China still has much to gain from its current relationship with Russia even as the invasion of Ukraine drags on, turning Russia into an international pariah and threatening to rub off on China’s reputation as well.
“China has, in effect, doubled down on its support for the Putin war effort, and we saw this, for instance, last month when China’s third rank leader went to Moscow, spoke to the State Duma, and in very clear terms, expressed Beijing’s support for Russia,” Gordon Change, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told Fox News Digital.
“Then, [we] see Jinping himself when he was in Uzbekistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, actually confirmed that endorsement,” Chang added. “The only conclusion that we can come to is that Beijing is not backing away from Russia.”
The China and Russia dynamic has remained a troubling one for the United States since even before the invasion of Ukraine started in March 2022. Beijing purchased around 100 metric tons of Russian coal in the run-up to the invasion and relaxed Russian wheat imports – all of which helped provide Russia with much-needed cash as Western sanctions hit hard and fast.
But the invasion did not end quickly as many expected it might, and Ukraine has continued to make gains that seemed unbelievable when the invasion started, from taking back key strategic points around Kyiv to pushing back Russia and forcing Moscow to focus only on the easternmost Donbas region.
Despite the reputational damage that might come with continuing to associate with Russia – especially as allegations of war crimes keep piling up and Russian men flee the country to avoid Putin’s draft – China still benefits from its relationship with Moscow.
Chief among those benefits is the ongoing effort to continue updating and modernizing the Chinese military, which Beijing has accomplished by working to “reverse engineer Russia,” according to Miles Yu, Senior Fellow and director of China Center at Hudson Institute.
China would gain Russian weapon and vehicle designs and weapons by purchasing them, or in some cases going to Ukraine to buy the older models and figure out how to build their own, all to help build a better Chinese military.
And a lot of China’s adversaries in Asia happen to be Russian allies, meaning the two countries are working to balance their interests and try to take from each other without giving too much away.
But China also seems to want it “both ways” and will angle for the “postwar reconstruction in Ukraine,” where Beijing can regain influence and control by providing Ukraine with a lot of what it will need to rebuild.
China’s main objective remains the expansion of its influence, however far that might go: Chinese President Xi Jinping has worked to grow the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a multinational trade organization that Beijing and Moscow created together with former soviet states in Asia. Iran recently joined the group, adding another foreign agitator to the ranks.
Xi will be sworn in for an unprecedented third term as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, but his ambitions could still end up rubbing his party the wrong way in the long run, according to Chang.
“We don’t know what’s going on inside China [as] the regime is becoming less transparent over time,” Chang explained. “There are certainly hints that senior Chinese leaders are not happy with Xi Jinping’s full-throated support for Vladimir Putin, but Xi’s got the power to silence dissenting voices.”
“At some point, you would think that for a variety of reasons, Xi will lose clout: It is not just Ukraine, it’s not just the so-called wolf warrior diplomacy, but China losing friends around the world,” Chang continued. “It’s not just the domestic problems which Xi is the author of: It’s everything together.”
“At some point, the Chinese political system will do what’s rational, and that is to get rid of Jinping, but we’re not at that point yet.”