Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, June 8, awarded his country's first Friendship Medal to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Great Hall of the People in capital Beijing.
Lauding their relationships, Jinping told Putin that irrespective of the fluctuations in international relations, China and Russia have always prioritised development in their relationship.
As the West is drifting apart, China and Russia are bridging gaps
The development is significant and shows that as the US engages in isolationism and causes an internal squabble among the western allies, powers like Russia and China find it convenient to bridge their traditional gaps for mutual benefit. The Chinese president hasn't really taken a collision course with other powers, something that many observers had feared after the Chinese constitution was amended to make Jinping the lifelong president. He has taken a course to nurture closer ties with other world leaders like Putin and India's Narendra Modi besides North Korea's Kim Jong-un to advance China's image as one that is conciliatory and not antagonist.
China's conferring its friendship medal to a Russian head of the government is quite a historic development, given the fallouts the two countries had during the Cold War era over the question of ideological purity. Putin was honoured for making outstanding contributions to China's socialist modernisation and promoting exchange and cooperation between China and the world and protect world peace.
China and Russia bury hatchets
This event is also significant from the perspective of China and Russia's competition within the SCO. Though they have been members of the SCO from the beginning, Russia has been wary of China's grand plans to make inroads into Central Asia, which it considers its own backyard. But the grand rapport at the top between two long-term leaders (Putin won his latest presidential term this year) which culminated into the friendship medal now cements the SCO further and that will be seen with some apprehension in the West.
The move to honour Putin, however, is not the first in this boost to the friendship. In July 2017, Putin awarded Jinping the Oder of St. Andrew for his distinguished service to both China and Russia. The Order of St. Andrew is the highest order of Russia and is conferred for outstanding service to the state, Russia's TASS News Agency said.
The honouring of Putin could also be a strategic move by China to ensure that Russia didn't make India, one of the new entrants in the SCO, a shield against it and that the grouping did not turn out to be a fight club between Russia and India on one hand and China and Pakistan on the other.
Internal squabble in international platforms is something which has pegged Donald Trump's US back and has given powers like China a great opportunity to surge ahead. Jinping is wise enough not to commit the same mistake and hurt China's global ambitions. Jinping has also shown his intention to bridge the gap with India, particularly after the Doklam tension in 2017, as was evident from his informal summit with PM Modi.
SCO included India, Pakistan at a perfect time
The timing of the SCO in expanding its base to include two important Asian powers could not have been more perfect. India though is closer to the US than Pakistan today but Trump has not entirely left New Delhi in a good humour, thanks to its shutting-door policies and threats to impose sanctions on the latter for getting a pact done with India for procuring military hardware.
This also gives a chance to New Delhi and Moscow to renew their time-tested relationship, resulting in a more powerful SCO.