Sino-Russia ties and energy deal dominate Chinese press headlines
Putin visit puts talk of a rekindled cold war back on the table, as Chinese and Russian ties with US and allies come under strain
The fast-warming ties between China and Russia find their corollary in the equally fast-deteriorating relations between the two nations and the US-led Western alliance, sparking concerns of a new cold war and the possible emergence of a Sino-Russian axis.
The subject dominated mainland media following Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to China to attend the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (Cica) summit in Shanghai. Putin accomplished much in Shanghai, sealing a historic 30-year, US$400 billion natural gas deal with China and observing the largest joint naval exercise between two of the region's most formidable militaries.
China and Russia rekindled their relationship as tensions escalated between Russia and the United States-led Western alliance over Ukraine. It also happened in the same week as the US announced the indictment of five officers of the People's Liberation Army for alleged involvement in a cyber-espionage operation, which some observers said was an unprecedented legal move against agents of a foreign government.
While welcoming improved Sino-Russian ties, state media adopted a cautious attitude. Some media noted that Putin's visit raised anxiety in the West, prompting speculation that Beijing and Moscow intended to form an alliance to counter the US and the European Union.
"This 'imaginative alliance' does not suit the diplomatic strategy of China's new leaders … Beijing will be an active participant in [the] international order as a responsible and peaceful country," the Beijing Youth Daily said.
The People's Daily said those who interpreted improved Sino-Russian relations "as forming an alliance to confront the West …" had an "outdated cold war mentality".
The China-Russia courtship, sweetened by the timely energy agreement, would set off a chain reaction in other parts of the world, some analysts said.
State media focused on the energy deal and the 38 billion cubic metres of Russian gas helping fuel China's growth over the next three decades.
Xinhua referred to the deal as "an important result of strengthening Sino-Russian relations as comprehensive energy partners".
Meanwhile, Global Times hinted at broader motivations, saying the deal showed that China and Russia understood each other's concerns.
And, in an effort to allay regional concerns over the joint military exercise, state media set the tenor by saying the drill was "not targeting any third party".
The China Youth Daily noted the exercise would "improve [the] military strategic partnership" and "promote peace and stability in the region".
China Daily said the drill was "aimed at just demonstrating the real potential of the two countries' strategic interaction and partnership in defence and protection of each other's national interests and territorial integrity".
Beijing's relations with Moscow were not aimed at the West, including the US, Global Times said. "Closer relations are not directed at any third party but play an important role in supporting each other in safeguarding strategic space and avoiding external pressure," said the Times, known for its nationalistic editorial stance.
China was not seeking to alienate third parties, the Times continued: "There is no need for us to worry that China and Russia getting closer will spark 'discussion' or 'dissatisfaction' in the West… What is important is that they will not alienate us because of it, and in contrast they will pay even more attention to our attitude."
Veteran observers of cold war dynamics may recognise the situation as bearing more than a passing resemblance to the situation more 40 years ago under US president Richard Nixon and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger.