Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing (Image: Sputnik Kremlin Pool via AP/Alexei Druzhinin)

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met before the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics last Friday, it was their first face-to-face meeting in almost two years.

Amid the standoff between Russia and the West over Putin’s apparent preparations to invade Ukraine, observers watched closely for signs that the two leaders would intensify their so-called axis of authoritarianism -- what many have described as a nascent alliance of two revisionist, anti-Western powers.

Expectations varied from Chinese economic support that would help Russia withstand Western sanctions should it invade Ukraine to joint statements on Taiwan, signalling a possible, albeit unlikely, two-front conflict that could see China move against the island nation at the same time.