ANALYTICS  01 December 2022 - 12:40

    Fuad Shahbazov

    With the mounting pressure from the West, Russia and China deepen their alliance, which is broadly seen as a marriage of convenience. However, shortly after the Ukraine war unfolded, Beijing preferred not to openly stand by Russia in its waging confrontation with the Atlantic community as Chinese relations with the West mounted significantly since 2020.

    The US-China confrontation that has been waged since the former Trump administration was maintained during the current Biden administration, albeit with a more equanimous tone and embrace of multilateralism. The US government has for decades been concerned by China’s mercantilism, rapid military modernization, and illiberal approach to human rights, but it had held out hope that China might liberalize through increasingly robust contact with the rest of the world.

    However, the confrontation with China was put on hold when Russia militarily intervened in Ukraine and caused an outstanding security cataclysm in Europe since the Cold War era. Although Moscow sought vocal Chinese political and technical support in its military aggression against Ukraine, Beijing abstained from making any statement or decision regarding the issue urging sides to return to dialogue and cease military operations.

    Moreover, given the fact that the Western coalition imposed several sanction packages on Russia, Beijing’s technical support to Moscow would have been seen as an attempt to evade sanctions. Nevertheless, the US warned that harsh measures would follow if China offered technical support to Russia. However, shortly after the Western cautions, China refused to condemn Russia's actions and criticized the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow.

    Also, according to the main narrative of China, the reason for the war in Ukraine was the Western countries’ “provocative actions,” namely the expansion of NATO, and as a result, ignoring Russia's security concerns. Indeed, Russia's military failures in Ukraine have had consequences on China as well since they revealed the weakness and vulnerability of Russia, the main security partner of China. As a result, Beijing now fears that the Western perception regarding the Chinese military capabilities would be seriously undermined.

    Nevertheless, the recent numbers show that China-Russia trade volumes keep increasing, particularly in the energy field. In 2022, trade turnover in the energy sector has grown by 64% compared to last year, in physical terms, deliveries have risen by about 10%," according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, speaking at the fourth Russian-Chinese Energy Business Forum. Also, while Beijing has avoided supplying Russia with military equipment and its banks have shunned their Russian counterparts, that has not stopped trade from booming, driven by a considerable increase in oil imports, amongst other things.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping set themselves a goal of increasing their mutual trade turnover to $200 billion by 2024. The renewed interest in boosting bilateral trade may be attributed to the earlier trade volume that fell sharply in the first months of the war in Ukraine.

    Considering the fact that oil remains the biggest item on the bilateral trade list, Russia boosted oil exports to China up to 9.5% y/y by October to almost 72 million metric tonnes, making Russia the second-largest fuel supplier to China, behind only the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) with 73.8 million tonnes. Moreover, in the context of Russia's decreasing flow of natural gas to Europe amid sanctions, Moscow will likely attempt to reroute the main gas exports flow to China, though it would need an additional pipeline for this. Notwithstanding, Russian LNG exports to China have also been climbing.

    The growing partnership between Beijing and Moscow becomes more critical for both in light of the recent high-level gathering of NATO members in Romania to discuss the consequences of the Ukraine war. However, the recent meeting was also significant since NATO leaders called upon not to lose sight of the looming threat stemming from China. According to NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, "the war in Ukraine demonstrated our dangerous dependency on Russian gas, noting that the West relies on China for certain key components and materials, including rare earth minerals, as well as for many supply chains.”

    There is no doubt that NATO tries to advance its common position on Beijing and persuade it to distance itself from Russia, albeit unsuccessfully. The Chinese government, which is highly suspicious that reconciliation with the West could happen sometime soon, needs Russia as a counterbalance in the wider Eurasian region. Therefore, the Beijing-Moscow alliance will grow steadily under such conditions and ongoing Western pressure.


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