- The US focus on Russia over the Ukraine crisis has been a good trend for Beijing and Chinese President Xi Jinping;

After it became one of the rare issues on which politicians of the two major parties in the United States agree on.

On the eve of the Russian attack on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, where, shortly afterwards, a "borderless" partnership was announced between the two countries.

The declaration included China and Russia standing "side by side in rejecting NATO's expansion in Europe" and opposing building American alliances in Asia such as the (Ocos) and (Quad) alliance, and the two parties agreed that calls to strengthen democracy are nothing but a Western conspiracy.

China's "gray" position on the Russian attack on Ukraine confused US foreign policy-making circles.

Reports of Russia's request for military and economic aid from China to compensate for its losses from sanctions and battles have doubled the sensitivity of the calculations of Beijing's position towards the Ukrainian crisis, with an unprecedented US threat, as shown in the reactions of President Joe Biden's administration, so far.

China and Russia in previous joint exercises in the South China Sea (Al-Jazeera)

Untouchable relationships

Yun Sun, an expert on East Asia and the Pacific at the Stimpson Institute, believes that Russia's success in diverting Washington's attention away from the Indo-Pacific region towards Europe is good news for China, as US pressure on it will decrease.

But Beijing, as Sun tells Al Jazeera Net, needs a delicate balance in order to maintain its very important relationship with friendly Europe, which is a major challenge for Chinese policy makers.

The European Union is China's first trading partner, as a report by the Chinese Customs Authority revealed that the volume of trade exchange between the European Union and China rose to 828 billion dollars in 2021, of which 518 billion were Chinese exports, compared to 310 billion in the value of European imports.

In the same year, the value of trade exchange between China and Russia amounted to about 146 billion dollars, of which 67 billion were the value of Chinese exports, compared to Russian imports worth 79 billion dollars, mostly oil and natural gas.

In view of this, the expert Yun Sun believes that "the Joe Biden administration cannot pressure China to weaken or limit Beijing's relationship with Moscow."

On the other hand, John Calibris, a professor specializing in Chinese affairs at the American University in Washington, says that China "struggles to reconcile its interest in maintaining a strong partnership with Russia on the one hand, and to remain committed to the rules and norms of the current international system that it continues to benefit greatly from, especially through Its huge economic relations with Europe and the United States, on the other hand.

The United States is China's second largest trading partner, with a trade volume of 756 billion dollars last year, of which 576 billion were Chinese exports, compared to 180 billion US imports.

hinge moment

For his part, Richard Haass, a former official in the White House and the State Department, and the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations, considered that the Chinese president is facing a pivotal moment to put his country on the right path within the international community.

Hass tweeted, "Reports indicate that Russian President Putin has asked the Chinese President for military aid, and if Beijing agrees to this, it may mean that it will expose itself to heavy sanctions and make itself a pariah state. If it refuses, this would keep the door open to the possibility of cooperation." With the United States and the West, it is a defining moment for President Xi, China and for the 21st century."

Reports that Putin asking Xi for military help.

To do so means China would open itself to substantial and make itself a pariah;

to refuse would keep open the possibility of at least selective cooperation with the US and West.

Defining moment for Xi, China, and 21st century.

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) March 13, 2022

And White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday represented an opportunity to underscore Washington's determination not to allow China to provide aid to Moscow.

Sullivan said in a television interview last Sunday that China, which provides support to Russia, "is a source of concern."

"We are watching closely to see to what extent China actually provides any form of material or economic support to Russia, and this really concerns us. We have told Beijing that we will not stand idly by and will not allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from economic sanctions," he added.

Sullivan issued a direct warning to China, saying, "I made it clear to Beijing that there would be serious consequences if the Kremlin provided a solution to the US sanctions imposed on Russia."

Despite the idea of ​​China mediating in the war, American experts see no indication that Beijing is reconsidering its close relationship with Russia.

Speaking to Fox News, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called on the Biden administration to stand up to China, urging it to "go after anyone who tries to support Vladimir Putin."

"China is everything to Russia now," Graham said. "If the Chinese are helping to arm Russia and helping to circumvent international sanctions, we have to impose sanctions on China, go after anyone and everyone who tries to support war criminal Putin."

Do you hold the gray position of Beijing?

Following the start of the fighting in Ukraine, the Chinese Foreign Ministry blamed US intervention and NATO's eastward expansion plans.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying recalled an incident in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict, when a NATO plane bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese diplomats.

Then-President Bill Clinton apologized for the attack, calling it an unintended incident.

"NATO is still indebted to the Chinese people with blood," Hua said.

China has yet to refer to Russia's military attack on Ukraine as an "invasion," nor has it publicly condemned Russia for launching the war.

According to Professor Calibris, the "strong international reaction and a united Western response" to the war - both likely unexpected by Beijing - prompted Chinese officials to readjust their position.

According to the expert, China's abstention at the UN Security Council on February 25 was a sign that it was trying to balance its competing interests.

This balance is also reflected in Chinese officials' recent and public affirmation of the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the need to exercise restraint, and the gravity of the humanitarian crisis.

“There is no doubt that Russia is counting on China to withstand or compensate for Western-led sanctions, at a time when sanctions against Russia have not yet forced China to make a stark choice. Nevertheless, as the war continues and the humanitarian crisis intensifies, we can We expect Beijing's strong partnership with Moscow to be severely tested."