Simone: No, no, no, no, still no, Putin and Xi Jinping’s meeting did not make it to the picture headlines of the People’s Daily, China’s largest government owned newspaper.
Did the People’s Daily report their meeting at all? Ok, here it is, hmmm, there is no video, and no pictures. I wonder if Xi’s other meeting reports don’t have photos either.
Oops, other meetings have videos; that’s because China Central Television, the country’s largest government owned TV station reported them. Only Putin’s meeting with Xi was not carried by CCTV.
What’s going on? What happened between Xi Jinping and Putin?
Xi Jinping visited ex-Soviet Uzbekistan on September 15 for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That was Xi’s first overseas visit since the pandemic began almost three years ago. The highlight of the summit was supposed to be his meeting with Russian president Putin, whom Xi has called a good friend, an old friend and a true friend, and maybe now the only friend.
But the much-anticipated warm interaction didn’t happen. Xi obviously kept some distance from this old friend. Putin in his opening statement in his meeting with Xi said: “We appreciate our Chinese friends’ balanced position in connection with the Ukraine crisis. We understand your questions and your concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting we will certainly explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”
Let me try to explain what he really meant: “My dear friend, I didn’t want to accuse you of not helping enough. I completely understand your situation and concerns. However, you should still help me. And this is why.”
We don’t know what Putin actually discussed with Xi Jinping because the rest of the meeting was muted. But we do know that Xi rushed to the airport the minute the summit was over. It really didn’t seem Xi was too enthusiastic about this whole thing.
However, the day after Xi went back to Beijing. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, arrived in China on a working visit. He met with the CCP’s Central Committee Politburo member Yang Jiechi.
One of the main messages he conveyed was that based on the agreement between Putin and Xi, the priority in Russian-Chinese relations is to work consistently to strengthen their strategic link.
More specifically, he said “The parties agreed on further cooperation between the military departments with an emphasis on joint exercises and patrols, as well as on strengthening contacts between the general staffs. Mutual interest was expressed in maintaining a high level of military-technical cooperation.”
And a day after that, Putin did this.
Putin: I think it is necessary to support the Ministry of Defense and the general staff to conduct a partial military mobilization in Russia. We have no moral right to hand over our loved ones to the executioners, we can not fail to respond to their sincere desire to determine their own fate…and have asked us, Russia to help.
Simone: And lastly, he warned the West that In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of the country and to defend the Russian people, they will use all weapon systems available including, he implied, the nuclear weapons.
This partial mobilization will call up 300,000 reserve troops. But there is a problem. Wasn’t Russia running out of weapons and ammunition already? If they get another 300,000 troops on the battlefield, what are these soldiers going to fight with? And do they have the money to support this operation? Hmmm, this escalation took place right after Putin met Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan, which followed by a ministerial level meeting that discussed among other things, further cooperation between the military departments of the two countries. Could Xi be backing Putin up after all?
This guy is more important than Patrushev and Yang Jiechi combined when it comes to China-Russia relationships because he is the number three guy in China.
His name is Li Zhanshu, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee. By the way, China’s People’s Congress is not like the congress in democratic countries. The representatives are not elected through a real democratic process, but rather, are nominated by government officials. This doesn’t mean the People’s Congress does not have power, it does. It legislates just like Congress in America. Only, the legislation reflects the wills of the Party leaders, not the Chinese people. Anyway, Li Zhanshu is the head of the People’s Congress. And he also ranked third in the Party’s seven Politburo Standing Committee, THE top ruling body in China. Last but not least, he is a Xi Jinping confidant.
Li Zhanshu went to Russia right before Putin and Xi Jinping’s meeting at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He delivered a key message to his Russian counterpart that the “strategic coordination” between the two countries had “reached an unprecedented level,” According to Russia’s State Duma, Li told Russian legislators that “China understands and supports Russia on issues that represent its vital interests, in particular on the situation in Ukraine.” and that China is providing its assistance.
The English word assistance doesn’t reflect the exact meaning of “策应”. “策应” is more than just assistance. It is support by coordinated action, most commonly used in a military context.
Li Zhanshu’s promise was not improvised. His choice of words must have been discussed and decided by the Politburo Standing Committee. Therefore, it represented the top Chinese leadership’s decision although they don’t want to make it as public as the Russian media did. Li Zhanshu’s mention of supporting Russia over the Ukrainian war was cut from the Chinese media’s readout, just like the severe downgrade of the report on Xi’s meeting with Putin. But why? Who is the Chinese Communist Party hiding this information from?
The CCP hid it from its own people more than anyone else. Russia had just lost 6000 square km of occupied land in Ukraine. Forming an alliance with a loser is particularly sensitive for Xi Jinping now.
The party’s 20th National Congress will be held in October this year. Xi Jinping’s top priority is to be elected smoothly into the position of General Secretary of the Party for the third time. Anything obstructing this goal will need to be eliminated. He strives to be possibly entitled “the people’s leader of China”, on the same footing as Mao Zedong, at this conclave. He can’t afford to be closely associated with someone who is incompetent and could potentially bring trouble to China. Public opinion could turn very negative, even with heavy handed censorship. Xi does not lack opponents in China. They are watching carefully for loopholes in Xi to destroy him. Xi can not give them that opportunity. He also didn’t want to stir up more trouble for himself with America and the West right before the 20th National Congress. American sanctions could incur serious internal criticism against him.
This is why he couldn’t support Russia openly. But with Li Zhanshu’s promise and Patrushev’s follow up trip to China, you can be sure that China’s support to Russia will continue if not increase. One area mentioned in Patrushev’s statement is further cooperation between the two militaries with an emphasis on joint exercises and patrols.
Why joint military exercises? A joint exercise could serve multiple purposes. And one of them could be this: If the exercise is conducted on the Sino-Russian border or in Russia. Could China conveniently bring a large number of weapons to Russia? And after the exercise, what about leaving a portion of them for their Russian friends?
This video was filmed by Russian citizens in Vladivostok a few weeks ago. A long fleet of Chinese military vehicles were seen driving in the city. What’s inside of these vehicles? We don’t know. But we do know that starting from September 1st, Russia held a week-long military exercise at seven firing ranges in Russia’s Far East and the Sea of Japan and involved more than 50,000 troops and over 5,000 weapons units, including 140 aircraft and 60 warships. The participating parties include several ex-Soviet nations, China, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Syria.
If the Chinese military does leave weapons to the Russians, Russia could theoretically claim they bought them from North Korea who bought them from China before. In fact, according to the Guardian, the Biden administration officials earlier this month confirmed a declassified US intelligence assessment that North Korea was in the process of selling arms to Russia in violation of UN security council sanctions banning Pyongyang from importing or exporting weapons. North Korea denied such sales.
Another area as mentioned in Patrushev’s statement is the military-tech cooperation between the two countries. I talked to a veteran Chinese air force officer about this and asked what this military-tech cooperation could be. He told me that China has been relying on Russia’s military doctrines and technologies since the P.R.C. was formed. And that has lasted ‘til today.
Russia could provide advanced technologies to China in exchange for money, equipment and components. It is highly suspected that China already supports Russia through disguised civil trade, such as selling electronics including chips. A lot of those chips used in consumer electronics can also be transferred to weapons. China could also transfer weapons or other materials to Russia via a third party, for example, a country in the Shanghai Cooperation organization.
I read this interesting report from Aid Data, a research lab at William & Mary. It was released in 2021 and it says that China’s contracts contain unusually broad confidentiality clauses, which prevent borrowers from revealing the terms or sometimes even the existence of the loans. The researchers also found that China’s contracts have become more secretive over time, with a confidentiality clause in every contract in the dataset since 2014.
Could China support Russia via these secretive contracts? We definitely can’t rule out the possibility. But what if America finds out and sanctions China? Well, first of all, it is hard to find out given the secrecy of these contracts. Secondly, I don’t think China cares that much since China assumes America is decoupling from China and trying to besiege China economically anyway. The Biden administration’s recent ban on selling sophisticated chips to China and Russia is a good example.
In fact, Biden revealed to CBS’s 60 Minutes that during his recent telephone conversations with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. “Biden said: if you think that the Americans and others will continue to invest in the Chinese economy while violating sanctions against Russia, then you are making a huge mistake.”
And guess what? At SCO’s final press conference, Putin said that he and Xi Jinping “stated a significant increase in trade turnover”. An open defiance to Biden’s warning.
This is what we expected. The two countries are both severely isolated. And they DO need each other. The most important tie is energy.
One of the highlights of this SCO summit is the tripartite talks between China, Russia and Mongolia because Russia’s natural gas pipelines to China and other Asian countries are likely to be laid in Mongolia.
Russian state energy giant Gazprom has been researching for years how to lay the massive gas pipeline Siberia 2 to transport natural gas to China over Mongolia. If the pipeline is laid, it will be able to transport 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, equivalent to the annual transmission volume of Nord Stream 1 and about one-third of the total natural gas that Russia sends to Europe each year.
Russia has now replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s largest oil importer. If this pipeline goes through, energy sanctions against Russia by Europe and the United States will hardly bring a fatal blow to Russia. At the same time, the threat to cut off oil transport from Saudi Arabia to China through the Strait of Malacca will also lose its deterrent effect. This has great strategic significance for both China and Russia. For this reason alone, China and Russia have to form an alliance.
Does the CIA or FBI have think tanks under them? I have never heard of it. But China does. And because it is under the intelligence agency, it is more important than other think tanks. So In a recent article by Fu Mengzi, vice president of a think tank affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, Mr. Fu proposed three responses from China’s side in response to the West’s countering of a China-Russia alliance.
The first is to oppose a Unipolar world order, the second is to seek an alternative development mode in a post globalization era, and the third is to solidify relationships with neighboring countries, to reorganize the supply chains within these countries to create an extended internal economic circulation in defense of a Western blockade. Just to be clear: Russia has a four thousand three hundred kilometer border with China, the second longest among all of China’s neighbors.
The article also recognized that the trend of an Eastern rise and a Western descent is slowing down. A stronger West and a Weaker East will not be changed in the near future. Therefore, China should be prepared for a long haul.
Xi Jinping probably looks beyond the Russian-Ukrainian war. He sees Russia as an indispensable piece in his united front against America and the West. Xi Jinping’s Taiwan ambition also needs Russia’s vocal and material support. Yes, China and Russia compete in central Asia for leadership. China’s Belt and Road Initiative intrudes into what Russia considers its strategic backyard. But China and Russia need each other more. It doesn’t seem they have other choices now. They are literally each other’s strongest support. Xi Jinping couldn’t let Putin fall. The deeper Putin is in trouble, the more Xi Jinping has to help him, unfortunately.