Emboldened by a common threat -- countries with increasingly Western-style democracies on their borders -- Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping last week vowed to stick together in a "new era" of global political and military order.
The two autocrats met Friday (February 4) on the opening day of the Beijing Winter Olympics, unveiling a sweeping long-term agreement that analysts say challenges the United States as a global power, the NATO alliance and liberal democracy as a whole.
"Friendship between the two states has no limits," they said in a joint statement released after the meeting. "There are no 'forbidden' areas of co-operation."
Putin and Xi pledged to co-operate in a host of areas including space, artificial intelligence, climate change and control of the internet.
They also said there is "no one-size-fits-all" type of democracy -- a convenient assertion for Moscow and Beijing who are fighting democratic movements within their realm of influence.
"Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions, intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose colour revolutions, and will increase co-operation," the statement said.
"The parties oppose the further expansion of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon the ideological approaches of the Cold War era," the document read, urging respect for the "sovereignty, security and interests of other countries".
Making the world safe for authoritarianism
"The two leaders are announcing their determination to stand together and to stand against the US and the West -- ready to withstand sanctions and contest American global leadership," Daniel Russel, vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), told Reuters.
Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Centre in Washington, DC, agreed.
"This is a pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder against America and the West, ideologically as well as militarily," he told The New Yorker.
He noted the strategic timing of the agreement, as tensions rise along Russia's borders with former Soviet states, including Ukraine, and China's increasing military aggression towards Taiwan.
Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which views the island as its own territory and has vowed to seize it one day -- by force if necessary.
Taiwan has had its own government since 1949.
Appearing publicly as the Olympics opened, Putin and Xi showed an "enhanced commitment to make the world safe for authoritarianism, in particular in former socialist countries", said Steve Tsang, a political scientist at the SOAS University of London.
For Xi, taking a public stand on Ukraine demonstrates "his shared interest with Putin to challenge the US-dominated world order", Tsang told AFP.
Russia, in turn, reaffirmed its support for Beijing's "One China" policy -- opposing "any forms of independence" in regards to Taiwan -- and supported Beijing's ruthless crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement over the past two years.
Putin described the broader strategic partnership with China as "unprecedented" and "dignified", while Xi said their joint agreement would have "far-reaching influence on China, Russia and the world".
Official Chinese media outlets have been playing up the frequent encounters between Xi and Putin since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which saw the Russian leader largely blacklisted by the West.
China's Global Times noted recently that "besides the official meetings, the two also shared some close moments like enjoying vodka, caviar and Russian ice cream and celebrating each other's birthdays".
The enhanced relationship between Russia and China still falls short of an "alliance", said Anton Barbashin, an analyst at the Riddle think-tank in Glasgow, Scotland.
"But we are definitely going to see more co-ordinated action in international relations, maybe simultaneous campaigns in Europe and Asia, as well as deepening economic ties between Moscow and Beijing," he told AFP.
One concern in trying to form such a partnership is the vast economic disparity between China and Russia. In 2020, China's GDP was almost 10 times larger than Russia's, according to the World Bank -- more than $14.7 trillion compared to less than $1.5 trillion.
Xi's support for Russia in Putin's showdown with the West over Ukraine marks a turning point.
Russia has amassed 100,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine, and Western countries have vowed to impose devastating sanctions on Moscow if it attacks.
Putin's meeting with Xi came after the United States said it had evidence of a plan by Moscow to film a fake Ukrainian attack on Russians to justify an attack on its neighbour.
Putin is using the threat to invade Ukraine to demand a halt to NATO expansion, and now has Beijing's explicit support in the showdown.
Moscow did not have Beijing's support for Russia's war in Georgia in 2008, its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 or its annexation of Crimea.
Nearly eight years of fighting between Kyiv and the pro-Moscow separatist fighters has cost more than 13,000 lives.
This time, however, the payoff for China could be in its own backyard: More US troops focussing on Ukraine and other Eastern European nations means less military weight to compete with Beijing in the Pacific.
The US response to Moscow on any Ukraine invasion, for example, could weigh heavily on any Chinese move to take control of Taiwan, whose independence Washington has signalled it would defend.
Leaning towards the West
For its part, Kyiv has thanked its Western allies for their support amid increasing Russian aggression.
"Since 2014, we have seen many insidious actions by the Russian Federation; we have seen that they stop at nothing when they try to fabricate and blame Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Friday in response to US intelligence reports on Russia's "false flag" operations.
Kuleba said the alleged plan was no "surprise".
"It is very important that any plans, any intentions of Russia are brought to light and we manage to wreck them," he said.
Washington's claim came on the back of visits from European leaders to shore up support for Kyiv, including from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kuleba welcomed the displays of support, saying they had prevented Russia from "further aggravating the security situation".
In the face of Chinese aggression, Taiwan also expressed gratitude for the West's political and military support.
On Tuesday, Taipei thanked the United States for selling up to $100 million worth of equipment and services to support its air and missile defence systems.
The deal is expected to take effect sometime in March, according to the Taiwanese Defence Ministry.
The US Defence Security Co-operation Agency said the deal covers engineering support and maintenance of air defence systems and will "ensure readiness for air operations".
"The recipient will use this capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen homeland defence," it said.
Beijing has significantly increased incursions into Taiwan's air defence identification zone in recent months, with the final quarter of 2021 seeing a massive spike.
Last year, Taiwan recorded 969 incursions by Chinese warplanes, according to a database compiled by AFP -- more than double the roughly 380 carried out in 2020.
The new year appears to be following the same trend: Taiwan's Defence Ministry recorded 52 warplanes entering the zone over two days in January, a large uptick over a short period.
"This is the second arms sale to Taiwan since [US] President Joe Biden took office and the first time this year," Taiwan's presidential spokesman Xavier Chang said in a statement Tuesday.
"It ... reflects the rock-solid partnership between Taiwan and the US."
Ukraine has been sacrificed to Russia as a result of pragmatism of US and its allies, and Taiwan will be offered to China. As China is intensely busy expanding its circle of influence, the United States of America and its western allies, despite issuing numerous statements, are seen to be losing the world stage to Russia and China. The idea that the United States should be more concerned with its own internal affairs, has become more and more prevalent in the United States since the Trump era, but the reality is that the United States, even for its own survival and internal security, must not let China and Russia, to further expand their circles of influence. The credibility of the United States has been severely damaged by the untimely and catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the Republican government in Afghanistan; and the malign activities by China and Russia are increasingly damaging it further. The more the United States tries to deter China and Russia from provocative moves with soft diplomacy, the more it adds to the boldness and recklessness of these countries. Therefore, the need for aggressive approach is increasing day by day. In this context, the United States initially needs to hold Pakistan accountable, to restore its lost credibility on one hand, and on the other hand, to cut-off China’s access from the Arabian Sea and its destructive activities there.Reply
Instead of interfering in the affairs between Ukraine and Russia, US President Joe Biden should refrain from stealing the frozen money of Afghanistan and release it for helping the poor people of Afghanistan. President Biden has decided to give half of Afghanistan's frozen money to the families of 9/11 victims, which is a pure theft. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arab terrorists and have nothing to do with Afghanistan, so why does he take revenge from Afghanistan? It is not logical that in retaliation of that attack, you establish deep ties with the terrorist Arabs and then forcibly take compensation from the Afghan people. President Biden is a mad dog and hated Afghanistan and its people in the past, but this mad dog should at least think why the 9/11 attacks should be avenged on the Afghan people? Isn't there someone in the entire United States to criticize Biden and tell him what kind of human-being are you? You are a cruel and oppressive tyrant, and you sold the blood of thousands of Americans and Afghans to the carouser and terrorist Arabs. If Biden really wants to show sympathy with the families of 9/11 victims, he must get the compensation from the Arabs and Pakistan, not from Afghanistan. Everything that has been done against the United States in the name of the Taliban and terrorists, has been done by your own partner in crime, i.e. the filthy Pakistan, in collaboration with the barbaric and oppressive Arabs. You must take revenge on Pakistan for your losses. PReply
This report is about China and Russia, but I want to write here about the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan. When a person himself is in pain, how will he think of others? So let's leave the issue of Russia and China. Let's talk about Afghanistan and America. I respect the people of America, but in fact, I respect the people of every country. The US government invaded Afghanistan, citing its involvement in the 9/11 attacks. But the fact is that no Afghans were involved in the September events. Arabs and Pakistanis were involved, and it is unknown whether those people were involved or an intelligence game. However, the US invaded Afghanistan in revenge for their 3.5 thousand people. They killed 60 thousand national army soldiers, more than 50 thousand Taliban, and more than 50 thousand civilians, but what did the US do to Pakistan when Osama bin Laden was discovered in Pakistan?" Trump says he paid more than $30 billion to Pakistan; however, Pakistan was a kind of ally in the fighting. They received money for the usage of the road from Karachi to the Durand Line, and in exchange, they used it to shelter the enemies of America. Coming to the issue of Afghanistan's frozen assets, what Biden says and decides is an insult to the great American nation and America's great power on the one hand and a great betrayal to a poor country like Afghanistan on the other. Americans need to be more active than Afghans. Money goes and comes, but trust does not return once itReply
I urge China and Russia, and the United States to engage in healthy competition instead of war. The money spent on war and conflict should be spent on the welfare of human beings in the world. Today, Hitler is viewed with hatred in the world for killing humans. If today Xi Jin Ping or Vladimir Putin or Joe Biden and others fight and kill people, they will be looked upon with hatred tomorrow. What Hitler did almost a hundred years ago was an immature thought of his time, but now that human beings consider themselves civilized and eloquent, they know the value of human life. Why now do they do such foolish things in which human beings perish? The money spent on the war in Ukraine may better be spent on the welfare and betterment of human beings in poor countries such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Africa, etc.Reply
Zhang Jun, permanent representative of China to the United Nations, on Wednesday called on the Taliban government to take more measures to fight terrorism. "In Afghanistan, the withdrawal of foreign troops has created a security vacuity that allows terrorist forces to take advantage of the chaos", Zhang said, referring to the latest report by the Security Council of UN, based on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement’s declaration of Jihad in Xinjiang region of China, according to state media China News Service. Beijing is concerned about previous links between Uighur militants in Xinjiang region and the Taliban, the news agency said. About 200 to 700 members of the East Turkestan Movement remain in Afghanistan, a recent analysis by the UN Security Council stated. My comment: Wasn’t it the two-faced China that provided remote controlled bombs to the former government's armed opposition through Pakistan? It was, and China fought against the democracy in Afghanistan till the end.Reply