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Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Gang met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko on Sunday as Beijing tries to gauge the impact of warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion on the political stability of one of its closest strategic allies.
Chinese state media said the couple, who were pictured smiling and walking together after meeting in Beijing, “exchanged views . . . on Sino-Russian relations and international and regional issues of common concern.”
The reports did not mention the rebellion, and China did not make any official statement about the events. Chinese state media downplayed the drama — on Sunday, it gave precedence to an exchange of letters between President Xi Jinping and a Belgian zookeeper discussing pandas.
But the muted official coverage of the rebellion belies the importance of Xi and the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership of the confrontation in Russia, Beijing’s most important partner in its efforts to fight what it sees as American hegemony.
Russia’s weakness would not only deprive the Chinese leader of a reliable ally, but also potentially destabilize China’s vast borders with its giant neighbor. We don’t need another civil war in Russia either, we need stability in all countries,” said Henry Huyao Wang, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing.
Wang said this desire for stability is why Beijing wants to start peace talks between Ukraine and Russia as soon as possible. China’s envoy Li Hui visited both countries last month, but little progress has been made.
For China’s leadership, the challenge has always been how to express support for Russian President Vladimir Putin without further alienating Europe. Premier Li Qiang visited France and Germany last week in an effort to strengthen ties weakened by Beijing’s close relationship with Russia.
Over the past two years, Xi has repeatedly expressed his strong support for Putin, from their declaration of “friendship without borders” just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year to Xi’s state visit to Moscow this year.
After the debacle of the past few days, Putin will look for reaffirmation from foreign leaders, especially China, his strongest and most credible ally.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, “The Chinese side expressed support for the efforts of the leadership of the Russian Federation to stabilize the situation in the country in connection with the events of June 24 and renewed its interest in strengthening Russia’s unity and prosperity.”
“For Putin, it will be important to get this support from China, which is a globally important player, to stabilize the local climate,” said Zsouza Anna Firenze, a former political adviser to the European Parliament who is now at National Dong Hua University in Taiwan. .
“they [China] Perhaps they are thinking and having talks about what is needed to secure Putin’s position because Putin has been so helpful to China. This must be the driving consideration.”
At the same time, the chaos unleashed by the war against Ukraine in Russia will not be lost on Beijing, whose long-standing ambition is to unite with Taiwan using military force if necessary.
“There are a lot of lessons to learn from what happened last night,” said Firenze. She said the chaos in Russia might make China think about “how fragile the control of even the most authoritarian regimes is”.
Analysts said that while Beijing tries to shore up Putin, it will also seek more extensive contacts with other power brokers in Russia. This would help her secure the relationship in the event of someone else gaining power.
“China may hedge its bets, not by withdrawing support from Putin, but by increasing engagement with other actors in and around Russia,” said Leif Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
While China’s state media coverage of Prigozhin’s rebellion was relatively weak, sticking closely to Russian domestic media’s version of events, social media was much more active.
Multiple publications have described the warlord as An Lushan, a reference to a famous rebel general in the eighth century during the Tang Dynasty, who rebelled against the empire and established a rival, short-lived kingdom. But the posts were soon deleted.
Another user on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, appeared to evade government censorship and drew a lot of reposts by using euphemisms to describe the rebellion, referring to it as the first-person shooter video game “PUBG,” and mocking Putin. From “Caesar” and “Grandfather”.
But it was clear that despite the government’s efforts to control the narrative, even the staunchest supporters of Beijing in state media could not hide their view of Putin’s weakening prospects after recent events.
“The end of the rebellion obviously narrowed the impact on Putin’s power,” Hu Xijin, former editor of the nationalist Global Times, said on Twitter, before adding.
With additional reporting from Gloria Lee in Hong Kong and Edward White in Hong Kong
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