(220204) -- BEIJING, Feb. 4, 2022 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 4, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Tao)

OPINION – Sino-Russian Joint Statement and Its Political Significance

A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on February 4 led to the signing of a series of cooperative agreements, including an agreement on the supply of natural gas, and the publication of a Joint Statement that has tremendous political implications for Sino-Russo-US relations and East Asian international security.

The Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the international relations entering a new era and the global sustainable development has the following main points.

First, both sides believe that a new era of global interdependence between states has envisaged a trend toward “redistribution of power,” and that “some actors representing but the minority on the international scale continue to advocate unilateral approaches to addressing international issues and resort to force.” Without naming the countries that represent the minority, the Joint Statement criticizes these actors for interfering with the domestic affairs of other states. 

Second, the Joint Statement calls for the need for all states in the world to build dialogue and establish mutual trust and understanding, while championing “universal human values” such as peace, development, equality, justice, democracy, freedom and the respect of the rights of peoples to “independently determine the development paths of their countries.” 

Third, both sides agree that democracy is a universal human value, but its definition refers to “a means of citizens’ participation in the government of their country with the view to improving the well-being of population and implementing the principle of popular government.” Both Russia and China affirm that “there is no one-size-fits-all template to guide countries in establishing democracy,” because “a nation can choose such forms and methods of implementing democracy that would best suit its particular state, based on its social and political system, its historical background, traditions and unique cultural characteristics.” However, some states attempt to “impose their own ‘democratic standards’ on other countries, to monopolize the right to assess the level of compliance with democratic criteria, to draw dividing lines based on the grounds of ideology.” These attempts are hegemonic and pose a threat to global and regional peace.

Fourth, both sides seek to link their developmental plans of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Belt and Road Initiative, promoting greater connectiveness between EAEU and the Asia-Pacific region.

Fifth, both sides vow to work towards the United Nation 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including poverty reduction, food security, climate change, green development, digital economy, biological diversity, global governance, vaccines production, epidemics control, and infrastructure connectivity.

Sixth, both sides call on all states in the world to strengthen cooperation in the areas of sustainable and smart transport, including the use of Arctic routes.

Seventh, Russia and China strengthen their bilateral cooperation in the fight against Covid-19, including the implementation of quarantine measures, the sharing of health information, the adoption of anti-pandemic measures at border checkpoints, and the development and manufacturing of vaccines.

Eighth, while Russia supports the one-China principle and opposes any form of Taiwan independence, both sides oppose color revolutions and counter interference by outside forces in the domestic affairs of sovereign states.

Ninth, both sides oppose the “further enlargement of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)” and call on it to “abandon its ideologized cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries.” China backs up Russia’s position on Ukraine because the latter does not want to see NATO’s increase in its influence on Ukraine, whose tendency to shift toward NATO has aroused Russia’s anger and geo-military sensitivity.

Tenth, both sides believe that all nuclear-weapons states should abandon the cold war mentality and zero-sum perspectives, that they should reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their national security policies, and that they should “eliminate the unrestricted development of global anti-ballistic missile defense system.” Both sides affirm the importance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Eleventh, both sides express their concerns about Japan’s plans to release nuclear contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, because there would be potential environmental impact. As such, the disposal of nuclear contaminated water must be tackled with “responsibility” and “carried out in a proper manner based on arrangements between the Japanese side and neighboring states.”

Twelfth, both sides call on the United States to abandon its plan to deploy intermediate-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles in Asia and Europe. 

Thirteenth, both Russia and China consolidate their cooperation in other areas, including artificial intelligence, international information security, space activities, the use of space resources, the prevention of arms race in outer space, the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and their Destruction. 

Finally, the Sino-Russian friendship has “no limits” and “no forbidden areas of cooperation.” These cooperative areas include the pursuit of multilateralism, the promotion of non-discriminatory international trade, the work with G20 to propel the growth in international economy, the partnership with BRICS, the consolidation of anti-terrorist and economic work with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the collaboration with APEC to promote trade and investment, the strengthening of cooperation within the Russia-India-China format, and the increased interactions with ASEAN. In short, regional and international organizations are the bodies cherished by Russia and China in their engagement and quest for world peace.

The political significance of the Joint Statement is obvious. At a time when Russian-US relations are strained by their dispute over Ukraine, where the US believes that a Russian “invasion” would be imminent and where Russia sees the NATO expansion as militarily aggressive, the Sino-Russian Joint Statement can be interpreted as a joint political stance against the US and NATO over the issue of Ukraine.

Furthermore, the exchange of political interests is apparent in the content of the Joint Statement. While China sides with Russia on Ukraine, Russia affirms the one-China principle and reiterates its opposition to any Taiwan separatism.

The affirmation of the need to engage all regional and international organizations has become the consensus of China and Russia. Such engagement signals to some extent the withdrawal and overprotective nature of the former Donald Trump administration, whose foreign policy turned the clock backwards and undermined the American leadership in the world of international politics. Although the Biden administration has been adopting a more globalist and less unilateral foreign policy, the damage had already been done and it remains to be seen how the US government will continue to repair the severe damage.

The Joint Statement proves that the new era of globalization witnesses the permanence of ideology. Both Russia and China adopt their own notion of democracy as citizen’s participation in their governance rather than institutional checks and balances as emphasized in the Western concept of democracy. Even on the issue of human rights, both Russia and China admit that it is a universal value, but its practices vary across states in the world – a position easily shared by some developing states which find the US “hegemony” and championship of “human rights” as outside interferences. China and Russia are concerned about the likelihood of “color revolutions,” which swept across various parts of the world due to the US-led democracy promotion project. As such, the Joint Statement carries strong ideological overtone, especially after China has published its White Paper on democracy and another White Paper on Hong Kong’s democratic development by the end of 2021.

The Joint Statement carries a tone of adopting a resistant attitude toward the Japanese way of handling the contaminated waters of the Fukushima nuclear plant, while affirming the importance of using the Russia-India-China platform to deal with any disputes between India and China. As Japan is an indispensable part of the US alliance in East Asia, it is natural that the Joint Statement explicitly expresses its concern about Japan’s treatment of the contaminated waters. However, the fact that both Russia and China attach importance to such regional organizations like the APEC and ASEAN is a positive development conducive to regional peace and prosperity.

In conclusion, the Sino-Russian Joint Statement came at a time when the Winter Olympic Games were held in Beijing and at a juncture where the Russo-Chinese partnership is at its historical apex mainly because of the increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States. Although the Joe Biden administration has improved the US relations with China compared with the increasingly tense US-China relations under Donald Trump, the US policy in stanch support of Taiwan remains a thorn in the mind of mainland Chinese leaders. As such, the Joint Statement shows the PRC determination to solicit the Russian reaffirmation of the one-China principle. In exchange, the PRC backs up Russia in the latter’s position on Ukraine. Other areas of the Joint Statement show the commonality of interests shared by Russia and China. As long as the shadows of a new Cold War are hanging over the world, and so long as the superpower US and its allies see Russia as an aggressive old adversary and China as a newly assertive rival in economic and military spheres, ideological conflicts are continuing to shape the international politics in the coming decades.