HONG KONG — The flurry of European diplomatic activity over Russia’s war in Ukraine has presented a stark contrast this week: While President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kiev, China’s top diplomat is in Moscow.
The split screen reflects renewed fears that Western support for Ukraine will be fueled by China doubling down on its bet on the Kremlin. Experts told NBC News that Beijing is engaged in a delicate balancing act, but it could become even more tense as the conflict enters its second year.
Washington has accused Beijing of providing non-lethal military aid to Russia against Ukraine and even considering providing lethal aid. China denies the allegations, saying the US has worsened the situation by sending weapons to Kiev.
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi was in Moscow on Wednesday in what could be a precursor to a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China-Russia ties are “rock solid” and will withstand any test in the changing international situation, Wang told Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, in remarks broadcast on Russian state television on Tuesday. Patrushev called for greater cooperation with China to resist pressure from the West.
Beijing insists it is committed to promoting peace talks to end the war in Ukraine, and will release a policy paper in the coming days outlining its views on a possible diplomatic solution.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said on Tuesday that China is “deeply concerned” about the situation in the Ukraine dispute getting out of control. “We urge some countries to stop stoking fires immediately,” he told a security conference in Beijing, in an apparent reference to the United States.
China and Russia, both major powers that share a 2,500-mile border, see themselves as counterweights to US global dominance. Their relationship has been under increased scrutiny since last February, when Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a lengthy joint statement declaring a “no borders” partnership weeks before Moscow invaded Ukraine.
The two leaders, who have met more than three dozen times in the past decade, have “very good personal relations”. [and] “Call each other old friends,” said Zheng Wang, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
Since the start of the war a year ago, China has refrained from condemning Russia’s aggression, urging peace talks, expressing concern about the humanitarian situation and being careful to avoid violating international sanctions Is.
“China is trying to achieve two things at once,” said Joseph Torrigian, a China and Russia expert at American University in Washington.
“On the one hand, it wants to support Russia because, in the long term, they see Russia as an important partner in an increasingly competitive relationship, especially with the United States,” he said. “But at the same time, they are concerned about the economic and reputational cost, particularly in the EU.”
While trade with Beijing could help the Kremlin’s war machine, so far there has been little evidence of China “breaking sanctions and providing lethal materials or weapons to Russia,” Torrigian said. But as Russia continues to struggle on the battlefield, he said, China “could come under increasing pressure from the Russian Federation for aid which could put them in a difficult position.”