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Leaders’ Chat Moves Russia, China Toward Stronger Anti-US Unity, Analysts Say

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Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Dec. 15, 2021.

A video chat between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin this week consolidates efforts by the two Eurasian powers to face down their mutual rival the United States in 2022, analysts say.

Putin and Xi spoke Wednesday afternoon, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported, marking the 37th time leaders of the two countries have connected since 2013. They pledged more cooperation on safeguarding joint interests, the news agency said, and specifically covered trade, a joint pandemic response and energy cooperation.

“I think this is, quite clearly, they are trying to show they are united on a common issue, and that is the U.S,” Collin Koh, a maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told VOA.

U.S. officials and other Western leaders have spoken out against the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and condemned what they consider Chinese military threats against Taiwan. Washington was a Cold War foe of both sides. The U.S. armed forces are today’s strongest, followed by Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the issue of “the buildup” of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border when he visited the UK, December 10-12, for a G-7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting. G-7 ministers said they were “united in our condemnation of Russia’s military build-up and aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine,” the U.S. Department of State reported on its website.

Putin and Xi likely briefed each other Wednesday on their respective conversations with U.S. President Joe Biden, Koh said. U.S. behavior, he said, gives the duo stronger “strategic convergences.” Xi and Biden met virtually in November, followed by a Biden-Putin encounter last week.

“We have an openly hostile relationship with the United States,” said Vassily Kashin, senior fellow at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, referring to the government in Moscow.

“Each side is interested in weakening the U.S. global leadership, and that is the most important common interest,” he told VOA.

After the summit, Putin’s presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said that “both from our side and from the Chinese side, a negative assessment was expressed about the creation of new alliances such as the Indo-Pacific Quad and the American-Anglo-Australian union AUKUS,” Russia’s state media Sputik News reported.

The Quad refers to dialogue involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States. AUKUS is a 3-month-old agreement that will let the United States and the UK help develop Australia’s military technology.

Discussion on Wednesday touched as well on what Xinhua calls “democracy,” a possible reference to the U.S.-led, 110-country Summit for Democracy that excluded China and Russia. In November, both countries’ ambassadors to Washington protested the summit as creating divisions in the world.

Evolution of post-Cold War alliance

School of Business head at Melbourne Institute of Technology, Stuart Orr, told VOA that Sino-Russian relations faded in the 1960s when the two Communist parties split over ideology, and border conflicts followed. The two are taking different courses now, with China more “expansionist.”

Adding “a sore spot,” Orr said, Russian contractors still help Southeast Asian countries drill in the South China Sea, a waterway that Beijing calls its own.

But China and Russia markedly strengthened political and military relations this year and the two leaders plan to meet in February in Beijing at the Winter Olympics, Xinhua reported.

The border neighbors held a series of military exercises. In October, for example, they carried out naval drills. Russia and China also issued a joint diplomatic statement in the form of an op-ed in November critical of Biden’s Democracy Summit.

China and Russia also began operating a space weather center this month in Beijing and Moscow. In June, they agreed to extend their 20-year-old Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation by respecting each other’s interests and sovereignty.

Russia, China Present United Front Amid Tensions With West
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On the economic front, manufacturing-intensive China is likely to buy Russian oil, Orr said. Russia was the world’s fourth-largest oil-exporting region last year with proven reserves of 107.8 billion barrels.

He said the pair intends to “share resources,” with any energy deal a relief for China’s power shortages, reported in October.

“I think you probably see a bit of economic underpinning,” Orr said. “It makes a lot of sense for Russia to try to connect their economic prosperity to China and to China’s growth because they’ll become the largest economy. So, if Russia is connecting their economy to them, then that will lift Russia’s economy along with it.”

But ultimately the “aim is political,” he said. “From Russia’s perspective, this is something they like to encourage so they can show the two form a united command-economy front,” Orr said.

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