China alliance with Russia at breaking point as Beijing frustrated over Ukraine

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Cracks have started to show in the partnership between China and Russia, and the war in Ukraine appears to be the leading point of contention.

While Beijing has maintained what it claimed to be a neutral position since the start of the invasion, refusing to condemn Moscow and claiming NATO expansion had contributed to igniting the war, the People’s Republic has also called for an end to the conflict.

This week Chinese representatives attended an international summit in Saudi Arabia led by Kyiv to establish a framework for peace, and praised Ukraine for its effort.

And the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) highlighted further reasons to believe the alliance could be hitting a rocky spot after reviewing the different responses of China and Russia to a call between two of its top diplomats.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Communist Party Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi spoke on the phone in the aftermath of the Jeddah meeting.

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The ISW noted that the Chinese and Russian ministries had “portrayed the conversation between Lavrov and Wang differently,” suggesting that Beijing “is increasingly diverging with Russia on proposed settlements to end the war.”

The report noted that China’s insistence on claiming impartiality has frustrated Russia, as have the PRC’s overtures to peace.

Beijing and Moscow struck what Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping referred to as a “no-limits” partnership deal shortly before the start of the invasion in February 2022.

Xi appeared to reaffirm his country’s commitment to the agreement with a visit to Moscow earlier this year. But in April it emerged he had phoned Volodymyr Zelensky to express his country’s dedication to facilitate peace.

The ISW noted a stark contrast in the way the two foreign ministries portrayed the call between Lavrov and Wang in a read-out after their conversation.

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While the Russians claimed several hot regional topics, including the war, had been discussed, China reported the two sides had exchanged views about the conflict alone.

The report added that “the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s description of the talks may suggest that the Kremlin is becoming dissatisfied with China’s continued efforts to promote its peace plan in international fora.”

It added that China’s behaviour is “consistent with ISW’s previous assessments that China is not interested in a ‘no-limits partnership’ with Russia as the Kremlin desires.”

The assessment comes days after the United States urged China to refrain from supporting Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Washington confirmed this week it will send a further $200 million in military aid to Ukraine as its forces continue to push forward with their counteroffensive.

This latest package will include missiles for the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and the Patriot air defence system, munitions for howitzers and tanks, Javelin rockets, mine-clearing equipment, 12 million rounds of small arms ammunition and demolition munitions, said a US official.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the aid has not yet been publicly announced.

The aid comes as the US funding for Ukraine is nearly all spent and the Biden administration is expected to request a new package of supplemental aid from Congress to continue that support.

Ukraine has already received more than $43 billion from the US since Russia invaded last year.

Those funds have provided weapons systems like howitzers and millions of rounds of ammunition to fight back against the much larger Russian military. Due to the intense and bloody land war there, much of the ammunition and weaponry has already been used up.

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