The Chinese leader’s trip highlighted the extent to which Moscow — weakened by the war in Ukraine — may have to settle for playing second fiddle, experts told Storyline World News.
HONG KONG China — On Tuesday, Chinese President ‘Xi Jinping‘ said the world was undergoing changes “the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years” as he left a state reception at the Kremlin.
We are driving these changes together, he said.
In an exchange captured on camera, Putin replied, shaking hands with the Chinese leader.
Xi’s three-day visit, his first since Putin invaded Ukraine last year, was the latest step in Beijing’s efforts to promote an alternative international order that is less dominated by the United States. As a result, experts warned Storyline World News, that Moscow may have to settle for playing second fiddle as the war grinds into its second year.
In addition to promises of expanded economic cooperation, Xi Jinping invited Putin to China later this year, even as Beijing and Moscow remain on increasingly icy terms with Washington.
The trip was valuable for Putin to signal that he is not internationally isolated and for Xi Jinping to signal to Washington that China has a reliable partner in its corner regardless of new American-led pressures,” Amanda Hsiao, a senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group, said at a Brussels-based think tank.
Though the two leaders’ joint statement made no mention of a “no limits” partnership like the one they declared weeks before the invasion of Ukraine last year, “it was nonetheless a clear statement from Beijing to the world of the steadfastness of the Russia-China alignment, even at the cost of China’s international image,” she wrote in an e-mail from Taipei, Taiwan.
Despite Putin’s praise of China’s 12-point peace proposal released last month, which was dismissed by the U.S. and its allies as too favorable to Russia, little progress was made toward ending the war in Ukraine. Despite trying to portray China as a peacemaker in Ukraine and elsewhere, Xi did not mention the conflict during his visit.
As Xi Jinping left Moscow on Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida left Kyiv after a surprise visit to show support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“There are two very different European-Pacific partnerships,” said Rahm Emanuel, the American ambassador to Japan, a close ally of the United States.
In a statement, PM Kishida said, we stand with freedom, and Chinese President Xi stands with a war criminal. The statement was in response to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court last week for Putin over his alleged involvement in the abduction of Ukrainian children.
Russia denies the allegations, and Beijing accuses the court of using “double standards.” Russia, China, Ukraine, and the U.S. are not members.
Putin the ‘junior partner’?
China’s Xi’s Russia trip furthered his efforts to portray China as an emerging global leader, building on a deal Beijing brokered to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“We are working together to create a more democratic and just multipolar world order,” Putin said on the Kremlin website while in Moscow.
China-Russia relations are becoming increasingly imbalanced, experts say, as a result of Xi’s visit.
According to Ja Ian Chong, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore who specializes in Chinese foreign policy, “Russia needs Beijing much more than the other way around.”
According to King’s College London professor Sam Greene, Xi’s visit was “essentially permission from Beijing to keep fighting,” but Putin didn’t get much else on Ukraine, while economic cooperation announcements favored Beijing.
According to him on Twitter, “While there have undoubtedly been agreements we should not know about, there is no indication here of a significant boost in military support for Russia, nor even of a willingness on Xi’s part to step up diplomatic support.”
U.S. officials have not seen China cross “that line,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has warned China not to provide Russia with lethal military assistance.
As a retired senior colonel in the Chinese army and a senior fellow at Tsinghua University, Zhou Bo said, “It makes no sense” that China would supply Russian forces with weapons, especially at a time when China has actually presented a peace plan. According to him, no evidence has been released by the United States that China is considering providing such assistance.
By sending arms to Kiev, the U.S. and its allies are fueling the war in Ukraine, China claims.
Blinken described the China-Russia relationship as a “marriage of convenience” in which Russia is the “junior partner.”
“I’m not sure if Russia or Vladimir Putin want a world order – maybe more like world disorder,” he said. “When it comes to China, they actually want a world order but an illiberal one.”
China embraces globalization far more than Russia, according to Zhou.
“We don’t want to destroy this order, because we’re the beneficiaries,” he told Storyline World.
Chong said the exchange was a reference to ways in which the world could be reshaped more to Xi and Putin’s liking.
“Perhaps that’s more of an expression of an aspiration than any sort of real moment,” he said.
Chong said that having a “diminished but still important” partner like Russia lends credibility to China’s vision.
It shows that “it’s not just China beating the drum and nobody else is following,” he said, “because to be a leader, you must have followers.”