Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China's XI at Putin's 'Victory Day' Parade. Friendship, Business - or Both?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China's XI at Putin's 'Victory Day' Parade. Friendship, Business - or Both?

Article excerpt

When Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping stand together on the Red Square reviewing stand at tomorrow's military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the two leaders will doubtless share warm smiles and fraternal handshakes.

The Chinese president's attendance provides some consolation for the absence of leaders from the West at Moscow's celebration. But Mr. Xi is not bringing Mr. Putin what he most wants: solidarity against the West.

Locked in a bitter dispute with the West over Ukraine's future, Putin "would like China to support Russia against the United States," says Sergey Lukonin, a China expert at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, a government-linked think tank in Moscow.

For Beijing, however, whose interests in Russia are more coldly commercial and focused on oil and gas, that would be a step too far.

"Chinese-Russian relations are not a military or political alliance targeting a third party," says Li Xing, who teaches international relations at Beijing Normal University. "The purpose is not to team up with Russia against any other country but to serve national interests."

In the run-up to Xi's visit to Moscow, Chinese officials have trumpeted the warmth of Beijing's feelings for Russia. Putin and Xi appear to get on well personally. The strategic partnership of the two giant neighbors has deepened in recent years.

Shared interestsRussia and China have dropped territorial and ideological differences that once threatened war. They share many common interests.

Russia is China's largest source of military equipment and its third largest source of oil and gas. Their two navies plan their first joint maneuvers in the Mediterranean later this month. They are both members of the BRICS group of emerging economies. Their shared international outlooks include resentment at the scale of US influence in world affairs.

Yet on the Ukraine crisis, Beijing has been cautious, careful not to complicate relations with Washington unnecessarily while at the same time not angering Moscow, points out David Zweig, who teaches Chinese transnational relations at Hong Kong University.

"They did not support Russia's position but they have not challenged it either," he says. Beijing has mostly stayed out of the diplomatic and sanctions battles between Russia and the US and Europe that followed Moscow's annexation of Crimea last year.

China is ready for "some kind of general relationship of a strategic nature" with Russia "that suggests Russia and China have closer relations than they actually do, in the hope this might concern the US and other western powers," says Michael Swaine, a China analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

"But Beijing does not regard Russia as that significant a strategic player," Mr. Swaine adds. …

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