A hug dislodges a wedge

28 May 2024
Xi and Putin hug

China president Xi Jinping and Russia president Vladimir Putin hug at the end of the Russian state visit to China.

Chinese people do not hug. Well, they do, but not with strangers. Hugs are a privilege reserved for the inner circle and almost never done in public.

eDiplomat, the self-declared “Global Portal for Diplomats™”, notes that “The Chinese dislike being touched by strangers. Do not touch, hug, lock arms, back slap or make any body contact.

If you understand this basic convention, you will understand how significant it was that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin closed off Russia’s state visit to China with a hug.

This year, US president Joe Biden sent two high-level delegations to China. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited in early April, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late April. A core message from both officials was to try to persuade Beijing to decouple from Moscow, threatening strong consequences otherwise.

Yellen :

President Biden and I are determined to do all that we can to stem the flow of material that is supporting Russia’s defense industrial base and helping it to wage war against Ukraine. We continue to be concerned about the role that any firms, including those in the PRC, are playing in Russia’s military procurement. I stressed that companies, including those in the PRC, must not provide material support for Russia’s war and that they will face significant consequences if they do. And I reinforced that any banks that facilitate significant transactions that channel military or dual-use goods to Russia’s defense industrial base expose themselves to the risk of US sanctions.

Blinken :

I reiterated our serious concern about the PRC providing components that are powering Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. China is the top supplier of machine tools, microelectronics, nitrocellulose – which is critical to making munitions and rocket propellants, and other dual-use items that Moscow is using to ramp up its defense industrial base, a defense industrial base that is churning out rockets, drones, tanks, and other weapons that President Putin is using to invade a sovereign country, to demolish its power grid and other civilian infrastructure, to kill innocent children, women, and men. Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without China’s support. … As we’ve told China for some time, ensuring transatlantic security is a core U.S. interest. In our discussions today, I made clear that if China does not address this problem, we will.

Just weeks later, Putin, in his first state visit abroad after being reelected president, took a high level delegation comprising key members of his cabinet, Russia’s reserve bank governor, securocrats, and business leaders to China.

At the end of the visit, the two countries issued an 8000 word statement.1 Let me break it down into 10 points:

  1. China and Russia are celebrating 75 years of their comprehensive strategic partnership, which has reached its highest level in history. The relationship transcends Cold War alliances, is non-aligned and non-confrontational, and has withstood changes in the international landscape. As major powers, China and Russia firmly support each other on core issues of sovereignty, security and development, and will deepen mutually beneficial cooperation across a wide range of areas. As independent forces, they are committed to building a multipolar world order based on international law, opposing hegemonism and interference in sovereign affairs. Together, they will work to safeguard their interests, promote the democratization of international relations, and jointly commemorate the shared history of World War II.
  2. China and Russia will deepen defence cooperation, including joint training, maritime and air patrols, and coordination under bilateral and multilateral frameworks. The two sides will also enhance cooperation in law enforcement and security, combating terrorism, separatism, extremism, and transnational organized crime, while condemning interference in sovereign affairs and politicization of international criminal justice. They will protect each other's national property and improve legal judgment recognition and enforcement mechanisms. Additionally, they will strengthen practical cooperation in emergency management, space monitoring, aviation rescue technology, and disaster prevention and relief.
  3. Key strategic points include enhancing bilateral trade and investment, boosting energy collaboration, promoting advanced industries, and increasing the use of local currencies. They also plan to expand cooperation in areas such as nuclear energy, aerospace, agriculture, and transportation, with a focus on sustainable and high-quality development. Additionally, they will work on improving financial infrastructure, customs processes, and environmental protection, while fostering local and border cooperation and supporting the Belt and Road Initiative and Greater Eurasian Partnership.
  4. China and Russia aim to expand educational, scientific, and cultural cooperation, promoting two-way study abroad, language learning, and joint research. Health collaboration will cover disaster medicine and infectious diseases, while sports cooperation will continue post the China-Russia Sports Exchange Year 2022-2023, opposing the politicization of sports. Tourism will be promoted through cross-border initiatives and visa exemptions. Media exchanges and high-quality content cooperation are encouraged to ensure objective reporting.
  5. China and Russia reaffirm their commitment to a just and stable multi-polar international order, fully adhering to the United Nations Charter. They aim to strengthen bilateral cooperation within the UN framework, including the General Assembly and Security Council, and advocate for constructive dialogue on multilateral human rights issues, opposing politicization and double standards. They support the World Health Organization's role in global health and resist its politicization. Both nations promote an open, transparent multilateral trading system under the WTO, advocating for its reform and opposing the politicization of international economic relations. They condemn unilateral actions bypassing the UN Security Council and violating international laws, emphasizing the negative impact of restrictive measures on global trade and supply chains.
  6. China and Russia emphasize the importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's in establishing a fair, stable multi-polar international order. They plan to work with other SCO members to boost cooperation across political, security, economic, and cultural fields, aiming to make Eurasia a region of peace and prosperity. They aim to improve collaboration among BRICS nations, particularly in trade, digital economy, and public health, while promoting local currency use for trade. They commend their cooperation in the G20 and support the African Union's membership, aiming for inclusive economic globalization and improved global governance. They also plan to enhance cooperation within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to promote regional economic integration, trade liberalization, and sustainable development.
  7. China and Russia are deeply concerned about the unstable international security environment and the increasing strategic risks from intensified global confrontations, including those involving nuclear-weapon states. They reaffirm their commitment to preventing nuclear war, oppose the militarization of outer space, and call for the full observance of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. Both countries condemn US actions that undermine strategic stability, including missile deployments and anti-missile systems. They emphasize cooperation on AI governance, cybersecurity, and combating terrorism and organized crime, while supporting a transparent and multilateral global Internet governance system and will extend this collaboration under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS.
  8. China and Russia reaffirm their commitment to the goals and principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement,  stressing the importance of financial support from developed to developing countries to combat climate change and oppose trade barriers related to climate issues. They pledge to address plastic waste pollution through legally binding measures. They express serious concerns about Japan's discharge of Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water, urging responsible and internationally monitored disposal.
  9. Russia appreciates China's neutral and fair stance on the Ukrainian issue and agrees that the crisis should be resolved in full accordance with the United Nations Charter. Russia welcomes China's readiness to facilitate a political and diplomatic solution. Both countries stress the need to stop actions that prolong or escalate the conflict, emphasizing dialogue as the best approach to resolve the crisis. They believe that addressing the root causes, adhering to the principle of indivisibility of security, and considering the legitimate security concerns of all nations are essential for a stable resolution.
  10. Both sides stress that countries share a common destiny and should not seek security at others' expense, advocating for a sustainable Eurasian security system based on equal and indivisible security. They oppose confrontational policies, interference in internal affairs, and exclusive military alliances, particularly criticizing the US's "Indo-Pacific Strategy" and NATO's actions in the Asia-Pacific. Both express concern over AUKUS and support ASEAN's central role in regional multilateralism, backing peaceful resolutions in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia. They emphasize diplomatic solutions for the Korean Peninsula and Middle East issues, supporting Palestinian statehood and the sovereignty of Syria and Libya. The sides commit to Afghan stability, urging the US and NATO to take responsibility for Afghanistan's reconstruction. They highlight the importance of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Commonwealth of Independent States in regional stability, advocate for friendly relations with Central Asia, support African countries' autonomy,and seek strengthened cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Arctic should remain a zone of peace and cooperation.

Key takeaways for me:

  • The point about “African countries’ autonomy” coupled with earlier reference to Libya is significant. Russia has deployed troops and military advisers to countries of the Sahel while the US has been asked by those governments to leave those areas.
  • Eight thousand word statements are not drafted over two days. The entire agenda had clearly been mapped out by the Chinese and the Russians over several months before Yellen and Blinken visited China. It was sending a message to the world at large that the partnership between the two superpowers transcends simple diplomatic and trade links.

Fifty years ago, in a triumph of US foreign policy, Nixon and Kissinger managed to drive a wedge between Russia and China. The hug dislodges that wedge.

  • 1. It took me a while to get hold of it because most Russia official media are shadow-banned in the west, and China did not issue a translation. I ran Google Translate on the Mandarin language version and spent a few days on and off reading through the entire thing.
Creative Commons Licence