Allies, Pals or Foes? Putin's Russia and Xi's China's Relationship Explored

Chinese troops will participate in a major Russian military exercise later this month, as relations between the two anti-Western powers led by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping continue to strengthen.

The exercise, which will take place in Russia's eastern military district near the Chinese and North Korean borders, is expected to last from August 30 to September 5.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, troops from other countries—including India, Belarus, Mongolia and Tajikistan—will also take part.

In May, Russian and Chinese strategic bombers conducted joint exercises near Japan while U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting Tokyo.

Two Chinese H-6 bombers and two Russian TU-95 bombers flew across the Sea of Japan, with Japan and South Korea both scrambling fighter aircraft in response.

Russia and China relationship improves since war
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose during their meeting in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. Relations between Russia and China have deepened in recent months, as both increasingly clashed with the West. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/GETTY

The deepening unofficial alliance between Russia and China comes as both countries have seen a substantial deterioration in their relations with the West.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the U.S. and its allies imposed stringent economic sanctions and sent a consistent supply of heavy weaponry to the Ukrainian military.

Beijing has refused to either endorse or condemn the invasion and has ramped up trade with Russia as Western companies withdraw.

According to the Chinese Communist Party-controlled publication Global Times, trade between Russia and China increased by 29 percent, year-on-year, during the first seven months of 2022.

Meanwhile, China reacted with fury when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, earlier this month.

In retaliation, China launched its biggest military drills since the 1990s around the island, which Taiwan condemned as a de-facto partial blockade.

Putin came down firmly on the Chinese side, describing Pelosi's visit as a "thoroughly planned provocation."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry welcomed the Russian leaders' remarks, which they said showed "high-level strategic coordination between China and Russia, and the firm support the two countries have rendered each other on issues concerning their core interests."

The Russian Foreign Ministry added: "Russia's principled position remains unchanged: we operate on the premise that there is only one China, and the PRC government is the only legitimate government representing all of China, that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China."

The "PRC government refers" to the Beijing-based communist People's Republic of China, as opposed to the anti-communist Republic of China, which has been restricted to Taiwan since being expelled from mainland China in 1949.

Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs Magazine arguing the conflict between Russia and Ukraine had turned "Moscow into Beijing's junior partner."

He said the war caused the Chinese renminbi to outperform the Euro on the Moscow Stock Market, turning it into "the de facto reserve currency for Russia even without being fully convertible," which increased "Moscow's dependence on Beijing."

Political scientist P. W. Singer and BluePath Labs consultant Thomas Low made a similar argument in a piece for Defense One. They said the Ukraine conflict has "confirmed Russia's subservience to Beijing" as Moscow needs Chinese high-tech and energy markets, having been partially cut off from the west.

A combination of Western sanctions and the poor performance of Russian weapons in Ukraine is likely to weaken Moscow's lucrative arms trade, U.S. Ambassador Mark Green told Newsweek.

Prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Putin met Xi on the opening day of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4.

In a joint statement, the two agreed that there are "no limits" to "friendship" and cooperation between their two countries.

The two leaders pledged to strengthen cooperation in a number of areas including artificial intelligence, space flight and control over the internet, in an implicit challenge to the United States.

The Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministries have been contacted for comment.