For China, Putin's Russia Has Become A Lesson In How Not To Exercise Power
There are many lessons to be taken from Yevgeny Prigozhin's aborted uprising in the halls of power China. Going forward, Beijing will see Russia as a model on what to avoid in maintaining stability autocratic rule.
Russia is an endless source of lessons for China. In 1991, after the demise of the USSR, the Chinese Communist Party produced a film to learn from its lessons. It was shown to all Party cadres as a kind of anti-model. Thirty years later, Russia once again demonstrates the mistakes to avoid if one wants to be a lasting dictatorship.
China remained silent on Saturday as the Wagner mutiny unfolded. It waited for its conclusion before downplaying what was described as a mere "incident". The day after, a Russian vice-minister was in Beijing to reassure the country, as China is the most vital ally to Russia during times of economic sanctions.
It is not necessarily displeasing to Beijing to see Vladimir Putin weakened, as it strengthens China's influence. However, Beijing is concerned about him being too weakened, as it would no longer serve Beijing's interests in its cold war with the United States. This is now the risk at hand.
China and Russia have been continuously growing closer for at least a decade, based on their shared hostility towards Western domination. This is the ideological foundation of their friendship “without limits,” to borrow the phrase used in a joint statement just before the invasion of Ukraine.
However, it is not a formal alliance like during Stalin's era; mistrust is never far away. A foreign leader recently visiting Central Asia reported that the presidents of these former Soviet countries regularly received calls from Putin, essentially telling them, "Don't rush into the arms of the Chinese too quickly, we will win in Ukraine..." This is a sign of Moscow's nervousness when faced with China's growing influence.
The Wagner mutiny adds to the Chinese frustrations with Russia's underperformance
The Wagner mutiny adds to the Chinese frustrations with Russia's underperformance since the beginning of the war. Beijing, for instance, publicly condemned any nuclear weapon blackmail.
Xi hosted by Putin in Moscow in March
Pavel Byrkin/Kremlin Pool/Planet Pix via ZUMA
A lesson for Xi
In October of last year in Samarkand, Putin was filmed telling Xi Jinping that he would address his "concerns" regarding Ukraine. However, these concerns were never publicly expressed by the Chinese leader.
The turmoil in Russia thus reinforces the Chinese leader's relatively detached stance on Ukraine.
In April of last year in Beijing, Xi shared with Emmanuel Macron that he would never criticize Putin publicly due to the United States's hostility towards China. However, he added an interesting remark regarding Ukraine, saying that it was not “his” war. The spectacle of the turmoil in Russia thus reinforces the Chinese leader's relatively detached stance on Ukraine.
When comparing Russian and Chinese authoritarianism, a contrast appears: in China, within the power camp, there is only one prominent figure, Xi Jinping. Someone like Prigozhin would not have a place there as he reminds one too much of the Chinese "warlords" of the early 20th century, which is considered too risky.
Xi Jinping will draw at least one lesson from these events: he will be strengthened in his vision of a centralized Party that controls everything, particularly the military. Russia is definitely seen as a model of what not to do from Beijing's perspective.
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