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China has been consistently warned not to throw its weight behind Russia in the face of crippling sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow is thought to be just about coping with the hefty sanctions — which include restrictions on personal wealth, travel, finances, trade and business — although it remains to be seen how the country will deal with the severed ties in the long-term. In the run up to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as thousands of troops were amassed on the Ukraine border, China moved as close to Russia as it had in decades, signing a slew of pacts and mutual agreements.
In early February, the two powers forged fresh long-term supply deals for oil and gas, the Kremlin releasing a statement after the meeting that read: “Friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.”
At the same time, China joined Russia in opposing NATO’s eastward expansion into Ukraine, to which Moscow returned the favour by supporting Beijing’s One China Policy, which asserts that Taiwan is part of China and will one day be reunified with the mainland.
And, in the early days, Chinese officials even suggested that Russia’s invasion was justified in the face of western provocation, and the country has yet to fully condemn Moscow for its actions.
While China has benefited from the agreements and renewed relations, it now finds itself within a close proximity of the war in Europe that will be unfavourable to Xi and the politicians around him.
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Andrew Small, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, who specialises in Europe-China relations, suggested that while China will be “frustrated” with having been brought into the conflict debate, much of its position now has been a result of Xi’s political manoeuvring.
He told Express.co.uk: “I think China will at least be disappointed and frustrated as they had counted on Russia to do better than this.
“They think Russia misjudged this and pulled China in — but it was their decision.
“If you hadn’t had months of build up for this, you hadn’t had people warning China, you hadn’t had the level of the massing of troops on Ukraine’s border, then you could’ve said China was tricked into it.
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“But they knew what was going on and that [renewed relations] was a calculated risk, the calculation being that Russia would be successful.
“Russia got its calculations wrong and China got its calculations wrong on this too.”
It is widely agreed that Russia believed its invasion and subsequent capture of Ukraine would take just a matter of days.
But in the weeks since the war began on February 24, Putin’s troops have several times had to change their tactics.
Most recently, they turned around just outside Kyiv after failing to break into the city, and are now thought to be heading east to renew an assault in a region where Russia already has a stronghold.
As Putin’s military struggles to get a grip on its offensive, US officials fear that China has already decided to provide it with economic and financial support, and is contemplating sending military supplies such as armed drones.
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Mutual agreements: Russia and China struck a deal on oil and gas in early February
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Mr Small said it is difficult to know whether this is true, but that he believed there may be shadier financial transactions that are difficult to trace going on in the background.
Ultimately, he argued that China’s involvement in the war will be on the shoulders of Xi.
He said: “China may be frustrated and disappointed, but it’s on them and it’s on Xi Jinping personally in certain respects — this was a risky move [to become closer to Russia] that in some ways represented a break from a long tradition of Chinese foreign policy.
“The calculation was that it was a worthwhile gamble and Russia would come out the other side in a strong place and this would strengthen China’s position.
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“But now, we have a lot of complications that China hadn’t expected.”
In March, Washington officials claimed that Russia had asked China specifically for military equipment, including drones.
In a report, the US warned its allies that China had suggested it was open to a move to provide military and economic support.
Jake Sullivan, US National Security Adviser at the time, met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi for talks in Rome.
A readout of a message during the meeting said: “Mr Sullivan raised a range of issues in US-China relations, with substantial discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
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“They also underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.”
In an earlier CNN interview, Mr Sullivan said the US was “communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them”.
He said: “We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country, anywhere in the world.”
Mr Sullivan added that while the US believed China was aware that Putin was “planning something” before the invasion happened, Beijing “may not have understood the full extent of it”.