China's relations with Russia are driven more by economic interests than by a desire to side with it - foreign policy expert

  • 2023-03-22
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - China's relations with Russia are driven more by economic interests and efforts to increase its influence in the world than by the desire to stand on Russia's side, this is the opinion expressed by foreign affairs expert, Latvian National Defense Academy lecturer Janis Kapustans to LETA.

This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. This is Xi's first visit since being confirmed president for a third term.

Kapustans noted that Russia wants to lessen its extensive isolation from the West. It is also interested in acquiring additional weapons. Although it seems Russia "on paper" has enough at the moment, some of the weapons are not effective and are outdated. In addition, Russia essentially has to compete with the military industry of Western countries that support Ukraine. Russia has little chance of enduring such competition in the long term.

"Russia is interested in trying to explore the possibilities of a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine using China as a mediator. China's role as a mediator could be useful in order to "save face" to get out of the conflict, or stop it while maintaining the conquered territories," said the foreign affairs expert.

He pointed out that in recent years, China has become closer to Russia, as the two countries have several points of contact. Both countries are led by de facto dictators who have a very large amount of power concentrated in their hands. There is no doubt in Russia that Vladimir Putin personally wants to stay in power for a long time. Similar processes are taking place in China. According to Kapustans, the impression is that Xi will try to stay in power for the rest of his life. Refusal from the previous tradition of ruling for no longer than two terms of office and strong concentration of power in personal hands clearly signals this.

The lecturer of the Latvian National Defense Academy emphasized that both countries are united by their opposition to the West, especially the United States. China does not have as much opposition to Europe because it is interested in economic relations and trade with, for example, Germany. Both countries - both China and Russia - have a very negative attitude towards the United States. Also, the United States is the main guarantor on the issue of Taiwan, which China would like to acquire for itself.

Kapustans emphasized that China wants to buy more and more cheap raw materials and resources from Russia, especially at the moment when Western Europe is largely abandoning Russian gas and oil. Western Europe has so far paid considerably for these resources, China - much cheaper, but Russia currently lacks markets for these resources.

"For its part, China wants to present itself to the rest of the world as a peacemaker, because, look, it has developed a peace plan. China has declared for the past twenty years that it does not directly engage in conflicts, although recently it has strongly strained relations with Taiwan. China wants to show how attractive it is to the rest of the world," said the foreign policy expert.

The lecturer of the Latvian National Defense Academy emphasized that China is driven by pragmatic considerations - both the opportunity to buy natural resources cheaply, and also to ensure that Russia does not collapse in the war in Ukraine and that Putin remains in power as a counter force to the West. The good news might be that China is not interested in an escalation of the war, and in particular the possible use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine or elsewhere. Some Russian politicians have already called for missile strikes, for example, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke about a missile strike on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is located in the Netherlands.

Speaking about weapons that Russia might be interested in, Kapustans pointed out that there is currently no solid evidence that China has sold lethal weapons to Russia. China is trying to "maneuver" and advance its interests instead of "fraternally" helping Russia. China wants to maintain economic relations not only with Europe, but also with the United States. On the other hand, if a Chinese company helps Russia with weapons with the government's notice, then sanctions from the United States would immediately follow, which could negatively affect the Chinese economy, which was already severely slowed down by the drastic Covid-19 measures.

The foreign policy expert pointed out that China does not want to completely side with Russia, although in its rhetoric it can demonstrate 100% or even greater support for Russia. China is closely following the war in Ukraine and watching the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia, as well as opportunities to act on the issue of Taiwan.

He emphasized that on the Ukraine issue, China would like to increase its influence, or at least the country's prestige, by publicly speaking about a peace plan, which does not correspond to Ukraine's interests. In Kapustans' view, it is like a diplomatic game in which China is trying to increase its influence in the world. It is also interesting that the Chinese leader arrived in Moscow while strategic rival Japan - its Prime Minister Fumio Kishida - made a surprise visit to Kyiv yesterday. The expert pointed out that this clearly shows the rivalry.