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Global affairs

Russia and China aren’t as close as they seem

Wang Yi with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty

This week’s visit to Moscow by China’s top diplomat Wang Yi was supposed to broadcast “the closeness of the two powers”, says Raffaello Pantucci in Nikkei Asia. It may be no coincidence that Chinese and Russian vessels are noisily engaged in a 10-day joint military exercise off the South African coast. But for all the “grand rhetoric” about the strength of their bond, and renewed US handwringing about the risk of China boosting military support for Russian troops, the two countries are on “very different tracks”. Moscow and Beijing are happy to “mutually antagonise” their shared enemies, but below the surface there is no serious cooperation.

Russia’s massively increased mercenary clout in Africa has done nothing to help the many Chinese businessmen who “keep getting kidnapped by militant groups”. Both countries have military posts on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, but they don’t work together, and the Russians complain that the Chinese won’t even speak to them. It’s the same story on the economy – headlines about a jump in bilateral trade are merely the result of unscrupulous Chinese firms buying up Russian gas and coal on the cheap when nobody else will touch it. And since the invasion, many Chinese tech conglomerates that had built up substantial Russian businesses have “quietly scaled back operations dramatically”. Whatever Moscow would like us to believe, Russia is becoming a captive client of the Chinese Communist Party.