CCP offers support for Putin; bilateral arms control talks
People’s Daily Russian section silent
The pace of China-Russia bilateral political, military, and energy interactions appears to have sharply increased as both sides seek to signal unity amid a potential confrontation with the Free World over Ukraine. Still, the CCP has not explicitly outlined what support, if any, it would offer to Putin amid a confrontation. PRC policymakers are likely still weighing their options amid a developing situation.
The People’s Daily does not appear to have updated its Russia foreign affairs section since November 5th. Why the silence? The Russia PD didn’t refer to Putin by his title in an October 20th article (a very serious mistake for an authoritative state media organ of the CCP) and may be undergoing some self-criticism, but the CCP certainly has the capacity to maintain seamless coverage of Russian affairs, especially during a crisis. Interestingly, the People’s Daily military section has continued to report on the crisis and, unsurprisingly, characterizes the crisis as Western-initiated. The silencing of the Russia PD section likely implies that the CCP seeks strict message discipline and no unintentional signals during the crisis.
Putin confirmed that he plans to attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing on February 4th, 2022. The trip’s timing and logistics could be quite awkward for Putin, Xi, or, most likely, both. The trip could cause domestic and geopolitical political pain for both regimes. Putin’s entourage would include dozens (hundreds?) of individuals, and the probability they would bring the omicron variant into China is significant. Perhaps more importantly, will Putin really leave Russia in February if he escalates in Ukraine in January? Finally, it’s not clear if Xi will even want Putin to attend the ceremony in February, as Western-Russian tensions could be quite high by that time, should Putin escalate in Ukraine. If the PRC offers practical or even symbolic support for Putin after an escalation it could further imperil its relationship with the democracies and potentially lead to secondary sanctions. It goes without saying, of course, but the next few months – and the Olympic visit – could have profound implications for Russia-China relations. Interesting times ahead.
Finally, at the Russia Calling! Investment Forum, Putin mentioned that “We are conducting [a strategic stability] dialogue with the People's Republic of China as well.” While Moscow and Beijing committed to mutual no-first-use and de-targeting of nuclear weapons in 1994, I don’t recall either side discussing an ongoing nuclear arms dialogue before. Indeed, Russia may be concerned or even alarmed by China’s hypersonic missile test and nuclear missile build-out. Putin and the CCP are drawing closer, but there are limits to the relationship.
Table of Contents for Today’s Newsletter:
The PRC and the crisis in Ukraine
Ukraine conflict risks rising
People’s Daily, Russian section
Putin reflects on China, plans to attend opening ceremony (post-escalation?)
Putin on Arms Control w/China
China-Russia military relations
1. The PRC and the crisis in Ukraine
Recently, Russia announced the suspension of the work of its permanent representative office in NATO and the NATO military liaison office in Moscow, and responded strongly to NATO's provocative actions. NATO issued a statement on Russia-related strength at the Defense Ministers' Meeting to increase its pressure on Russia. The two sides’ relationship smells more and more of gunpowder, and has fallen to a new low. [双方对抗火药味愈发浓厚，关系跌入新低谷。]
In addition, US Secretary of Defense Austin visited Georgia, Ukraine, Romania and other countries in recent days, reiterating his support for the anti-Russian stance of these countries, and encouraging Ukraine to join NATO. [Comment: This is not true, see below.]
In response to the strong deterrent signal released by Russia, NATO has also chosen a variety of ways to fight back.
Regarding the current relationship between Russia and NATO, the Russian newspaper "Kommersant" commented that Russia's latest decision means "factual severance of diplomatic relations." Zakharova also said that Stoltenberg underestimated the severity of the problems between the two sides, and the relationship between Russia and NATO was actually "worse than at any time during the darkest period of the Cold War." After the "breaking of diplomatic turmoil," there is a serious risk of military confrontation between Russia and NATO.
On the one hand, Ukraine insists on "entering NATO." Prior to this, Russia has repeatedly emphasized that Ukraine’s accession to NATO is a red line. If the red line is crossed, Russia will take corresponding measures to ensure national security. During his visit to Ukraine, Austin expressed a positive attitude towards Ukraine's entry into NATO. The development of Ukraine's "accession" may trigger a new round of turbulence in relations between Russia and the West.
On the other hand, NATO provoked "a ratcheting up of tensions." A US official revealed that after the approval of the "Euro-Atlantic Deterrence and Defense Concept" and its strategic implementation plan, NATO will formulate a more detailed regional strategy by the end of 2022, further adjust its weapons and military deployment, and issue more warnings to Russia. This move may force Russia to play a new wave of "counter-attack cards."
Comment: Secretary Austin pledged “continued U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” Words are important, and “pledging support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspiration” is not the same as expressing “encouraging Ukraine to join NATO.”
A couple of other notes on framing: the PD says Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania are adopting an “anti-Russian stance” rather than sticking up for their own sovereignty. This is consonant with Kremlin messaging. Finally, the PD characterizes the Kremlin’s actions as a “strong deterrent signal” (强烈威慑信号) or playing a “counter-attacking card” (反击牌). In this view of the world, the Kremlin is acting defensively – not highly aggressively and provocatively.
The United States has claimed that Ukraine is the cornerstone of security, democracy, and human rights in the entire region. However, Ukraine is now a chaos of territorial division, continuous wars, and a weak economy. Imagine if there was no "Orange Revolution" planned by the United States, would serious tears and antagonisms occur in Ukraine? If it were not for the United States to use Ukraine to press on Russia’s strategic space step by step, would Ukraine fall victim to competition among major powers?
According to the report… the eastern military region became a key force in countering the negative impact of the US “Indo-Pacific strategy”.
It is a heart-breaking scene with no clear end in sight at the border between Poland and Belarus: thousands of migrants try to warm themselves by building small fires out in the open in the freezing winter as hypothermia, hunger and exhaustion continue to prey on them.
Comment: Messaging campaign consonant with Russia’s
General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday sent a congratulatory message to the United Russia party on the 20th anniversary of its founding.
Expressing sincere congratulations, Xi said that as an important political force in Russia, the United Russia party has been working actively to unite and lead the Russian people to implement the strategic policies set by President Vladimir Putin, and achieve political stability, economic development and improvement of people's well-being at home, as well as a higher status on the world stage, and has won broad support in Russian society.
Noting that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of relations between the CPC and United Russia, he pointed out that over the past 20 years, the inter-party relationship has kept moving forward, and played a unique role in implementing the important consensuses between the heads of state of the two countries, consolidating political and strategic mutual trust between China and Russia, promoting the two countries' all-round cooperation of mutual benefit, and deepening strategic coordination between the two sides.
The CPC, Xi added, cherishes its friendship with the United Russia party, and hopes that the two parties will continue to strengthen institutionalized exchanges and cooperation, and contribute wisdom and strength to lifting China-Russia relations in the new era to higher levels and building a community with a shared future for mankind.
Comment: Extremely clear signal of political support for Putin, although the PRC continues to avoid, at least for now, any explicit commitments should a confrontation in Ukraine erupt. Also note that CCP-United Russia relations are fairly long-standing and Xi’s 20th anniversary congratulations isn’t irregular (see below)
Congratulating China on the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Gryzlov said Russia-China ties have reached an unprecedented level as the two countries have sound cooperation in various fields and good coordination in international and regional hotspot issues. The United Russia party stands ready to enhance cooperation with the CPC to further promote bilateral ties, said Gryzlov. The dialogue mechanism between the CPC and the United Russia party was launched in June 2009. Its sixth meeting was held in Kazan in March 2017.
The communiqué pointed out that the centuries of struggle of the Chinese Communist Party have profoundly affected the course of world history. China does not export ideology and development models, but China’s success proves that there can never be one "only correct" development path and political system in the world. Russia is constantly exploring its own development path, and has made considerable achievements [不小的成就]. Today's Sino-Russian relations are first established on the basis of mutual respect for each other's development path.
2. Ukraine conflict risks rising
Comment: Reminder that the People’s Daily/PRC dedicated a series of articles that sought to undermine Western intelligence reliability, almost surely to undercut this specific warning.
"The level of threats at the border linked with possible armed conflicts and incidents at the state border is not declining," he noted. "There are risks that members of international terrorist and extremist organizations, as well as subversive activities and terror attacks tools may infiltrate into Russia," Grebenkin said. "It stems from the fact that the number of hotbeds of military political instability near our border is increasing."
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has apprehended an operative of Ukraine’s military intelligence for plotting to carry out a terrorist attack in Russia, the FSB press office told TASS on Thursday. "Security officials detained an operative of the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, who was sent to the territory of our country to commit a terrorist attack," the press office said. The detainee, Alexander Viktorovich Tsilyk, born in 1998, is a resident of the Kiev Region.
The day before Putin’s “outhouse” comment, on September 22, another incident occurred at an apartment building in the western city of Ryazan. Two men driving a car with Moscow license plates were spotted carrying sacks into the basement of the building. Police and bomb-disposal experts swarmed the area, discovering they contained a military-grade explosive, and had a detonator and a timer set for 5:30 a.m. Putin that evening praised the work of investigators for thwarting what appeared to be another bombing attempt. The next day, three FSB officers were arrested by police in Ryazan and held on suspicion of planting the sacks. But Putin’s successor at the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, declared that the Ryazan incident had, in fact, been a training exercise, and he apologized for scaring an already edgy populace. "It was not an explosion somebody foiled; it was a security training exercise. The sacks contained only sugar. There were no explosives inside," Patrushev said.
"By essentially establishing a protectorate in Ukraine, the West crippled the country’s economy, took away people’s civil rights, and sent some strata of the population into poverty,’’ [Nikolai] Patrushev said. ‘’At any moment, there’s potential in Ukraine for an outburst of tensions so strong that millions of Ukrainians will flee to seek refuge in other places.’’
3. People’s Daily, Russian section
Comment: The People’s Daily appears to have stopped updating the Russia section of its international affairs website: the last article was published on Nov 5th. PD has updated its sites for Japan, the US, the UK, South Korea, and Australia within the past week.
4. Putin reflects on China, plans to attend opening ceremony (post-escalation?)
Andrei Kostin: Mr President, it is rumoured that you will go to Beijing for the Olympic Games. What are you looking forward to more, watching hockey and skiing, or talking with Xi Jinping?
Vladimir Putin: I plan to attend the opening ceremony. [Comment: Will the PRC be willing to host him if he escalates in Ukraine? Seems risky for both Putin and the CCP]
Question from Yerlan Syzdykov of Amundi Asset Management: Mr President, in the recent past, Russia has been building stronger ties to China as Western sanctions intensified. As the West designated now, China is a key strategic competitor, and some voices in the West are calling for so-called reverse Nixon policies towards Russia. Will Russia respond and rebalance its relationship with the West and China? And what would be the conditions under which Russia could consider such a rebalancing? And, Mr President, you also mentioned the threats to Russia, Russian security. Given that China is planning to quadruple its nuclear arsenal and recently successfully tested supersonic missiles, at what point will Russia consider the Chinese military buildup as a threat to its national security? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I have been intimidated by China since 2000. Since that time, those who were intimidating me have got frightened themselves and started changing their China policy. In my opinion, it has already changed – hence, the sanctions and different types of restrictions that seem to me to be unjustified through and through and in conflict – in this case I mean in respect of China – with international law.
But it is a fact of life that this rivalry is mounting and, sometimes, I would say, makes little sense, like the creation of an alliance in the Pacific area that comprises the United States, the UK and Australia. Closed alliances established against someone are unlikely to improve the situation in a region – just the opposite, they tend to create tensions. We have always spoken in favour of creating a single security system that considers the interests of all participants in the international dialogue. Well, they did what they did.
As for China’s growing might, we are seeing it, and everybody is seeing it: it is chiefly economic might. Why then must we be guided by third countries’ interests in shaping our policy? We have always been guided, and will be in the future, exclusively by the interests of the people of the Russian Federation – Russia’s interests. At the same time, we always have respect for the interests of our partners in the international arena and appreciate reciprocity. Incidentally, China, in response, is treating us the same way.
So, as for economic relations, there is an implication in your question: are we not thinking of scaling down cooperation with China, something the United States is urging its European partners to do? Look, last year, in 2020, trade between the US and China grew by 8 percent, while trade between Russia and China by 6.7 percent. Why are they calling on others to curtail relations while they themselves are doing the opposite?
First, we will be guided by our interests. Second, we hear the United States call on its European partners to curtail relations with China. But last year, China became the EU’s top trading partner, having outstripped the United States. It is a natural process, which cannot be halted. So, one should simply be guided by these considerations and, based on them, shape one’s policy. Our trade with China is growing. Last year, it reached US$104 billion. In the near future, in the next couple of years, we plan to bring it to US$200 billion. Generally speaking, that is a good figure for our trade with China but still it is a far cry from what the United States or Europe have with China.
With regard to its growing military power, you see, China is a country with a population of almost 1.5 billion people. It is probably entitled to build its defence policy so as to ensure the security of that vast country. Who can say no to it? Economic growth leads to growth of military power. It is a natural process.
Look, Great Britain and France have announced their plans to upgrade their nuclear arsenal. Is the United States affected by this? Does this fact concern it? No. Why would we be concerned about the increased military capabilities of our closest neighbour, with which we have an unprecedentedly high level of interstate relations? No, this does not scare us, because we ourselves are building up our capacity as well. [Bolded by The Report]
5. Putin on Arms Control w/China
We will expand our relations with China as we see fit. We are satisfied with the level of our relations. We think that they can be even deeper, more substantive and benefit the people of China and the people of Russia. We are thinking about our own security and are cooperating with our partners in the areas that we consider important. We consider it important to conduct a dialogue on strategic stability with the United States. We are conducting this dialogue with the People's Republic of China as well. [bolded by The Report] We conduct regular joint military exercises, exchange delegations, and we are aware of current developments. Relations are stable, and, moreover, relations between Russia and China are a significant stabilising factor in the world.
Comment: Is this new? I don’t recall hearing about an ongoing arms control dialogue before
China and Russia vowed to strengthen global strategic stability in a joint statement signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The statement was signed after their talks on June 25 afternoon in Beijing. In the joint statement, the two sides voiced concern over increasing "negative factors" affecting the global strategic stability. Some countries and military-political alliances seek decisive advantage in military and relevant technology, so as to serve their own interests through use or threat to use of force in international affairs. Such policy resulted in an out-of-control growth of military power and shook the global strategic stability system, the joint statement said.
"Strategic stability" has been a military concept in nuclear weapon. The statement said this conception is outdated and the international community should regard "strategic stability" from a wider angle.
In addition to its participation in these multilateral initiatives, China has also signed a series of bilateral arms control agreements with Russia. In 1994, Moscow and Beijing signed a joint statement committing to mutual no-first-use and de-targeting of nuclear weapons. In 2009, China and Russia agreed to notification of ballistic missile and space rocket launches; in 2020, the two countries renewed the agreement for another 10 years. In the mid-1990s, the two countries also consented to several confidence-building measures to reduce militarization of their shared border….
China has signed a handful of arms control measures with Russia, but these agreements have been largely confidence-building measures without inspection protocols.
6. China-Russia military relations
MOSCOW, November 19. /TASS/. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President of Russia Vladimir Putin that Russian and Chinese strategic bombers successfully coped with the assigned tasks during their joint air patrol over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea in the Asia-Pacific region, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
Russia efficiently counteract US military threats, displays a high economic growth and has achieved major successes in combating the coronavirus, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said during his meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu Tuesday. "In Russia, we also see a very favorable trend in the development of the social and economic field. You’ve achieved major successes in combating the coronavirus. You’ve successfully countered the pressure and deterrence from the US, as well as military threats from the US," the Minister said during the video conference. "We know," he continued, "that Russia’s predicted economic growth this year is about 4.7%. As your big friends, we are of course happy over such successes."
The Russia-China inter-governmental agreement on notifying each other’s side about the launches of ballistic missiles and space rocket carriers will be extended, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at a working meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on Tuesday.
Comment: Both sides appear to be increasing the tempo of inter-military exchanges. It costs both sides almost nothing but injects uncertainty into Free World planning in the run up to a potential confrontation over Ukraine.
A group of Pacific Fleet ships - the corvette Gremyashchy and two submarines of project 636.3 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Volkhov - has arrived at the main Pacific Fleet base in Vladivostok, the fleet’s press service said…
The submarine Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky was incorporated by the Pacific Fleet in November 2019, and Volkhov, in October 2020. The corvette Gremyashchy joined them in December 2020. The route of the naval group’s inter-fleet voyage lay across the Atlantic and Indian oceans and also the Baltic, Northern, Mediterranean, Red, Arabian and South China seas and the Sea of Japan.
The first-ever military exercise of Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) opened in Indonesia on Wednesday, Russia’s permanent mission to ASEAN told TASS. The ceremony was attended by Russian Ambassador to ASEAN Alexander Ivanov and Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Lyudmila Vorobyeva.
The trilateral nuclear submarine deal "endangered the international non-proliferation mechanism and global strategic balance and stability, as well as the post-war international security order," stated Wang Qun, Chinese envoy to the United Nations and other international organizations in Vienna, and Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, at a joint press conference after the meeting. AUKUS nuclear submarine deal intensified regional tensions and increased the risk of an arms race, and "Russia is deeply concerned about this," said Ulyanov.
The three countries draw lines with ideology and create new military blocs, and will exacerbate geographical tensions, said Wang, adding that, at a time when the international community generally opposed the Cold War and division, the United States flagrantly violated its policy of not engaging in a new Cold War, organized an Anglo-Saxon "small circle" and placed its geopolitical interests above international solidarity -- a typical Cold War mentality.
7. China-Russia energy interactions
Gas supplies to China over the Power of Siberia gas pipeline set a new record in early November and were more than 30% above daily commitments during the month in average, Gazprom reports on Monday.
On November 29, 2021, President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin respectively sent congratulatory letters to the third China-Russia Energy Business Forum.
Xi Jinping pointed out that since the beginning of this year, the two sides, with the focus on jointly celebrating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the China-Russia Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, have pushed forward the comprehensive strategic coordination and all-round practical cooperation and achieved new and fruitful results. Energy cooperation is an important direction of bilateral practical cooperation. The two sides have overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, achieved growth in energy trade against downward pressure, advanced major cooperation projects between the two sides smoothly, and continuously explored new areas and ways of cooperation. The remarkable achievements in bilateral energy cooperation have demonstrated the broad development potential of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. China is ready to work with Russia to forge a closer partnership for energy cooperation, and jointly safeguard energy security and tackle the challenge of global climate change.
Putin said in his congratulatory letter that the Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era is at an unprecedentedly high level. Energy cooperation between the two countries, as an important part of bilateral relations, has made positive progress in recent years. The cross-border oil and gas pipelines between the two countries have been operating stably, energy trade expanding steadily, and a number of major projects advancing smoothly, such as the development of liquefied natural gas in the Arctic region and the joint construction of nuclear power units. Putin hopes that the enterprises of the two sides will strengthen coordination, explore new cooperation areas like energy informatization and green energy, and further enrich Russia-China energy cooperation.
Comment: Top front-page article in the People’s Daily. More implied support for Putin but, again, Beijing does not appear to have made any concrete promise of support.
8. China-Russia politics
Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin Respectively Send Congratulatory Letters to the Closing Ceremony of China-Russia Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation – Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
Xi Jinping pointed out, when the China-Russia Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation opened in August 2020, President Putin and I respectively sent letters to express our congratulations and high expectations. For more than a year, China and Russia have joined hands to overcome the adverse impact of the COVID-19 and creatively carry out over 1,000 cooperation and exchange activities related to scientific and technological innovation.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on its official website on December 1, stating that before the so-called "leadership democracy summit", Russia urges all foreign partners not to follow the United States to draw a "democratic dividing line." The statement said: "We urge all foreign partners not to draw a dividing line, but to return to abide by the norms of international law and recognize in practice the sovereign equality of nations as stipulated in the UN Charter."
The United States will be hosting the online Summit for Democracy on December 9-10, 2021, empowering itself to define who is to attend the event and who is not, who is a “democratic country” and who is not eligible for such status. An evident product of its Cold-War mentality, this will stoke up ideological confrontation and a rift in the world, creating new “dividing lines.” This trend contradicts the development of the modern world. It is impossible to prevent the shaping of a global polycentric architecture but could strain the objective process. China and Russia firmly reject this move.
Co-chair of the German Alliance 90/The Greens party Annalena Baerbock, who is likely to head the Foreign Ministry, did not rule out a tougher policy towards China but, at the same time, upheld the development of a common European policy towards the Asian superpower, according to the Tageszeitung newspaper.
China and Russia have worked jointly this year to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic and achieved a stable development of bilateral relations in all areas, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday.
The China-Russia Report is an independent, nonpartisan newsletter covering political, economic, and security affairs within and between China and Russia. All articles, comments, op-eds, etc represent only the personal opinion of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the position(s) of The China-Russia Report.