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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Beijing prepares for Winter Olympics and Xi-Putin summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Ukraine , and the United States deploys more troops to Europe.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Beijing prepares for Winter Olympics and Xi-Putin summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Ukraine, and the United States deploys more troops to Europe.
If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.
Beijing Prepares for the Spotlight
Beijing will be the site of both sporting and geopolitical theater on Friday as Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and the Winter Olympics 2022 opening ceremony begins.
Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov meet today in the Chinese capital to finalize preparations for the meeting, believed to be the first held in-person by Xi since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
The two men are expected to sign further agreements on gas supplies, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Wednesday, while Putin outlined some of the likely talking points in a Xinhua guest piece, where he extolled the two countries’ “stabilizing role in today’s challenging international environment.”
The timing of the summit, coming amid a U.S.-led effort to threaten deep consequences should Russia invade Ukraine, has raised concerns in the West that Xi could provide Putin with a backdoor—in gas purchases and other financial support—that would soften the blow of any sanctions.
There’s no doubt the relationship between the two countries has grown closer in recent years, energized by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 when crushing sanctions left Moscow with fewer options. It’s still complicated by regional dynamics: Both wield influence in Central Asia, while Russia shares an enduring partnership with a rising Chinese adversary in India.
As Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, observed in a comprehensive report on Russia’s approach to China, the two countries have embarked on a road similar to the Russia-Turkey relationship, where flexibility is more important than anything formal.
“The sides tolerate their differences of opinion or clashes of interest because they see these disputes as originating in ‘pragmatic’ geopolitical interests, not in ideology—and especially not in an ideology that threatens their systems of governance,” Liik wrote.
But is the relationship strong enough for Putin to expect Xi to stand in his corner if the West followed through on its sanctions threats?
Given that the sanctions hammer would fall following a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Xi would rather not have to make that choice, Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Foreign Policy. That wavering stems from both matters of principle—in line with China’s own policy priorities of state sovereignty—and matters of business, with any invasion putting China’s own investments in Ukraine in jeopardy.
Ultimately, the outcome that suits China best is one where NATO and Russia agree to limit the bloc’s expansion so as not to touch either Russia or China’s borders, Glaser said, but a Ukraine invasion wouldn’t put an end to cooperation: “I think in 2014, the things China did were pretty much done quietly, where they wanted to signal support for Russia, but they didn’t want the rest of the world necessarily to know. And I think they’d be more willing to do it in an overt way today.”
As for China’s claim to Taiwan, Glaser sees little reason to think that a Russian invasion, or U.S. reticence in the face of it, would mean open season for China’s military to bring the island under Beijing’s control. “I think a lot of the narratives about Taiwan these days are just wrong,” Glaser said, pointing to an event later this year of much greater importance than the Winter Olympics: the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, where Xi is expected to be named to a third five-year term. “Nothing is worth putting that at risk,” Glaser added.
What We’re Following Today
U.S. troops to Europe. The United States will send approximately 2,000 additional troops to Europe in an effort to bolster NATO allies and send a “strong signal” to Putin, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday. The deployment will involve roughly 3,000 U.S. troops in total, 1,000 of whom are already stationed in Germany, heading to Poland and Romania. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak praised the move as “strong signal of solidarity,” while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment was “the best proof that we, as Russia, have an obvious reason to be worried.”
Erdogan in Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Kyiv today, where he and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are expected to sign a free trade agreement. Erdogan’s visit can be seen in the wider context of his attempts, fruitless so far, to play mediator amid Russia-Ukraine tensions. As Jeffrey Mankoff wrote in Foreign Policy in January, Erdogan’s balancing act of keeping NATO, Russia, and Ukraine all on good terms with Turkey could soon topple.
Keep an Eye On
ECOWAS meets on Burkina Faso. West African leaders meet today in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to discuss whether to impose economic sanctions on Burkina Faso following its Jan. 24 coup. The meeting follows two fact-finding visits from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) representatives earlier this week, which included meetings with ousted Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who is currently under house arrest.
Canada’s opposition leader out. Canada’s opposition Conservative Party is in search of a new leader, its third in five years, after Erin O’Toole was voted out of the role by caucus members on Wednesday. O’Toole led the Conservatives to a popular vote victory in Canada’s snap September 2021 elections, a margin that failed to translate into a parliamentary majority as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government held on.
Odds and Ends
It’s not the end of the AUKUS submarine deal, but Americans and Australians have become locked in a dispute over a different kind of submerged vessel—the final resting place of the HMS Endeavour, the ship on which Capt. James Cook charted Australia and New Zealand in the late 18th century.
The ship returned to Britain and was recommissioned as a troop carrier, only for it to be scuttled in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, to be used as a naval blockade by Britain during the U.S. War of Independence.
On Thursday, the Australian National Maritime Museum confirmed that it had finally located the ship, with museum CEO Kevin Sumption saying he was “convinced” it was the historic boat. The proclamation was soon called into question by its research partner, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), which accused the Australian outfit of jumping the gun.
RIMAP cautioned that there had been “no indisputable data found to prove the site is that iconic vessel” and that no claims could be made until a full study was completed, in which the “conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics.”