Xi and Putin’s plan for a ‘new era’: How to read between the lines
The leaders of China and Russia continue to strengthen ties as they ‘drive changes’ together. EL PAÍS offers a detailed analysis of the joint statement published after their meeting in Moscow last week
At the end of his state visit to Russia last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping said goodbye to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, with the following words: “Right now there are changes — the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years — and we are the ones driving these changes together.” “I agree,” Putin responded.
The statement, made during an informal conversation, offers an important glimpse into the Chinese leader’s thinking. The world is witnessing enormous changes; China wants to shape a new world order more favorable to its interests, and Russia is an important partner in achieving this.
During the state visit, Putin and Xi signed a joint statement that outlined a series of points regarding their strengthening relationship. In this analysis, EL PAÍS offers its interpretation of the text, and what it says about Russia and China’s global geopolitical vision.
Joint statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in the new era
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, hereinafter referred to as the Parties, declare the following.
With the unremitting efforts of both sides, the China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for a New Era
The reference to a "new era" at the start of the document makes it clear that Russia and China consider that the current geopolitical balances in the world are at a moment of transcendental change. In October 2022, Putin warned: "We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War II." The Russian leader said the world was seeing the clash between traditional and neoliberal values.
has reached the highest level in history and continues to move forward.
In the decade that Xi has been in power, the bilateral relationship between Russia and China has seen a great momentum, with trade between the two countries growing by 116%. In 2022, in the midst of the war in Ukraine, it rose 34.3%, hitting $190 billion. That same year, trade in goods between the U.S. and China was $690 billion.
The two sides pointed out that the China-Russia relationship is not similar to the military and political alliance during the Cold War, but transcends this model of state relations, and has the nature of non-alignment, non-confrontation, and non-targeting of third countries.
The China-Russia joint statement of February 4, 2022, which was signed just before the invasion of Ukraine, said the "friendship between the two States has no limits." But right from the start, this document appears to raise points that do, in fact, appear to be limits. The attitude of China, which has avoided taking steps that could trigger Western sanctions, also hints at another limit. Between supporting its Russian partner and jeopardizing trade with the West, so far Beijing has had no doubts about what to choose.
The China-Russia relationship is mature, stable, independent, and tenacious. It has withstood the test of the Covid-19 epidemic and the vicissitudes of the international situation. It is not affected by external influences and has shown vitality. The friendship from generation to generation between the two peoples has a solid foundation, and the all-around cooperation between the two countries has broad prospects. Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia.”
China and Russia regard each other as priority cooperative partners, always respect each other and treat each other as equals, which has become a model of major power relations today.
Relationships between the two countries have grown progressively closer since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. But the relationship also has problematic aspects. For example, in 2020, Russian counterintelligence arrested the president of the Arctic Academy of Sciences for passing secret information to Beijing. What's more, they are not equal powers: their relationship has been marked by an asymmetry of forces. In the 20th century, the USSR clearly had more strength; while in the 21st century, the dominance of China is so evident that some analysts say the relationship resembles that between a lord and his vassal.
Under the guidance of the Heads of State, the two sides have maintained close exchanges at all levels, conducted in-depth communication on major issues of mutual concern, enhanced mutual trust, and ensured that bilateral relations run at a high level. Both sides are willing to further deepen bilateral relations and develop dialogue mechanisms in various fields.
The two sides pointed out that the current world changes are accelerating, and the international pattern is undergoing profound adjustments, including peace, development, cooperation, and win-win results are an irresistible historical trend. The formation of a multi-polar international pattern is accelerating. There are increasing numbers of regional powers that are strong and determined to defend their legitimate rights and interests
This is a key paragraph, likely to be at the core of China's and Russia's intentions. Xi and Putin describe a world in flux, one that would move away from the global balance forged in 1945. In this scenario, new actors could emerge to claim a greater share of power and call for different forms of relationship.
At the same time, hegemonism, unilateralism, and protectionism are still rampant, and it is unacceptable to replace recognized principles and norms of international law with nothing more than a “rule-based order.”
This is a veiled criticism of the United States. The real glue in the China-Russia relationship — two nations that have deeply distrusted one another for decades — is their common opposition to U.S. supremacy. In the 1970s, the White House knew how to exploit this mistrust, when it thawed relations with Beijing. The statement's dismissal of "rule-based order" points to an understanding of the world order in which interstate relations have more weight.
The principles of universality, openness, inclusiveness, non-discrimination and balance should be upheld to achieve a multipolar world and sustainable development for all countries. China and Russia call on all countries to promote the common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom for all humankind, to engage in dialogue rather than confrontation, inclusiveness rather than exclusion, to live in harmony and win-win cooperation and promote world peace and development.
China and Russia once again express their rejection of a unipolar world dominated by the U.S. and its allies. It is interesting to note that they are backing the concept of "multipolar" — not multilateral — world, which is the preferred idea in Europe. The leaders also avoid the polarizing concept, instead putting forward the image of a round table, where everyone has a say.
Under this situation, the two sides maintain close diplomatic coordination, carry out close multilateral cooperation, resolutely safeguard fairness and justice, and promote the building of a new type of international relations.
The two sides pointed out that countries have different histories, cultures, and national conditions, and each has the right to independently choose its development path. There is no “democracy” that is superior to others. Both sides oppose the imposition of national values on others, the use of ideology to draw lines, the hypocritical narrative of the so-called “democracy against authoritarianism” and the use of democracy and freedom as a pretext and a political tool to put pressure on other countries and politics.
This is an obvious critique of Western countries that, according to Beijing and Moscow, espouse values to encourage the destabilization of adversary governments, promoting protests such as the Color Revolutions in post-Soviet republics and supporting the stifled citizen resistance in Hong Kong.
Russia attaches great importance to China’s Global Civilization Initiative.
With this acknowledgment from Putin, Xi scores a diplomatic point. In recent years, the Chinese president has launched several global initiatives in an effort to shape international relations in favor of China. These initiatives offer the Chinese development experience as a model to follow, and have strong appeal to many countries, especially in the global south.
The two sides pointed out that the realization of human rights for all is the common pursuit of human society. All countries have the right to independently choose the path of human rights development.
This is one of the main mantras of the Russia-China relationship: to argue that the concepts of democracy and human rights are relative, and that there are different approaches towards them.
Different civilizations and countries should respect, tolerate, communicate with and learn from each other. The two sides will unswervingly advance the cause of human rights in their own countries and the cause of human rights in the world.
In neither China nor Russia, is there authentic political pluralism or true freedom of expression. Various organizations, such as Amnesty International, have denounced systematic violations of fundamental rights. Last summer, the United Nations accused China of “serious violations of human rights” in its treatment of the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region.
Russia supports China’s realization of Chinese-style modernization. China supports Russia in achieving its national development goals before 2030.
The two sides oppose interference by external forces in internal affairs.
The Russian side reaffirms its adherence to the one-China principle, recognizes Taiwan as an inalienable part of China’s territory, opposes any form of “Taiwan independence,” and firmly supports China’s measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Moscow is reiterating its support for Beijing on the issue of Taiwan, which is undoubtedly the main source of contention that could turn the rivalry between China and the U.S. into a military conflict. Taiwan has always been a very red line for China, and is brought up in all diplomatic relations with another state. The principle involves the recognition of the People's Republic of China, the Communist country founded by Mao Zedong in 1949, as the only China, and calls for an end to diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing considers an inalienable part of its territory.
The two sides will strengthen coordination, implement precise policies, and proceed from a strategic perspective to effectively improve the level of practical cooperation between the two countries in various fields, so as to consolidate the material foundation of bilateral relations and benefit the two peoples.
The two sides will consolidate the momentum of bilateral trade growth, continue to optimize the trade structure, implement the Roadmap for the High-quality Development of China-Russia Trade in Goods and Services, support the development of e-commerce, cultivate new economic and trade growth points, expand the breadth of economic and trade cooperation, improve the efficiency of cooperation, minimize external risks, and ensure the stability and security of the industrial chain and supply chain. The two sides will deepen local cooperation, broaden cooperation areas and fields, and promote exchanges and cooperation between small and medium-sized enterprises of the two sides.
In the wake of the war in Ukraine, a large number of Western companies stopped operations in Russia, and Moscow is now scrambling to fill in the gaps. From this perspective, Russia is trying to lure Chinese companies to the country. Russia's dependence on China is growing by leaps and bounds. Putin has made huge economic concessions to China without receiving reciprocating treatment. In return, the Kremlin has avoided complete isolation and receives enough help to avoid collapse from war. Putin is considering using the yuan to pay for Russia's business with outside countries. Chinese companies will be given priority access to acquire the assets of Western companies leaving Russia. And Moscow is giving Beijing an important role in the development of the Russian Far East.
The two sides will forge a closer energy partnership, support enterprises of the two sides in promoting energy cooperation projects in oil and gas, coal, electricity, and nuclear energy, and promote the implementation of initiatives that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the use of low-emission energy and renewable energy. The two parties will jointly maintain international energy security including key cross-border infrastructure, maintain the stability of the supply chain of the energy product industry chain, promote fair energy transition and low-carbon development based on the principle of technology neutrality, and jointly contribute to the long-term healthy and stable development of the global energy market.
This is a key area of relationship development. Following the imposition of Western sanctions, China (like India) has been increasing its purchases of Russian hydrocarbons, at discounted prices. Last year, Beijing imported €81.3 billion worth of Russian oil, gas and coal, 56% more than in 2021. A project to build a second gas pipeline between the two countries is also on the horizon. However, Xi's state visit has not yielded a definitive agreement, a worrying sign for Putin. Xi Jinping did not commit to further expanding imports of Russian gas. All projects, such as the Siberian Power 2 pipeline, had been announced earlier. China is interested in diversifying all levels of its supply chain so as not to find itself in the same situation of dependency that the European Union found itself in with Russia in 2022.
The two sides reaffirm their commitment to vigorously defending the international system, in which the U.N. plays a central role; that is, the world order based on international law and the fundamental rules of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter. The two sides oppose all forms of hegemony, unilateralism and power politics, Cold War mentality, conflict between sides and the creation of small circles directed against individual countries.
One of the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter is respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of other countries. China explicitly mentions this in its "Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis." Despite this, it has not at any time criticized the Kremlin, which is clearly violating these principles.
The two sides support the construction of an open world economy, advocate for a multilateral trading system whose core is the World Trade Organization, promote the liberalization and simplification of trade and investment conditions, and demand an open, equitable, fair and non-discriminatory development environment. The two sides also reject unilateralism, protectionism and attempts to put up barriers and to sever supply chains, as well as unilateral sanctions and marginalization policies.
This criticism is directed at the U.S. and its partners. "Barriers and obstacles" refer to the tariffs imposed on Chinese products by former U.S. president Donald Trump, as well as Biden's green stimulus program. Attempts to sever the supply chain refer to Washington's bid to reduce its manufacturing dependence on China. Unilateral sanctions refer to the broad set of restrictive measures taken against Russia, as well as the restrictions on the export of sophisticated semiconductors to China.
Russia welcomes the Global Development Initiative and will continue to participate in the work of the Group of Friends to support it. The two sides will continue to encourage the international community to focus on development issues and enhance their contribution to them, to jointly contribute to the success of the United Nations Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring the prompt implementation of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations for Sustainable Development.
The Global Development Initiative is one of several initiatives that has been promoted by Beijing in recent years. It seeks to build informal links in areas such as development and security, and in this way, offset the lead the U.S. has with its extensive network of formal alliances.
The two sides will continue to work closely to strengthen the role and influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in guaranteeing peace, security and stability in their territory. Together with other SCO member states, they intend to strive to enhance the Organization’s current activities in order to effectively deal with new challenges and threats, and to deepen mutually beneficial multilateral relations in the fields of trade, economy, and cultural and humanitarian ties in Eurasia.
Chapter Six reviews various global governance forums such as the SCO, which is promoted by China, and made up of other giants such as India, Russia and Pakistan. In these organizations, these countries have a louder voice. At the last SCO summit in September of last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized Putin for the invasion of Ukraine. "Now is not a time for wars," he said.
Russia highly appreciates China’s successful hosting of the 14th BRICS Summit. The two sides are willing to work together with other BRICS members ( Brazil, India and South Africa) to implement the consensus reached at previous BRICS leaders’ meetings, deepen practical cooperation in various fields, actively promote discussions on the expansion of BRICS countries and the New Development Bank, and actively carry out “BRICS+” cooperation and cooperation. BRICS peripheral dialogues safeguard the common interests of emerging markets and developing countries.
BRICS is another forum Russia and China hope to promote. To date, however, it has had a limited role, and there is no sign that it will become more productive in the future. It should also be noted that BRICS members Brazil and South Africa are also members of the International Criminal Court, and therefore have a duty to execute the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against Putin.
The two sides intend to strengthen coordination within the G20 and other multilateral mechanisms, encourage the G20 to respond to the current challenges of the international financial and economic context, and improve global economic governance in an equitable and sustainable way to better reflect the global economic architecture, including giving greater representation and voice to emerging markets and developing countries. The two sides support the African Union’s accession to the G20.
This is a reference to the G20 summit in November last year, which was a difficult event for both countries, but especially Russia. The meeting ended with a statement condemning Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. China and Russia refused to sign the document. Beijing, however, did not want to take its defense of the Kremlin too far, and did not even push to add a footnote to the statement to make its dissent public. It was a diplomatic blow.
The two sides are determined to strengthen cooperation to support a multilateral trading system based on WTO rules, and in this way, combat trade protectionism, including the imposition of illegitimate unilateral restrictions on trade;
This is a reference to the U.S.-China dispute over semiconductors. In December, Beijing filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against the United States, accusing the U.S. of abusing export control measures to restrict trade in advanced chips. In October, Washington approved these mechanisms in the face of what it deemed the growing threat from China's rapid technological and military development.
The two sides will further intensify dialogue on the agenda of the World Trade Organization, including its reforms to strengthen the role of the WTO in global economic governance, in particular, promoting the efforts to secure a fully functioning dispute settlement system by 2024, and promoting the application of negotiation outcomes on joint initiatives such as the facilitation of investment and electronic commerce. The two sides strongly condemn the politicization of the multilateral platform.
This is another jibe at the U.S., which has prevented the smooth functioning of the WTO by blocking the renewal of the members of the arbitration panel. This began under Trump and has not been fixed by Biden.
The two sides emphasized the significance of the “Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on the Prevention of Nuclear War and Avoidance of an Arms Race” and reaffirmed that “nuclear war cannot be won or fought.”
Since the start of the Ukraine invasion, Putin has explicitly raised the nuclear threat on several occasions. At the beginning of the war, before starting negotiations with Kyiv, he ordered his military to put his country’s nuclear deterrence forces on “special mode of combat duty.” In September, when announcing a mass mobilization of troops, Putin warned he would use "all means available to protect Russia," adding: "This is not a bluff."
The two sides call on all signatories of the joint statement to abide by the concept of the statement, effectively reduce the risk of nuclear war, and avoid any armed conflict among nuclear-weapon states. Against the backdrop of deteriorating relations among nuclear-weapon states, measures to reduce strategic risks should be organically integrated into overall efforts to ease tensions, build more constructive relations, and minimize conflicts in the security field.
Putin recently suspended Moscow’s participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the U.S., the so-called New START Treaty. The pact, signed in 2010 by the U.S. and Russia, caps the number of long-range nuclear warheads the two sides can deploy and limits the use of missiles that can carry atomic weapons.
All nuclear-weapon states should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons abroad and withdraw nuclear weapons deployed abroad.
After issuing this statement last week, Putin announced on Saturday his plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. He justified the measure by pointing out that the U.S. has these weapons in other European states and that it is not infringing on any treaty. The New START treaty covers tactical weapons.
The two sides reaffirmed that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation system. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the Treaty and will continue to work together to maintain and strengthen the Treaty and maintain world peace and security.
The two sides expressed serious concern about the consequences and risks of the establishment of the “Trilateral Security Partnership” (AUKUS) by the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and related nuclear-powered submarine cooperation plans on regional strategic stability. The two sides strongly urge AUKUS member states to strictly fulfill their obligations of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and maintain regional peace, stability, and development.
Both Russia and China have repeatedly expressed their concerns about the Aukus security partnership. Two weeks ago, the alliance announced a detailed plan to develop nuclear-powered submarines in Australia. China claims that this alliance will unleash an “arms race” in the Pacific region and that the future transfer of nuclear technology from the U.S. and U.K. to Australia violates international agreements on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Russia has backed these concerns. It should be stressed that the nuclear technology in question only concerns engine propulsion, it has nothing to do with weapons.
Russia and China expresssed concern over the increased activities toward creating a global missile defense system and deploying its elements in various parts of the world.
In 2001, the United States withdrew from a major anti-ballistic missile control treaty. All global powers returned to the race. In his historic 2018 address to the nation, Putin announced plans for a new generation of weapons: hypersonic missiles, nuclear submarine drones and rockets capable of evading any anti-ballistic missile shield by suddenly changing direction. China carried out tests last year, showing its great capabilities in the field.
The two sides believe that the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter must be observed, and international law must be respected. The Russian side spoke positively of China’s objective and fair stance on the Ukraine issue.
China has never condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but nor has it provided Moscow with weapons. Since the start of the invasion, Beijing has tried to strike a complex balance, while still showing favor to Moscow. In this context, it has never recognized the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, nor the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. But it has criticized the sanctions imposed on Russia, as well as Western military support for Ukraine.
The two sides oppose any country or group of countries seeking military, political or other superiority that harms the legitimate security interests of other countries. The Russian side reiterated its commitment to resuming peace talks as soon as possible, and China appreciates this.
Following the breakdown of the Istanbul negotiations in March 2022, Moscow has been inflexible on the issue of returning to the negotiating table. The Kremlin is demanding that Ukraine recognize "the new territorial reality," i.e. its illegal annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — which it does not fully control — and Crimea.
The Russian side welcomes China’s willingness to play an active role in resolving the Ukrainian crisis through political and diplomatic means, and welcomes the constructive propositions set out in the document “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukrainian Crisis.”
In February, coinciding with the anniversary of the Russian invasion, China released a document affirming the importance of respecting the "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries." The text does not lay out any practical measures, and was met with skepticism by the United States, Europe and NATO. Ukraine was sparing in its response, awaiting a possible conversation between Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The two sides pointed out that the solution to the Ukraine crisis must respect the legitimate security concerns of all countries, preventing clashes between blocs and actions that further aggravate the conflict.
One of Russia's arguments for invading Ukraine was to counter NATO's expansion towards the east. During pre-war negotiations, the Kremlin demanded that NATO remove any troops or weapons from countries that joined the alliance after 1997. This includes most of Eastern Europe, including Poland, the Baltic states and Balkan countries.
The two sides stressed that responsible dialogue is the best way to progressively resolve the issue. To that end, the international community should support relevant constructive efforts. The two sides call on all parties to stop all actions that contribute to the escalation of tension and the prolongation of hostilities, in order to prevent further worsening the crisis until it is out of control. In addition, both sides oppose all unilateral sanctions imposed in circumvention of the U.N. Security Council.
The two sides urge NATO to abide by its commitments as a regional and defensive organization, and call on NATO to respect the sovereignty, security, interests, diversity of civilizations, history and culture of other countries, and view the peaceful development of other countries objectively and fairly.
Russia is clinging to its narrative that in 1990, then-U.S. secretary of state James Baker allegedly promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand beyond eastern Germany. However, this was never set down in any written pact.
The two sides expressed grave concern over NATO’s continued strengthening of military-security ties with Asia-Pacific countries, which undermines regional peace and stability.
In January, Japan and NATO signed a declaration to further strengthen ties. For the first time, several Asian countries were invited to a NATO summit in Madrid last summer.
The two sides oppose patching together a closed and exclusive group structure in the Asia-Pacific region, creating group politics and camp confrontation. The two sides pointed out that the United States adheres to the Cold War mentality and pursues the “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which has a negative impact on peace and stability in the region. China and Russia are committed to building an equal, open, and inclusive Asia-Pacific security system that does not target third countries, so as to maintain regional peace, stability and prosperity.
At the June summit in Madrid, NATO listed China as a security concern for the first time. In its blueprint, or Strategic Concept, it accused China of trying to "subvert the rules-based international order" and of trying to enhance its influence in the Asia Pacific region. The document described Russia as a threat, and expressed concern about the "deepening strategic partnership" between Russia and China.
The two sides believe that maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia is in the interests of all parties concerned. The two sides oppose the undermining of regional peace and stability by extraterritorial military forces and call on relevant countries to abandon the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice, exercise restraint and refrain from taking actions that endanger regional security.
This is a call to avoid a potential crisis in Taiwan, which is one of the most contentious spots on the planet. It can also be read in the context of Ukraine. Taiwan is the center of the diplomatic clash between the U.S. and China, but it also involves other regional elements, such as the persistent nuclear and ballistic threat from North Korea.
The President of the People’s Republic of China, President of the Russian Federation
Xi Jinping, V.V. Putin