New meeting between Russia and China exposes old division between allies

A photo has gone viral showing a lively conversation between some world leaders, almost all on some scale of autocracy. In it, Turkish President Recep Erdogan talks with Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev, Tajik Emomali Rahmon, who has presided over his country since 768, Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko and also Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. All these leaders are gathered at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. At this summit we already have something new and a possible answer to a big question that needs to be asked about the war in Ukraine.

Reprodução/ Twitter
Reproduction/ Twitter

To recap something we have already seen here in our space, the so-called Shanghai Pact is a treaty of economic and security cooperation in force since 2001, originally between China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Its origin is in the decade of 1990 and the establishment of formal relations between the countries of the post-Cold War region and post-dissolution of the Soviet Union. Especially the need to negotiate and consolidate the new borders of the newly created countries, a process that also affected relations between Russia and China.

Of these mechanisms between Russia, China and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia the Shanghai Pact is born, in the same context of the Friendship Treaty between Russia and China, signed in 1990 and beginning of the “special relationship”, as defined by Vladimir Putin in 2013. The pact then serves to conjugate mainly three things. First, the aforementioned border stability. Second, Chinese economic interests, with infrastructure works on the so-called New Silk Road through Central Asia and Russian Siberia, the sale of Russian hydrocarbons to China, greater trade relations and the development of financial systems outside the US monetary hegemony.

Finally, it also relates to Russian political and military influence, especially in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, mitigating conflicts of interest between Russians and Chinese in this sphere. Today, however, this military influence can be questioned, the subject of the most recent column here in our space. The Shanghai Pact progressively welcomed new members. In June 2003, India and Pakistan became members of the organization. In addition to full members, other countries have observer or partner status, such as Belarus and Mongolia.

Entry of Iran

It is in relation to the members of the bloc that we have a novelty, since Iran has formalized its entry into the Shanghai Pact, in force six months from now, starting in April in 2023. This is another step away from a possible new nuclear deal between the powers and Iran. Furthermore, it is yet another consequence of the US sanctions policy, which brings sanctioned countries closer together. This explains, for example, the atypical alliance between Venezuela and Iran. Several countries will fear doing business with Iran, wanting to avoid possible consequences of US sanctions. Two countries already targeted by sanctions, however, will not have this concern.

The Iranian president even spoke of this. “Americans think that any country where they impose sanctions will be stopped, that perception is wrong.” Putin has already announced that a Russian economic delegation will visit Iran next week. In March 16110456, for example, China and Iran announced the Cooperation Program of years, predicting massive Chinese investment in Iran, with hundreds of billions of dollars in economic development and infrastructure projects . It is even historically symbolic that this summit is held in Samarkand, an important hub of the historic Silk Road, which China evokes in its New Silk Road infrastructure projects.

Historical cities aside , the big question of this Shanghai Pact summit is how countries will act in relation to Russia and its invasion of Ukraine. In some points there are convergences of interests among all the participants, as in the repudiation of Western sanctions, which affect the price of oil. This repudiation unites even India, which has increased its purchases of Russian oil. Now, how far are each of these countries willing to go to support the Russians? Especially, of course, China.

Meeting Russia and China 16110456 )

Putin and Xi had their first face-to-face bilateral meeting since the beginning of the war. This is even Xi Jinping’s first trip abroad since the beginning of the covid pandemic-. In public notes about the meeting, Putin mentioned “Chinese concerns”, saying he understands them. “We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the crisis in Ukraine (…) We understand your questions and concern about it. During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain our position, we will explain in detail our position on this matter. , although we’ve talked about it before.”.

On the Chinese side, however, publicly, silence about Ukraine. They promised to “inject stability” into the international arena, but what does that mean? Greater support for the Russian economy? It was discussed, together with Mongolia, the construction of a new gas pipeline connecting Siberia to China, passing through Mongolian territory. And the supply of weapons, including in areas where Russia is behind in international competition, such as drones? The fact is that China does not want to be seen as an ally of Russia in the war in Ukraine for a number of factors, but two main ones: to avoid collateral damage from the sanctions against Russia and to guarantee a participation in the eventual Ukrainian reconstruction.

The relationship between the two giants is of a suspicious alliance, both for historical reasons and for contemporary issues. Anyone who believes that China and Russia are unconditional allies is wrong. Even within the Shanghai Pact, where both are present, there are small fractures. Xi, for example, when visiting Kazakhstan, gave assurances about Kazakh sovereignty, at a time when relations between the Tokayev and Putin governments are strained by the Kazakhstan’s refusal to recognize the pro-Russian breakaway regions of the Donbass. The bilateral meeting can overcome these divisions, but, today, China is holding the cards.

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