Why Russia and China are strengthening relations

Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and reaffirmed their desire to have closer ties. It comes as Russian troops continue to mass on the border with Ukraine after weeks of intense negotiation between Russia, the U.S. and NATO. Elizabeth Wishnick, a senior research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The presidents of Russia and China, as we reported, met today and reaffirmed their desire to have closer ties. The meeting comes as Russian troops continue to mass on the border with Ukraine, and after weeks of intense negotiation between Russia and the U.S. and NATO.

    Amna Nawaz has the story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    In a joint statement, both countries said they — quote — "oppose further enlargement of NATO" and called on the alliance to abandon its — quote — "Cold War approaches."

    The statement also said that China is — quote — "sympathetic to" and supports the proposals put forward by Russia to create long-term, legally binding security guarantees in Europe.

    So, what does this all mean?

    For that, we turn to Elizabeth Wishnick. She's a senior research scientist at the Center for Naval Analysis. That's a Navy-funded think tank. She's on leave from Montclair State University, and has written extensively about Russian-Chinese relations.

    Elizabeth Wishnick, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for joining us.

    So, that joint statement earlier had some thinly veiled swipes at the U.S. and its allies. Just step back for a moment here and tell us, what is this? What are we seeing here? What's driving the strengthening of Russian-Chinese relations right now?

    Elizabeth Wishnick, Center for Naval Analyses: Well, I think the strengthening of the relationship has occurred over the last several years, even prior to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

    So, we — I think we saw this trend after the financial crisis in 2008, when Russia and China saw that there were real problems in the international order, at least in the economic order, and they hoped to gather to create some alternatives.

    And so they began to expand their partnership at that time, but, certainly, there has been a deepening of the partnership over the past eight years or so.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But what does all this mean, in real-world terms, especially at this moment? For example, if Russia were to invade Ukraine, do we know what China would do?

  • Elizabeth Wishnick:

    Well, let's look at what China did the last time.

    So, in 2014, China was in a tight spot, because China has longstanding positions supporting territorial integrity and against the splitting of territories and so forth. And so when a resolution came up in the U.N. Security Council in March of 2014, China abstained, and instead of supporting Russia on that resolution.

    So I think China will try to thread the needle carefully this time as well, should that situation arise. And I think a war in Ukraine is not in China's interests. They have economic ties to Ukraine and other connections to Ukraine, with the Belt and Road Initiative, their trade and transit initiative that wants to connect China to Europe.

    And Ukraine is one of the hubs that it hopes to use for that. So I think Xi Jinping is hoping that there is a peaceful outcome to this crisis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At a time of rising tension between the U.S. and Russia and NATO, what does China get from this? What does President Xi get from showing that there's a strengthened bond between his country and Russia right now?

  • Elizabeth Wishnick:

    Well, apart from Russia, China doesn't really have a lot of friends in the international arena. So, Russia is really the main partner that China has.

    And so it shows that China is not isolated internationally on the — in the U.N. Security Council. Russia has provided some key weapon systems to China that improve China's position in the Indo-Pacific region.

    And both of them, they use one another to reinforce their understanding of the global norms that they would like to see, so norms that allow more space for authoritarian states and the ability to define some of the rules of the road that they think would benefit them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Elizabeth, there are those that look at this moment and say that it's actually very dangerous in a lot of ways. They say they see two autocracies who are ideologically aligned who are attempting to create a dual crisis for the U.S. that the U.S. can't really fight on two fronts against two large powers like that.

    One analyst actually said it's the greatest threat the U.S. has seen since the beginning of the Cold War. Do you see it that way?

  • Elizabeth Wishnick:

    I certainly see this as a precarious moment, with more than 100,000 Russian troops poised on the border with Ukraine.

    But I don't know that we're going to automatically see a two-front crisis here. I think that the comment you alluded to refers to the prospect of some Chinese action against Taiwan occurring while the world is distracted by the Russian threat to Ukraine.

    And I don't see that as happening, because China has longstanding interest in what it calls the reunification of Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province. And this is such an important interest for China, I don't see it tying it to Putin's more opaque plans for Ukraine.

    China and Russia don't always walk in lockstep on all of the issues that concern them, even though they have the same interest in changing some of the rules of the international system that they feel work against them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Elizabeth Wishnick from the Center for Naval Analysis joining us tonight.

    Thank you so much for your time.

  • Elizabeth Wishnick:

    Thank you for having me. My pleasure.

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