The Future of Sino-Russian Relations from China’s Perspective: Implications for US Policy (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Cindy Zheng, Spring 2024 Marcellus Policy Fellow

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s relationship with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, though born out of necessity, has been overshadowed by a cautious overtone on both sides. On April 9th, 2024, Beijing hosted Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov for a visit with President Xi. Some analysts have interpreted the high-level visits of officials between the two countries as preparation for a meeting between Putin and Xi, which would send a strong message to the international community about the two countries’ continued strong partnership. The security ties between the two, in defiance of the West, have tightened considerably over time, especially as China’s competition with the United States intensifies and U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in the war increases.

Not all partnerships are created equally; the same could be said for the Sino-Russia relationship, with each side looking out for its own interests. Moscow wants to prove to Beijing that it is not globally isolated by the Russia-Ukraine War and is becoming more economically dependent on China as the war continues. On the other hand, China realizes that its partnership with Russia is its strongest deterrent against their common enemy, the United States. However, Beijing keeps an arm’s distance to prevent itself from being seen as overly supportive of Russia and its actions in the Russia-Ukraine War, which could potentially lead to harsher criticism and sanctions from Western countries. China is also taking a backseat view of Russia’s encroachment into Ukraine, observing how the international community may react and preparing for potential new domains of warfare in its own regional contingencies involving adversaries and the West, especially given the likelihood of U.S. involvement in such contingencies. This paper will examine China’s perspective on the Russia-Ukraine War and how it views the future of the Sino-Russia relationship.

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