As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to draw outrage and reprisals from the international community, China is maintaining the cautious distance from Moscow it has taken since the onset of the crisis, with many observers suggesting that Beijing may have been caught unaware by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to authorize a full-scale invasion, after months of tensions between Kyiv and Moscow. Yet behind China’s heavily censored internet firewall, where media outlets disseminate Russian propaganda and blame the West for instigating the conflict, Chinese internet users see Putin as a hero and are cheering Russia’s incursion on.
In a joint statement issued on the opening day of the 2022 Winter Olympics held last month in Beijing, China and Russia declared that the “friendship between the two states has no limit.” Though the statement did not describe their partnership as a formal alliance, it nonetheless stated that there are no “forbidden” areas of cooperation, perhaps suggesting that joint military action is a possibility down the line. But only a few weeks after the formalization of that cooperation agreement between the two countries, their partnership, centered on their mutual resistance against Western influence and pursuit of a more multipolar international order, is now being put to the test.
In a Monday press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin evaded a question seeking clarity regarding Beijing’s position on Russia’s invasion. Describing the two countries as “comprehensive strategic partners of coordination,” Wang said “our relationship features non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party.”