As President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin prepare for a head-to-head on Monday, nearby superpower China will be paying the most attention to the relationship dynamic between the two leaders, analysts told CNBC.
The Trump-Putin summit taking place in Helsinki, Finland, this week “could present China with important strategic opportunities as well as offering valuable lessons for its own relationship with the U.S. president,” John Ferguson, director of global forecasting at analysis firm Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via e-mail.
The U.S. president’s hot-and-cold relationship with traditional allies, combined with his willingness to open bilateral dialogues with countries known historically for their rockier relationship with the White House, is an ongoing narrative of his presidency.
Trump’s potential to cede to Putin on issues such as Russia’s presence in Crimea or NATO’s exercises in the Baltic region could, therefore, set a precedent for Beijing’s furthering of its own geopolitical ambitions, Ferguson said. This includes control over the South China Sea and the sovereignty of Taiwan.
Though China doesn't have a seat at the table this time around, it will be front and center of the Trump-Putin bilateral. "We'll be talking a little bit about China (and) our mutual friend President Xi," said Trump as he faced reporters with Putin on Monday.
Any indication of U.S.-Russian collaboration over denuclearizing North Korea, a country with which both China and Russia share a border, could diminish Beijing’s influence in the ongoing saga.
“China is a central player in the Korean Peninsula, but if Mr Trump can increase Russian leverage over North Korea, it will lessen his need to rely too heavily on China's support,” Ferguson suggested.