By Sanjeev Sharma
New Delhi, Mar 26 (IANS): Russian President Vladimir Putin is turning Russia into, in effect, a vassal state of China.
Over time, as the power imbalance in the relationship continues to widen in China's favour, Moscow will find itself less and less able to chart an independent foreign policy or deviate from alignment with Beijing's interests, says Michaeal Schuman, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub.
That, of course, suits Chinese President Xi Jinping just fine, since he gets greater leverage over Moscow, Schuman said.
Both sides got what they wanted out of the summit. Putin continues to benefit diplomatically and economically from closer ties to China as he pursues his Ukraine war. Xi got to play the grand international statesman, carrying a purported "peace plan" in his pocket, all the while deepening ties to Russia and making the country more dependent on China, Schuman said.
Xi's approach to Russia is representative of his changing foreign policy overall. First, Xi has fully embraced anti-Americanism and that has become the primary driver of its foreign policy. Secondly, writing off the US and its partners as inherently hostile, Xi is re-orienting China's foreign policy to focus on the developing world, where which Beijing believes is more fertile ground for building support for Chinese interests.
There China can create unequal relationships which it dominates politically and economically, as with Russia. In Beijing's planning, those relationships will form the basis of an alternative world order centered on China and controlled by Beijing. Russia is key to that vision, Schuman said.
China has presented itself as a potential peacemaker in the Ukraine conflict, seeking to build on a deal it helped broker earlier this month to restore formal ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Xi's visit is "a huge demonstration of Russian-Chinese friendship, giving legitimacy to Putin", said Jakub Jakobowski, a China researcher and deputy director of the Centre for Eastern Studies, a Polish government-funded think tank.
"Despite this great strategic blunder that Putin made last year, he is still an important asset that China doesn't want to lose."
Jakobowski added, however, that another purpose of the trip was likely for Xi to "have more control over where the relationship is going", The Wall Street Journal reported.
China's support has also provided Russia protection from Western pressure -- with Xi fully embracing Putin's framing of the Ukraine conflict as part of a larger effort by the West to contain rival powers and prevent what Putin calls a historical shift toward a "multipolar" world.
A telling moment came as Xi bid farewell to Putin following a state dinner at the Kremlin Tuesday.
"Right now there are changes the likes of which we haven't seen for 100 years," Xi told Putin. "And we are the ones driving these changes together", NPR reported.