In an unsurprising show of solidarity, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping joined forces in a strong rebuke of the West in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
It was clear from the onset that the Olympics would double as a strong political statement. Many nations, including the U.S., U.K., Canada, and India, boycotted the event. Citing humanitarian concerns and the COVID pandemic, they nonetheless operated under the backdrop of wider tensions with Russia and China.
Putin and Xi’s solidarity came as welcome reassurance to Russia regarding Chinese support for their belligerent actions in Ukraine. China recently joined Russia in attempting to veto a Security Council meeting regarding the crisis in Ukraine, during which American and Russian diplomats clashed in tensions reminiscent of the Cold War. The Security Council could not make any resolutions regarding the issue due to Russia’s veto power, but the meeting allowed international players to make their position on Russia’s aggression known.
Xi, however, has made his stance clear long ago. Though Russia and China have tensions of their own, China stands to gain from any action Russia takes in Ukraine. Ultimately, the West will defeat Russia, whether economically or militarily. Even if Russia captures more territory in Ukraine, any offensive will be met with severe and devastating sanctions, forcing it to rely on trade with China. If China maneuvers itself well into position, it could become the dominant half in the traditionally balanced Sino-Russian partnership.
It is theorized that, should sanctions on Russia be placed by the West, China may be ready to buy Russian gas in bulk. This would allow Russia’s economy to survive longer under economic pressure, prolonging a conflict and allowing Russia to make more territorial gains. Yet Xi has reason to be wary, as any significant escalation on the part of Russia may render it an international pariah, forcing even China to limit interactions with the rogue state. This is particularly of concern if Putin decides to use strategic nuclear weapons to ‘freeze’ the conflict, should he not gain enough headway in the opening act of the war.
During the Olympics so far, much controversy has arisen over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, China’s own humanitarian issues, and geopolitical concerns beyond Europe. Most notably, China included a PLA commander who had participated in skirmishes between China and India a year ago as a torchbearer. Pictures of Putin sleeping during the Ukrainian national anthem were also widely distributed, a diplomatic slight not unexpected from a nation on the brink of war.
China and Russia’s increased cooperation is as always temporary. Tensions between China and Russia are typically swept under the rug to maintain the illusion of friendship and a united front against the United States. But China’s willingness to support Russia may be a precursor to its own incursions, whether in Taiwan, Kashmir, or the South China Sea. It could also be the cover it needs to handle its own internal affairs without Western scrutiny. Regardless of which, China’s unique position on the potential Russo-Ukrainian War will serve as a significant source of misery for the West, having to deal with the world’s foremost economic power backing an otherwise bankrupt aggressor.
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