Yang Jiechi Visits Russia, China and Russia Seek to Break Isolation

The Chinese Communist Party’s top official in charge of diplomacy, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo, visited Russia on May 24 to hold the 16th round of China-Russia strategic security consultations with the Russian side for three days.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian announced the news on May 23. After the Russian-Chinese meeting, Yang Jiechi will also visit Slovenia and Croatia, both EU member states.

Yang Jiechi’s real claim to fame as China’s top diplomat came at the U.S.-China Alaska Dialogue in mid-March, the first meeting between the two sides after months of cooling off under the new Biden administration. Yang Jiechi was accused of disregarding diplomatic protocol and speaking out of time, decrying that “the United States itself does not represent international public opinion, nor does the Western world”. Yang also said that “the United States is not qualified to speak to China from above” and “you are not qualified to say in front of China that you talk to China from a position of strength”. “He also became a famous Internet saying.

However, analysts point out that both Russia and China are well aware of the isolation they face in the West, and in this context, both sides always look for every opportunity to deepen relations or show this alliance to Europe and the United States. Shortly after the Alaska talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China, and the two sides responded to Europe and the United States in the same tone, with the final joint statement saying: “We oppose the politicization of human rights issues and reject the use of human rights issues to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and engage in double standards”, and that human rights issues are a “persistent problem” for China and Russia “Both sides are reluctant to be exposed to the outside world, so backtracking on human rights is often a common tactic for China and Russia.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this year praised the new stage of development in Sino-Russian relations and the fact that strategic cooperation between the two countries has “no end, no limit, no ceiling.” Behind these super-generalized rhetoric, some commentators have assumed that there is some kind of pragmatic alliance between Russia and China against the United States, but the potential differences between the two countries are also deep and the alliance is feared to be expedient and unsustainable. The alliance is a stopgap measure that will not last.

The strategic meeting between Yang Jiechi and the Russian side was also seen by analysts as an opportunity for the two countries to deepen bilateral ties at a time when the U.S. geopolitical dominance has weakened and the new crown epidemic continues to proliferate.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly attended the opening ceremony of the nuclear energy cooperation project between the two countries via video link on May 19. Putin said at the meeting that relations between the two countries had reached “the best level in history. Xi also said that China and Russia “firmly support each other” in the face of the epidemic, and he referred to their “new era of comprehensive strategic partnership.”

The question of interest to many observers remains: how far and how durable can the Russian-Chinese relationship be?