Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow between March 20 and 22, aiming to strengthen China-Russia economic ties and look for a solution to end the war in Ukraine.
Coincidentally or not, the meeting is scheduled at a time when there are signs China has become more of a factor in the Ukraine War – however reluctantly in some cases. This week, the Ukrainian military told CNN that an armed Chinese Mugin-5 drone was shot down in Sloviansk, Ukraine.
Some of that reluctance comes in here. Mugin Ltd, a Xiamen-based drone maker, complained that its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms should not be used for military purposes as they are designed for the “betterment of humanity.”
“We absolutely condemn the use of our UAV platforms for military purposes,” the company says in a statement. “Since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, we have ceased to accept orders from both Russia and Ukraine.”
It says it also condemns attaching weapons and explosives to its drones and does not provide after-sales service for military purposes.
According to the Ukrainian military, a Mugin-5 drone was seen flying toward Ukraine from an area occupied by Russian troops in the early morning on March 11.
The drone, carrying about 20 kilograms of explosives, was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers with AK-47 rifles. It was more like a “dumb bomb” than a spy drone as it did not have a camera, according to weapon experts.
The Mugin-5 drone is nicknamed “Alibaba drone” as units are available on the e-commerce giant’s Taobao for $12,998.52 each.
The Xi-Putin meeting was announced after a much bigger UAV incident: A US-made MQ-9 Reaper drone was intercepted by two Russian Su-27 aircraft and fell into the Black Sea on Tuesday.
The US military on Thursday declassified 42 seconds of footage showing that one of the Russian jets had dumped fuel on the drone. An MQ-9 Reaper drone costs about US$32 million.
While the situation in Ukraine was escalating this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang held a phone call with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday.
Qin expressed Beijing’s concern about the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis and the possibility of it getting out of control.
He said all parties should remain calm, rational and restrained and should resume peace talks as soon as possible. He said China will continue to play a constructive role in seeking a ceasefire, the cessation of war, mitigation of the crisis and restoration of peace.
Beijing released a 12-point statement on February 24, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling on both sides to cease fire and open a dialogue to resolve their conflicts politically.
Media reports said earlier this week that Xi will have a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after his meeting with Putin in Moscow.
China’s foreign ministry said Xi will have an in-depth exchange of views with Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues to promote strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries.
“This trip will be a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Friday. “China will uphold an objective and fair stance on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.”
“On the basis of the principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third parties, the two sides will push forward genuine multilateralism, promote the democratization of international relations, build a multipolar world pattern, improve global governance, and contribute to the development and progress of the world,” he added.
He said Sino-Russian cooperation is open, transparent and free from interference and coercion by third parties. He stressed that China has always adopted a prudent and responsible attitude in arms exports and also controlled the export of dual-use items in accordance with laws and regulations.
Without naming the United States, Wang said some countries fueled the situation in Ukraine with arms supply and the imposition of unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdictions on other countries without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
Russian media reported on Friday that Putin and Xi will sign some important bilateral agreements during their meeting next week.
Zhang Hanhui, Chinese Ambassador to Russia, said Friday that Sino-Russian relations should move forward steadily, especially when the world is becoming unstable.
“The China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership in the new era has become increasingly mature after going through different tests internationally over the past decade,” Zhang said.
He added that the two countries’ bilateral trade reached US$190.27 billion last year with strong growth in China’s exports of machines, autos and parts to Russia. He said the figure grew 25.9% year-on-year to US$33.69 billion in the first two months of this year.
He said China and Russia have successfully walked a path of strategic mutual trust and will not be interfered with or coerced by any third party.
What the commentariat is saying
Zhang Yi, a lecturer at Qingdao University, writes that he disagrees with the view of some US researchers, who suggest China keep a distance from the weakening Russia to avoid western sanctions.
Zhang says European countries are actually split by the Ukrainian crisis as Austria, Hungary and Italy oppose the European Union’s energy exports ban and sanctions imposed on Russia. Besides, he says, the US and Europe will not change their anti-China policies, even if China cuts its ties with Russia.
“What will China get if it gives up its friendship with Russia? Is it a more severe technology ban from the US or stricter geographic containment?” Zhang writes. “The attitude of the US and Europe towards China has nothing to do with Russia but is based on interests and strengths.”
He says some countries, such as Germany, have seen China’s economic strength and taken the initiative to clarify that they will not decouple with China. He says there is no reason for China to cut its ties with Russia to please the West.
Read: China’s ironic reticence on land grab in Ukraine
Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3