Beijing, Riga First the Russian military orchestra plays the Chinese national anthem, then the Russian national anthem. It is exactly 1 p.m. local time when China’s head of state Xi Jinping leaves the government plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. Xi plans to stay in Russia for three days – his first visit to his counterpart Vladimir Putin since the start of the large-scale Russian attack on Ukraine over a year ago.
Xi is likely to use the meeting, among other things, to present himself as a mediator in the Ukraine war. In doing so, he wants to present himself as an alternative to the USA, especially in the global south, in the emerging and developing countries. Another goal is even more important to the two heads of state: they are striving to build a world order without dominance by the USA. They will use the meeting in Moscow to reaffirm their solidarity.
Shortly after landing, China’s state media released a written statement from Xi. It said he was looking forward to a detailed exchange of views with Putin. Xi expressed confidence that the visit will yield “fruitful results” and give new impetus to the “comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation” between China and Russia. The talks will also deal with “international and regional issues of common interest”. The war in Ukraine is not explicitly mentioned.
According to the Kremlin, Xi is expected to meet with Putin in the second half of the day. Initially, a one-on-one meeting and an informal dinner between the two heads of state are planned. Official talks between the delegations are planned for Tuesday, including with the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In addition, according to Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, Xi is to meet Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Tuesday morning. It is not yet known which Chinese politicians will accompany Xi on his trip.
From big to little brother
In the run-up to the visit, Xi and Putin had already emphasized the importance of bilateral relations in guest articles in the other country’s newspapers. However, political analyst Manoj Kewalramani from the Indian think tank Takshashila points out that in his name post, Putin emphasized the importance of the relationship much more than Xi did.
This makes it clear how much the relationship between the two countries has changed. In Soviet times, Russia always played the role of a bigger brother to China, especially in economic terms. Today, the roles are reversed, also because Russia is increasingly dependent on China due to Western sanctions.
In his guest article in the state newspaper Renmin Ribao, Putin also rumbles against the West and so openly reveals that the partnership with China is primarily based on a common enemy. Xi denounced “hegemony, domination and harassment” in his article, published by the Russian government’s official gazette and the state news agency Ria Novosti, without naming the US. No single country should “dictate the international order,” he demands.
This makes it clear what the actual goal of the trip is. Shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Xi and Putin had pledged a “partnership without borders”. At that time, the two heads of state passed a strategy paper directed against alleged US dominance. “Attempts to play the role of hegemon pose a serious threat to global and regional peace and stability and undermine the stability of the world order,” it said.
Despite the war in Ukraine, the Chinese government is sticking to this partnership and repeatedly stressing that it wants to further strengthen relations with Russia. After the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin last Friday, China urged the court to show respect for heads of state. Nevertheless, China’s government describes its position as “neutral”.
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In addition, China has always been “actively committed to peace talks,” writes Xi in his contribution. Among other things, he refers to the twelve-point paper for “a political solution to the Ukraine crisis” that China published on the anniversary of the start of the war. Among other things, it calls for a ceasefire and peace talks. However, the document does not contain any concrete suggestions as to what a peace plan might look like, nor does it indicate what role China might play in mediation.
On the other hand, the appeal to the West to end the sanctions against Russia and to ensure grain exports is clear. A possible extension of the Black Sea Grains Agreement beyond 60 days would also be an achievement that would gain Xi’s support, particularly in the Global South. Although Russia agreed to extend the agreement on Saturday, it is not yet known for how long.
The United States considers China’s mediation efforts to be implausible
However, the United States and other Western countries do not regard Beijing’s efforts to mediate peace in Ukraine as credible. The US recently asked Xi to also talk to the Ukrainian side. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also told Fox News that any call for a ceasefire stemming from Putin’s meeting with Xi is unacceptable because it only confirms previous land grabs by Russia and Moscow would buy time to re-equip, deploy, and plan a new offensive.
During his visit to Moscow, Xi held personal exchanges with Putin for the fifth time since the beginning of the war. However, he has not spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since then. According to insiders, a phone call is planned after the trip to Russia. The Wall Street Journal reported this last week. However, the Chinese side has not confirmed this.
The talks are also said to be about the Ukraine war. The focus of the meeting, however, is on strengthening bilateral relations, emphasizes the China expert Alexander Gabuev from the US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It is about intensified military cooperation, exports of chips and technology from China to Russia and oil and gas to China.
The United States and other Western countries are concerned about the partnership between China and Russia. In recent weeks you have repeatedly warned the Chinese government not to support Russia in the war against Ukraine. The US and EU have warned Beijing of “serious consequences” if China supplies arms to Russia.
More: Commentary: China is not a credible peace broker in Ukraine