China’s president Xi Jinping spoke with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin on June 15.
While communiques released by the respective government’s largely touched on the same points, they did differ in certain areas.
Xi working on his birthday
The call came on Xi’s 69th birthday, and largely affirmed the warm relationship between the two countries, and between the two men themselves.
While they were largely in agreement, they seemed to differ on critical points, although without contradicting each other outright.
Председатель КНР Си Цзиньпин в среду днем провел телефонный разговор с президентом России Владимиром Путиным.
— Chinese Embassy in Russia 中国驻俄罗斯大使馆 (@ChineseEmbinRus) June 16, 2022
The common points
The call reaffirmed the close economic and diplomatic ties the two enjoyed. Both sides celebrated their trade and economic partnership, which was likely to reach record levels this year.
Both reaffirmed their desire to move towards multipolarity in the world order, with China’s release emphasising that multipolarity would establish a “more just and reasonable international order”.
Multipolarity in international relations is where influence is held by several countries, without a single dominant state.
They also committed to strengthening “coordination and mutual support in various multilateral formats”, such as the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the BRICS forum.
The SCO is a multinational organization headquartered in Beijing that includes Eurasian and South Asian countries.
BRICS is an acronym for the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Differences when discussing Ukraine
Both countries used different terms for the Russian invasion of Ukraine
But while the call was portrayed as cordial and congratulatory, the two readouts were rather different when it came to Ukraine.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February in what it terms a “special military operation”. The United States and the European Union have been calling the invasion a war, while the United Nations General Assembly has called it a “Russian offensive“.
China has been circumspect in not using such terminology when referring to the invasion, but neither did it use Russia’s own term of “special military operation”.
Notably, the Chinese communique referred to it as the “Ukraine issue” and “Ukraine crisis”. It also said that Xi “emphasised that China has always independently assessed the situation on the basis of the historical context and the merits of the issue”.
He said that China wanted peace and the “stability of the global economic order”, as he called for the “proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis in a responsible manner”. China, he concluded, would continue to “play its due role” in the matter.
Russia mentioned sanctions, China did not
In the Chinese communique, the two country’s willingness to support each other’s “core interests concerning sovereignty and security” was expressed.
This was in contrast to the Russian statement which said that Xi “noted the legitimacy of Russia’s actions to protect fundamental national interests in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces.”
The Chinese statement did not say that Xi recognised the “legitimacy” of the Russian invasion.
Also notable was that while both countries made note of the deleterious global economic conditions, Russia also assigned blame to an “illegitimate sanctions policy pursued by the West”.
Whereas China did not mention the sanctions at all, only acknowledging global “turbulence and transformations”.
Bloomberg’s reporting on the call attributed the differences to the different audiences targeted by the respective Foreign Ministry’s press releases.
Alexander Gabuev, a Russia expert at Carnegie Moscow Centre attributed the differences to differing audiences. Russia’s statement was targeted towards a domestic audience, and Gabuev theorised it was trying to show strength and asserting that victory was being achieved.
China however, according to Gabuev, was “more mindful” of the West.
Regardless of China’s government’s position on the invasion or on Russia’s grievances as a whole, it has so far complied with the economic and military sanctions placed upon Russia.
— Jonathan Cheng (@JChengWSJ) June 15, 2022
This might be due to concerns about Western nations punishing countries or companies that do not comply with those sanctions.
China is still pursuing a Covid Zero pandemic policy, and there are signs of the negative economic consequences that come with frequent and harsh lockdowns.
It is therefore unlikely that China wishes to compound that difficulty by sparking a trading and financial conflict with Western trading partners, by defying these sanctions to boost Russia.
Top image via Official Kremlin/Twitter