A Not-So-Beautiful Friendship

03/23/2023
  • AP23080691790913
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping share dinner in Moscow, Russia. (Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Over the centuries, Russia and China have shared a complicated relationship. As next-door neighbors and global superpowers, the two nations haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. But this latest visit signals a new era of friendship.

On March 10, Xi received his third term as president of the People’s Republic of China. (This surprised no one. In 2018, China removed the two-term limit for presidents, giving Xi the power to rule for life.) Days later, Xi announced his intention to visit Russia’s capital city of Moscow and talk with Putin.

The two leaders smiled and shook hands. They referred to each other as “dear friends.” Putin congratulated Xi on his re-election. Both expressed hope for stronger ties between their nations.

Last month, China called for a ceasefire and peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared open to the idea. But it’s now clear that any China-led peace talks would heavily favor Russia.

China and Russia have always been close—geographically if not relationally. In the 17th century, the two empires defined their shared border with a treaty written in Latin. But China’s current government began much later, in 1949 in the wake of World War II. Ravaged by the war, China depended on Russia’s Soviet Union for resources. China’s communist leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, modelled his rule after Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Both these rulers made evil choices that led to massive, tragic loss of life in their nations.

After Stalin died, tensions grew between Russia and China. Russia’s new leaders criticized Stalin; Mao took this as personal criticism. Military cooperation broke down. China accused Russia of straying from true communism. In 1961, the breakup became official in the “Sino-Soviet Split.”

The world has changed since then. China is no longer a war-ravaged nation seeking aid from its neighbors. It now boasts the world’s second-largest economy. But it still looks to Russia for resources such as oil and gas. Today, both nations find common ground in their authoritarian leadership—and their opposition to the West.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Western nations such as the United States pushed back with sanctions (economic penalties) against Russia. By refusing to trade with Putin’s government, they sought to resist Russia’s actions without escalating the war. They hoped to make Putin feel isolated. The nations of the world could unify their voices and say, “What you’re doing is wrong.”

But Xi’s visit to Moscow throws a wrench into those plans. Now Putin can point to China and say: “See? The world’s second-largest superpower is on our side.”

This meeting comes just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes. China’s message is clear: Russia’s war crimes have no impact on the friendship the two nations share. China’s leaders don’t care about the evil Putin has done.

Even in the days of the Old Testament, power-hungry leaders united to do evil things. The names and places have changed, but the same God remains in control. We shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed when authoritarian rulers celebrate each other’s wrongdoing. Instead, we can put our trust in the God who gives all rulers their authority.

It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. — Proverbs 16:12

(Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping share dinner in Moscow, Russia. Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)