Conflicts - TensionsNortheast Asia

PRC, Russia deepen ties amid Beijing’s unconvincing call for peace


On the heels of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) dubious peace plan in Russia’s war against Ukraine, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping paid a three-day visit to Moscow in March 2023. The PRC billed the trip as a “visit of friendship, cooperation and peace” as Beijing attempts to paint itself as a neutral party committed to ending the bloody conflict in Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands have died since Russia’s unprovoked February 2022 invasion.

The PRC’s pro-Russia proposal professes an aim to end the fighting, even as Beijing eyes options for arming Russia, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Beijing has denied the assertion. However, trade and customs reports suggest Chinese companies, including one defense contractor, shipped rifles, body armor, drone parts and other military equipment to Russia from June to December 2022, according to the United States-based news outlet Politico. Reports allege the firearms, a type used by paramilitary police, were identified as “civilian hunting rifles” in customs data.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Xi in a highly choreographed visit, pictured, in late March. On the agenda was the PRC’s “12-point plan,” which proposes a ceasefire in Ukraine but does not explicitly call for Russia to withdraw from the country. The plan would “in effect recognize Russia’s gains and its attempt to conquer its neighbor’s territory by force, allowing Russian troops to continue to occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Critics also note the proposal would give Putin time to regroup embattled forces for another offensive.

The PRC refuses to denounce the war and, in deference to Moscow, won’t describe Russia’s aggression as an invasion. Meanwhile, Beijing’s statements on the war call for upholding sovereignty and territorial integrity. In Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that the PRC claims as its territory and threatens to take by force, Xi’s references to sovereignty ring hollow.

“Want peace? Both autocrats should immediately stop their threats, aggression & expansionism,” Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Twitter.

The PRC’s belligerence toward Taiwan — including cyberwarfare, disinformation campaigns and near-daily incursions by Chinese military aircraft and ships near the island — calls into question Beijing’s ability to act as an honest peace broker in Ukraine, analysts say. So, too, does its hostility in the South China Sea, where Russia’s invasion could have implications in territorial disputes. The PRC’s illegal claim to much of the sea overlaps with claims by Southeast Asian nations including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Despite an international tribunal invalidating the PRC’s assertions of sweeping sovereignty, the CCP continues to militarize artificial reefs and other features in the sea, as well as harass civilians and armed forces in their own territory.

The PRC’s response to Myanmar’s military coup also casts doubt on its willingness to negotiate peace. Beijing and Moscow supply weapons to the military junta that overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government in February 2021, sparking a conflict that has displaced an estimated 1.5 million people. As military leaders struggle to maintain power against an increasingly well-armed rebellion, they are resorting to intensified violence against civilians, the United Nations special envoy on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, reported in March 2023. She cited aerial bombing, the burning of homes and other “grave human rights violations.” Meanwhile, the PRC has supported not only the junta but also opposition groups to secure minerals and energy resources from Myanmar, according to the U.S.-based think tank The Jamestown Foundation.

As other nations have sought to isolate Russia since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the PRC has moved to strengthen its relationship with Moscow, intelligence agencies said. The two have staged multiple joint military drills since the war began. Beijing has also joined Moscow in regularly denouncing NATO and remains one of the biggest buyers of Russian oil, The New York Times newspaper reported.

Cameras captured a telling exchange between Xi and Putin as the two autocrats left a state dinner in Russia on March 21. “Right now, there are changes the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years,” Xi told Putin, according to media reports. “And we are the ones driving these changes together.”


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