China's new foreign minister: Beijing ready to 'further advance Sino-Russian ties'
Created: 01/16/2023 08:23
By: Sven Hauberg
China has had a new foreign minister for a few days - and he promptly spoke to his counterpart in the Kremlin.
"There is nothing to suggest that China is changing course on Russia," says one expert.
Munich/Beijing – Barely in office, China's new foreign minister made it clear where his priorities lie: Beijing is ready to "further advance Chinese-Russian relations," Qin Gang said in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.
It was Qin's first conversation with a foreign counterpart since he was named the Chinese government's top diplomat on December 30 - and left the US, where he previously served as ambassador.
In the call, Qin praised the "comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Russia" and promised to "maintain close contacts" with Lavrov in the future.
Qin's commitment to Russia comes as no surprise: Ever since the Russian invasion began, the government in Beijing has stuck by the Kremlin, speaking of a "conflict" instead of a war.
She calls for negotiations to stop the killing, but takes no steps in that direction.
Beijing has also repeatedly emphasized its “rock-solid friendship” with Moscow.
Foreign Minister Qin is continuing the policy of his predecessor Wang Yi.
Wang himself was promoted to the 24-member Politburo by China's Communist Party congress last October, where he remains in charge of China's diplomacy.
While Wang, together with head of state and party leader Xi Jinping, is now laying down the guidelines for Chinese foreign policy, it is up to Qin Gang to implement them.
Before the conversation with Lavrov, he must have coordinated closely with Wang.
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Qin Gang, born in 1966, began his diplomatic career in China's foreign ministry in the late 1980s, later becoming the agency's spokesman.
Back then, Qin gained a reputation that has stayed with him to this day: Qin was considered a so-called "wolf warrior", a tough diplomat who defended the interests of his country with pithy words and an occasionally aggressive tone.
At the time, he justified his (un)diplomatic style by saying that it was "outrageous to insult China and at the same time want to prevent the country from striking back".
However, most recently, as ambassador in Washington, Qin had clearly held back verbally.
And this despite the fact that relations between China and the USA have also been strained under Joe Biden.
Qin was obviously anxious not to smash any more china.
Qin Gang has been China's new foreign minister since the end of the year.
© Amanuel Sileshi/afp
Whether Qin will maintain this new, softer tone at the State Department remains to be seen.
This would be supported by the fact that another “wolf warrior” had left the ministry just a few days ago: Zhao Lijian, who as a foreign ministry spokesman had repeatedly spread conspiracy theories about the origin of the corona virus and caused a diplomatic scandal with Australia in 2020 because of a tasteless photo montage, was in one transferred to another department – apparently a demotion for the opinionated Chinese.
In any case, observers expect that Zhao's transfer could be the first sign of a change of course in Chinese diplomacy: Sari Arho Havrén, European China Policy Fellow at the Merics think tank, speaks of Beijing's "charm offensive" to "buy time". .
Expert: "Nothing Indications That China Will Change Course On Russia"
A report by the
also suggests that China's foreign policy is currently changing.
Based on sources in Chinese government circles, the newspaper reports that Beijing could move away from Russia at least a little.
China believes it is likely that Russia will not win the Ukraine war and "emerge from the conflict as an 'insignificant power' that is severely weakened economically and diplomatically on the world stage," the
quoted an anonymous source as saying.
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Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Chinese-Russian relations at the US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, does not believe that relations between Beijing and Moscow could change anytime soon.
Over the past year, there has been "more trade, more military drills and more business in RMB" — the Chinese currency, Gabuev said.
"There is nothing to suggest that China is changing course on Russia."
While Germany and other EU countries have been doing everything they can to cut their economic ties with Russia since February 24, 2022, China is doing the opposite.
In the energy sector in particular, the interdependence is likely to become even closer.
As recently as December, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a new natural gas field in eastern Siberia that is expected to bring a noticeable increase in exports to China.
A second pipeline to China is also being planned.
It's not just China's course on Russia that is causing amazement in the West
In an article for the US journal
at the end of December, the new Foreign Minister Qin Gang once again blamed Ukraine and the West for the war under the headline "How China sees the world".
"In the long run, people need to realize that basing your security on the insecurity of other countries doesn't work," writes Qin.
In other words, Moscow is not to blame for the war, but rather Ukraine's desire to tie itself more closely to the West.
In addition, Qin could not bring himself to condemn the Russian crimes in Ukraine in his text.
According to the report by the
, Beijing wants to work more closely with European countries again, parallel to the alleged turning away from Russia.
According to government sources cited, China has recognized that its proximity to Russia is jeopardizing trade with the West.
That is why Head of State Xi met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU Council President Charles Michel last year.
And that's why state visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy's new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni are planned for this year.
What Beijing overlooks, however, is that it's not just China's support for Russia that is alienating the EU.
The threatening gestures towards Taiwan, the suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong and the human rights violations in the province of Xinjiang are also ringing alarm bells in the West.
So even if China is serious about its new distance from the Kremlin, winning back the hearts of the West will hardly be as easy as many people in Beijing's Zhongnanhai government district imagine.
A few steps away from Vladimir Putin and towards Europe are hardly enough.