When I was growing up, the USSR and Communist China formed the original Axis of Evil. Then, in later years, the “Sino-Soviet split” changed the geopolitical calculus. Now, it seems that a Russian-Chinese alliance may be re-forming.
A week ago, it was reported that American diplomats went to their Chinese counterparts with evidence of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, in hopes that President Xi would try to talk Putin out of it:
Over three months, senior Biden administration officials held half a dozen urgent meetings with top Chinese officials in which the Americans presented intelligence showing Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and beseeched the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade, according to U.S. officials.
Each time, the Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, rebuffed the Americans, saying they did not think an invasion was in the works.
You could say it never hurts to try. Or you could say that hopeless naïveté is a bad thing in international relations.
Today, it is being reported that China asked Putin to delay the invasion until the conclusion of the Winter Olympics:
China asked Vladimir Putin to delay any invasion of Ukraine until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing, according to a Western intelligence report.
The Olympic closing ceremony took place on Feb 20. On the following day Putin recognised two breakaway areas in Ukraine and sent troops in to help separatists.
Then, on Feb 24, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
Earlier, at the start of the Olympics, Putin visited Mr Xi and they signed a strategic partnership aimed at countering US influence.
As Western sanctions against Russia take effect, closer economic cooperation between Russia and China appears inevitable. Whether a full-blown strategic alliance is in the works remains to be seen, and of course Putin’s future–perhaps shaky if the oligarchs are sufficiently angry about losing their international lifestyles–could be an important factor. But for now, signs of a re-emergence of the original, and most sinister, Axis of Evil seem ominous.