Beijing has been walking a fine line since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago. Chinese leaders have refused to unequivocally condemn the invasion, while engaging in introspection over their stance on the war and looking for ways to consolidate their position as the more senior partner in a mutually beneficial China-Russia relationship.
Alexander Gabuev, a Carnegie Senior Fellow, argued that the partnership between China and Russia is still strong, but more due to Beijing’s failure to perceive opposition to the Ukraine war as serving their own interests than any principled opposition based on tenets of sovereignty and international law. He also stated that it is in Xi Jinping’s interests to keep Russia close as a preventative measure against a potential shift to a pro-Western and pro-democracy stance, which could jeopardize China’s access to Russian natural resources.
Li Mingjiang, an author and professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, agreed that Beijing does not see the Ukraine war as a direct threat to their own interests. He argued that Chinese officials are reluctant to side with the Western democracies here because they fear what further demands may be made of them.
Hoang Thi Ha, a senior fellow and co-coordinator of the Regional Strategic and Political Studies Program at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, added that Beijing’s self-interest does not call for full-blown support for Putin’s war. She stated that one consideration for Beijing here is China’s standing among the nations of the developing world, and that the regime in Beijing is more concerned about their own interests and the respect they enjoy in the eyes of those emerging powers than placating Putin.