Analyzing Russo-Chinese relations

By Ivy Lewis, Staff Writer

As tension continues to escalate between Russia and Ukraine, the diplomatic and historical relationship between China and Russia may play a significant role.

Throughout the tenure of current Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia and China have established an increasingly close relationship. A few days prior to the invasion of Ukraine, Jinping and Vladimir Putin agreed to a partnership unifying the two nations on several fronts.

The partnership agreement asserts that there are “no forbidden areas of cooperation” between the nations, while also establishing mutual support against Taiwanese and Ukrainian independence.

The statement also said  that the West, particularly the U.S., should “abandon its Cold War-ideologized approaches.”

By uniting their interests, experts suggest that China and Russia may be able to present a unified front against what they perceive as harmful interference from the West.

“Beijing’s rationale for the China-Russia relationship is that both countries confront a hostile West and both will be better able to withstand Western pressure by standing together than apart,” Ryan Hass, a specialist in Chinese affairs from the Brookings Institution, a think tank, suggested.

The timing of the agreement between China and Russia has raised questions regarding whether, and to what extent, China was aware of the planned invasion of Ukraine.

In an article for the Washington Post, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. rejected the notion that there was prior knowledge about the invasion. He argued that any claims alleging that Beijing “knew about, acquiesced to or tacitly supported this war are purely disinformation.”

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China and Russia agreed to partner in their respective areas of influence while working together against Taiwanese and Ukrainian independence. The countries are united against Western powers such as the U.S.

China and Russia have used one another for complementary needs. China is a highly influential manufacturing power, yet resource poor in terms of energy reserves. On the other hand, Russia is energy rich but in need of the manufacturing power and Chinese investment in order to gain influence globally.

China has also been a major buyer of Russian weapons. Russia has a large stake in the manufacturing and distribution of advanced weaponry in the region.

Should China decide to openly support the Russians in the evolving Ukrainian war, they risk losing ties to Western nations that oppose the invasion of Ukraine on the grounds of Ukrainian sovereignty. 

Despite the recent close relationship that has been established, China and Russia have not always been aligned diplomatically. As non-Western powers, they have clashed with one another in territory disputes. Moscow and Beijing were involved in a border conflict along the edge of China’s northeast territory in 1969 and have experienced periodic strain as a result of the border dispute.

The response of China to the invasion of Ukraine represents a shift towards cooperation for the two nations. It could potentially change the distribution of geopolitical power in coming decades as the two nations consolidate power in opposition to Western influence.

According to Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank, “This is really a crucial moment and potentially a turning point… (China is) really siding with the Russians. They are more closely aligned with the Russians than they’ve ever been.”

If China were to financially back Russia during the war with Ukraine, U.S. and allied European powers have expressed that they will reduce their financial interaction with China.

Beijing’s position on the war Russia waged on Ukraine is evolving and will likely shift as the struggle continues.