Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) at a reception in Tianjin. Photo: AFP via Sputnik/ Alexei Druzhinin
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a reception in Tianjin in 2018. Photo: AFP / Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik

The Communist Party of China newspaper Global Times has disclosed, citing a high-level “source,” that Beijing had no intention of inviting US and other Western politicians to the 2022 Winter Olympics on February 4-20.

This followed US President Joe Biden’s innuendo that he was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games. 

The White House apparently sensed that Biden was unlikely to be on Beijing’s guest list. Tass had quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Dushanbe on September 16 that President Vladimir Putin had accepted “with delight” an invitation to the Games from Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Biden waited for two more months to arrive at the conclusion that he’s not on Xi’s list of invitees. The Olympic rules stipulate that for politicians to attend the Games, they must first be invited by the host country while the International Olympic Committee endorses it.

The Global Times report said that “as the host country, China has no plan to invite politicians who hype the ‘boycott’ of the Beijing Games.” It noted wryly that Biden’s talk of a boycott was “nothing but self-deception.” 

In an indirect reference to the pandemic conditions in the US, Global Times observed: “Given the grave situation of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, it is not proper to invite foreign guests on a large scale, which can be easily understood by people with common sense.”   

The snub comes hardly two weeks after Biden’s virtual meeting on November 15 with Xi Jinping. In a larger perspective, though, this extraordinary episode falls into place, given the provocative manner in which the Biden administration has been taunting Beijing by transgressing over China’s core interests lately. 

On the other hand, Xi’s exceptional gesture toward Putin by personally conveying the invitation to the Games in a phone call in August bears testimony to the high quality of the two countries’ “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era.” 

People visit the Beijing Olympic tower on February 3, 2021, a year before the scheduled opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics on February 4, 2022. Photo: AFP / Wang Zhao

Expanding and deepening ties

In a lengthy commentary on the topic on Tuesday pinned on the regular bilateral consultation between the heads of governments of China and Russia that day, Global Times singled out the rapidly expanding and deepening ties between the two countries’ armed forces. It pointedly noted: 

“On military cooperation, the two countries recently signed a roadmap for closer ties, which, according to military experts, indicates that Russia and China have common interests and views on strategic stability and regional security, especially in the Pacific region.

“Such enhancement of cooperation in the defense sector is also viewed as a reaction to the West’s pressure on Russia and to the alarming signals that China received from the US and its allies, experts said. 

“Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, said at a press conference on Thursday [November 25] that the Chinese military expects an even better relationship with its Russian counterpart, and is willing to play a bigger role with it in safeguarding world peace and stability.”  

The above two reports in Global Times appeared on a day when the Kremlin signaled that Russia-China strategic relations are poised for a historic leap. In separate remarks on Tuesday, Putin and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin beckoned Moscow’s willingness for a de facto alliance with Beijing. 

Putin positively evaluated China’s “growing defense potential as it [Russia] enjoys the highest level of relations with the country and is itself ramping up its armed forces.” In his characteristic nuanced way, Putin drew a loaded comparison with the existing alliance among the US, UK and France.

Again, during their consultations on Tuesday, Mishustin proposed to Premier Li Keqiang that in the prevailing “complex external environment” of sanctions, “unfriendly actions,” “unfair competition” and “illegitimate unilateral sanctions as well as political and economic pressure,” Russia and China should also “team-up” for their joint development. 

Mishustin pointed at an intertwining of plans between the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“This is important for bolstering the interconnection in Eurasian space, it will help guarantee the economic progress of Russia and China and create a solid foundation for the formation of a Greater Eurasian partnership,” Mishustin told Li, while also reiterating that Putin had earlier presented this idea. 

Putin to visit Beijing

To be sure, Putin’s planned visit to Beijing in February holds the promise of a profound elevation of the Sino-Russian partnership from its already high level.

A transition is under way from the close cooperation between the two powers to coordination and active pooling of resources to support each other, not only for safeguarding their core interests in the face of the growing belligerence in the Biden administration’s strategies, but also at a global level to build a network of regional alliances. 

The Pentagon’s 2021 Global Posture Review, which was announced on Monday, signals a global posture and the intention to develop a “global response capability” that not only embraces the Indo-Pacific region and Europe, but also includes “enduring posture requirements” in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

US President Joe Biden said the US had a ‘commitment to do that’ when asked if the US would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. Credit: AFP photo.

This is a far cry from the pacifist agenda Biden had previously espoused and his loud claim at the very inception of his presidency that diplomacy “is back at the center” of US foreign policy. 

Significantly, Putin’s remarks on Tuesday also touched on third-country cooperation between Russia and China as a major vector of their partnership.

“We have many fields of cooperation with China. One of them concerns our work in third countries. It is well underway, but it may be expanded further. Why? Because we share roughly the same approaches and principles, ” Putin said.  

Putin stressed that Moscow supported Beijing’s efforts to create a global infrastructure of trade routes. “We support our Chinese friends’ efforts based on the One Belt One Road strategy,” he said. 

Interestingly, Putin singled out West Asia as potentially a theater of Russia-China coordination. Indeed, he spoke in this vein as the Sino-Russian coordination has shifted to a common stance robustly endorsing the Iranian demand for the lifting of US sanctions and the Vienna negotiations getting off to a promising start

The bottom line is that by any reckoning of diplomatic practice, the co-authorship of a powerful opinion piece in an influential US magazine last week by the Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Washington, Anatoly Antonov and Qin Gang, lambasting Biden’s Summit of Democracy, proclaims that the Sino-Russian alliance is already sailing on the Potomac River. 

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, which provided it to Asia Times.

M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.