Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to travel to Moscow next week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin – his first visit to Russia since Kremlin troops invaded Ukraine.
The March 20-22 visit, also Xi’s first overseas trip since winning a third term as president, is seen by the West as a show of Beijing’s support for Moscow in its war in China. difficulty against Kiev.
Much speculation has been made about the nature of the trip, with Western officials warning it could signal that China is considering providing military assistance to Russia for the fight.
But China, which is trying to portray itself as a neutral arbiter in the conflict, has denied the allegations, while refusing to condemn the invasion.
Whatever the outcome, the meeting is sure to intensify the bond between the two leaders who have met 39 times before – including more than a year ago in Beijing when the Olympic Games opened on 4 February 2022. In this meeting, held shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, the two men declared a “limitless” partnership.
Here are the things Putin and Xi are looking to take away from their joint meeting and a curveball ahead:
Putin wants guns
After launching an attack on Ukraine a year ago, Putin found himself with a limited group of friends, a size that matters when it comes to Moscow’s ability to import and resupply weapons and critical ammunition in combat.
So far, China has refrained from providing such deadly aid, opting instead to support Russia through increased trade and additional joint war games.
But Western officials have recently begun to warn that Beijing may soon offer military assistance to Moscow – with next week’s meeting an ideal venue for the two to make such an announcement.
Comments by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who recently accused the United States of hypocrisy in warning China against supplying arms to Russia, also raised alarms, pointing out that the Biden administration supplied arms to Taiwan.
“It’s something we’ll be watching,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday, referring to any glimmer of an arms deal between the two nations. “Obviously Russia has its own interests in trying to drag other countries into this conflict if it can, but our position is the same whether they meet or not.”
The prospect is worrying for US officials because Chinese weapons, while not seen as capable of giving Putin a decisive victory, could prolong the conflict, draining US weapons, aid resources and goodwill. of the public to help Ukraine in the fight.
Xi wants to develop his reputation as a peacemaker
Hot off the heels of a China-brokered deal for Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic ties, announced earlier this week, Xi is now looking to war between Ukraine and Russia.
Without mentioning the beleaguered country, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Xi’s visit was partly aimed at promoting “peace”, with conversations on key regional and international issues.
Xi’s government has already released a so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine, a 12-point program for “a political resolution of the Ukrainian crisis”, which has been largely ignored in the West.
And in a phone call on Thursday, China’s top diplomat Qin Gang told his Ukrainian counterpart that Beijing hopes “all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible,” according to a statement. from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. .
But the US and NATO remain wary of China’s mediation efforts, as Beijing has yet to condemn Russia for the war, or even outwardly call the conflict that, deferring to the insistence of Russia, it is a “special military operation”.
Drawing further Western skepticism, China has repeatedly sided with Russia and blocked international action against Moscow for war.
Both want a new world order
One of the likely outcomes of the Xi-Putin meeting is a public recommitment to the partnership between the two, seen as vital for them to counter what they see as unfair Western interference in their affairs.
Xi’s visit to Russia – and the accompanying Chinese support – means acting as a challenge to the United States and its allies, which have sought to squeeze Moscow’s economy with crippling sanctions.
The relationship is symbiotic, as Russia, in turn, offers China more clout on the international stage and supports its own aggressive maneuvers, particularly in the South China Sea.
“As the world enters a new period of turmoil and change, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a major power, the significance and influence of Sino-Russian relations go far beyond bilateral framework,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in the statement. announcement of Xi’s visit.
Ryan Hass, senior fellow at the Washington DC-based think tank Brookings, said securing Russia as China’s partner was “fundamental” to Xi’s vision of national renewal.
“China sees the United States as the main obstacle to its rise,” writes Hass.
“Xi probably also sees the benefit of shifting America’s strategic attention away from China. Neither Beijing nor Moscow can deal alone with the United States and its partners; they both prefer to stand together to face outside pressure rather than face it alone,” he added.
Shaking things up – Xi set to meet international fugitive
The Xi-Putin meeting was announced a few hours before the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant against the Russian President for alleged war crimes related to the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
The arrest warrant – one of the first charges brought against Putin for war crimes in Ukraine – means Xi is now meeting an international fugitive on Monday.
Typically, such a warrant carries a strong element of public shame — a signal to other countries to carefully consider their dealings with an individual under investigation, international law experts say.
“Now the Russian President has official status as a suspect of having committed an international crime – the illegal deportation and removal of Ukrainian children,” Ukraine’s Attorney General Andriy Kostin wrote on Facebook.
“This means that outside of Russia, Putin should be arrested and brought to justice. And world leaders will think three times before shaking hands with him or sitting down with him at the negotiating table. The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leaders and allies will be brought to justice. »
Putin is unlikely to be detained by an international tribunal, and the warrant is also unlikely to have a significant impact on the meeting or Beijing’s stance toward Moscow. But this legal decision could put pressure on both countries on the world stage.
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