Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Moscow next week to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin – his first visit to Russia since Kremlin forces invaded Ukraine.
The visit from March 20 to 22, Xi’s first trip abroad since winning a third term as president, is seen by the West as Beijing’s support for Moscow in its ailing war against Kiev.
There has been much speculation about the nature of the trip, with Western officials warning it could be a signal that China is considering giving Russia military aid for the battle.
But China, which is trying to pose as a neutral mediator in the conflict, has denied such claims, even though it has refused to condemn the invasion.
Whatever the outcome, the meeting is sure to strengthen ties between the two leaders, who have already met 39 times before – including in Beijing more than a year ago at the opening of the Olympic Games on February 4, 2022. that meeting, held shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, the two declared a partnership without borders.
Here are the things Putin and Xi are trying to gain from their joint encounter and a curveball ahead:
Putin wants the guns
After launching an attack on Ukraine a year ago, Putin had a limited group of friends, a size that matters when it comes to Moscow’s ability to import and supply critical weapons and munitions in combat.
China has so far waited to provide such deadly aid, opting instead to support Russia through more trade and more joint war games.
But Western officials have recently begun to warn that Beijing could soon move to provide military aid to Moscow — with next week’s meeting a potentially ideal venue for the two to make such an announcement.
Also alarming remarks from Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who recently accused the US of hypocrisy in warning China against supplying arms to Russia, pointing to the Biden government supplying arms to Taiwan.
“It’s something we’ll be paying attention to,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday, referring to a glimpse of an arms deal between the two nations. “It is clear that Russia has its own interests in involving other countries in this conflict if it can, but our position is the same whether they meet or not.”
The prospect is worrying for US officials as Chinese weapons, while not seen as capable of giving Putin a decisive victory, could provoke the conflict, depleting US weapons, resources and public goodwill to help Ukraine in the fight.
Xi wants to increase his reputation as a peacemaker
Fresh off a China-brokered deal for Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations announced earlier this week, Xi now sets his sights on the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Without naming the embattled country, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Xi’s visit is in part to promote “peace,” with talks on key regional and international issues.
Xi’s government has already released a so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine, a 12-point agenda for “a political solution to the Ukraine crisis”, which has been largely ignored in the west.
And in a phone call on Thursday, senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang told his Ukrainian counterpart that Beijing hopes “all sides will remain calm, rational and restrained and resume peace talks as soon as possible,” according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry. . .
But the United States and NATO remain wary of China’s pressure to mediate, as Beijing has not yet condemned Russia for the war, or even outwardly called the conflict that, instead deferring at the insistence from Russia that it is a “special military operation”.
China has drawn even more Western skepticism and has repeatedly sided with Russia and blocked international action against Moscow for the war.
Both want a new world order
A likely outcome of the Xi-Putin meeting is a public re-commitment of the partnership of the two, which is considered vital for them to counter what they see as the West’s unfair interference in their affairs.
Xi’s visit to Russia – and the Chinese support that comes with it – represents a challenge to the US and its allies, which have tried to squeeze Moscow’s economy with crippling sanctions.
The relationship is symbiotic, as Russia in turn gives China more weight on the international stage and supports its own aggressive maneuvers, particularly in the South China Sea.
“As the world enters a new period of turbulence and change, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a major power, the significance and influence of China-Russia relations extend far beyond the bilateral scope,” the Chinese ministry said. of Foreign Affairs in the announcement of the Xi visit.
Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at Washington DC-based think tank Brookings, said securing Russia as a Chinese partner is “fundamental” to Xi’s vision of national rejuvenation.
“China views the United States as the main obstacle to its rise,” writes Hass.
Xi also likely sees the benefit of Russia diverting America’s strategic focus from China. Neither Beijing nor Moscow can do business alone with the United States and its partners; they both prefer to stand together to deal with external pressures rather than face it alone,” he added.
Shaking things up – Xi was supposed to meet an international fugitive
The meeting with Xi-Putin was announced hours in advance the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for the Russian president on war crimes charges related to the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
The arrest warrant — one of the first charges against Putin for war crimes in Ukraine — means Xi will now meet with an international fugitive on Monday.
Typically, such an order carries an important element of public disgrace – a signal to other countries to carefully consider their dealings with a person under investigation, experts in international law say.
“From now on, the Russian president has the official status of a suspect in committing an international crime – illegal deportation and displacement of Ukrainian children,” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin wrote on Facebook.
“This means that Putin must be arrested outside Russia and brought to trial. And world leaders will think twice before shaking his hand or sitting at the negotiating table with him. The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leaders and allies will be brought to justice.”
There is little chance of Putin being taken into custody by an international court, nor is it likely that the order will have any major impact on the meeting or Beijing’s position on Moscow. But the legal move could put pressure on the two countries on the global stage.
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