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If the White House actually thought it could publicly shame China into condemning Russia for invading Ukraine perhaps this shows it is incapable of understanding the serious challenge it now faces from a Russia-China entente.
Two and a half months ago Moscow and Beijing described their strategic relationship as being so close that it "even exceeds an alliance." See: C hina Gives Oomph to Russia's 'Nyet' on NATO.
How much longer can Washington and the rest of the West remain in denial that China's President Xi Jinping is "all in" supporting President Vladimir Putin. Beijing's recent behavior puts this in bas relief.
It came through clearly on Monday in remarks by China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin. Asked "is it not time for China to clearly condemn Russia's aggression," Wang gave a non-answer with unmistakable "nuance" showing that, at least so far, XI is standing with "best friend" Putin. Wang said:
"At the same time we recognize the special historical complexities on the Ukrainian issue and understand Russia's legitimate security concerns."
As observers of Chinese rhetoric know, "at the same time" means "BUT", and it customarily introduces the main point. When "But" starts a new, key sentence, one can readily recognize the essential thought that China wants to drive home.
Wang Wenbin started his answer paying homage to China's longstanding boilerplate principle calling for respect for "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries." But how to square the circle - how to reconcile that august principle with China's reluctance to criticize Russia's invasion of Ukraine - and with China's insistence, rather, on the need to understand "Russia's legitimate security concerns"? Would "inscrutable" be the correct word here?
Later, in answer to a question about Putin's putting Russian strategic forces on alert, spokesperson Wang doubled down:
"I want to stress once again that, when it comes to European security, all countries' legitimate concerns should be valued. When NATO has made five waves of eastward expansion Russia's legitimate demands should be valued and properly resolved. Relevant parties should exercise restraint and avoid further escalation of the situation."
Squaring the above-mentioned circle may require some special formula to de-inscrutable-ize it. But, what Chinese President XI Jinping has decided on in terms of policy and practical behavior is, on the other hand, clear as a bell.
Three years ago XI described Russian President Putin as his "best friend." Professed friendship and rhetoric aside the strategic relationship they have carved out is proving to be what XI described last December. XI told Putin that "in its closeness and effectiveness this relationship even exceeds an alliance."
And on Feb. 4, with Putin in Beijing on opening day for the Olympics, China and Russia issued a far-reaching document stating that the two sides:
"reaffirm that the new inter-state relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era. Friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation."
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