Putin allies: NATO issues China warning over rock solid friendship with Russia

China plotting to 'exploit Russia' to expand into Indo-Pacific

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China was a key point of discussion for leaders at Thursday’s emergency NATO, EU and G7 summits – a trio in one day. As one of the only countries that bears a level of influence on Russia, China has the potential to make waves in swaying Russian President Vladimir Putin away from his offensive in Ukraine, however, China’s position remains somewhat ambiguous.

A senior official with knowledge of the summit said “almost all” of the 30 national leaders spoke about China, homing in on what’s seen to be increasing support for Russia allegedly through arms, trade lifelines and disinformation – which prove counterproductive to the west’s plans to enforce heavier sanctions.

China has been continually dismissive of propositions to isolate Russia, refusing to follow what it terms the West’s “unilateral” sanctions.

However, speaking at the NATO headquarters where the summit was held, US President Joe Biden told the leaders he did not threaten Chinese President Xi Jinping, but he did warn him of the consequences should they continue to support Russia, during a two-hour phone call last week.

Mr Biden recounted: “I made no threat but I pointed out the numbers of American and foreign corporations that had left Russia as a result of that barbaric behaviour.”

He then added that China does “understand that its economic future is much more closely tied to the West than it is to Russia.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Our message to China is that they should join the rest of the world and condemn the brutal war against Ukraine, and not support Russia either with economic support or of course military support.” However, China remains divided.

What is dividing China between Russia and the West?

Russia and China have enjoyed somewhat good relations since the 1950s.

Although they have no formal alliance, the countries have an informal agreement to coordinate diplomatic and economic moves, rather than compete.

In today’s environment, China allegedly wants an authoritarian partner to build up an alliance against the United States, and Russia, who share a number of common values with the country, are an appropriate option.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent at the Wall Street Journal Yaroslav Trofimov said: “The two governments share a hostility to dissent, deep suspicion of Western interference and a strong desire to impose tighter controls over their own societies.”

This has led to somewhat of a strategic partnership – a partnership Foreign Minister Wang Yi describes as a “rock solid” friendship, which has greatly influenced China’s response to the Russian offensive.

Chinese state media have been blaming NATO for the Russia-Ukraine war, stating its “eastward expansion” is the cause for the worsening tensions, and a senior EU official has provided what they call “very reliable evidence” that Beijing is considering arms sales to Russia.

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However, Biden’s warnings of economic fallout is not a favourable outcome for China, a country that thrives off the sales of its goods in Western markets.

However, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stirred some form of ambiguity around China’s recent stance towards the conflict when speaking in Pakistan at a joint conference on Wednesday.

He said: “The Ukraine crisis tells the world that … basing one’s security on another country’s insecurity will lead to the eruption of contradiction. Today, in the 21st century, having military groups or bloc confrontation is not popular, and doesn’t have a future.”

In response, the EU’s trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovski said: “Sometimes they seem to be aligning with Russia, sometimes they are keeping some distance.”

In a statement, NATO leaders have called on China “to uphold the international order including the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, as enshrined in the UN Charter, to abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort in any way, and to refrain from any action that helps Russia circumvent sanctions.”

The statement added: “We are concerned by recent public comments by [Chinese] officials and call on China to cease amplifying the Kremlin’s false narratives, in particular on the war and on NATO, and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

An EU-China summit will take place on April 1, where leaders hope to discuss the offensive and make sure “[China] are not supporting Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine.”

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