March 30, 2023

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Xi Jinping tests the limits of friendship with Putin on a state visit to Russia

Days after Vladimir Putin was hit with an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, Xi Jinping’s first state visit to Moscow in four years is a testament to the Chinese leader’s commitment to the Russian president — but it’s also set to show red lines regarding Will: Last year, the couple called “Partnership Without Borders.”

Putin, who defiantly traveled to occupied Ukrainian territory at the weekend following the ICC warrant, hopes Xi’s three-day visit from Monday will legitimize his invasion of Ukraine and that China may pledge material support to help its military fight it. .

But there are signs that Xi will remain vigilant about the potential costs of friendship with the Russian leader, especially in Europe where Beijing is trying to boost trade after its coronavirus policy devastated its economy last year. And despite warnings from the United States that China is considering sending weapons to Russia, there is so far little evidence of significant arms flows between the two countries.

After his trip to Moscow, the Russian president may name Putin’s enemy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to a person familiar with the matter. It would be the first direct contact between Xi and Zelensky since the full-blown invasion and a sign of the limitations China sees on its alliance with Russia, at a time when Beijing wants to assert its credentials as a potential peacemaker.

“I think he will make the call,” said Yu Ji, senior research fellow for China in the Asia and Pacific Program at Chatham House. “China simply cannot become a competitor to both the United States and Europe.”

Beijing’s close relations with Moscow despite the war, dubbed “pro-Russian neutrality” by analysts, is hurting its standing in Europe. While China’s position paper last month on a possible settlement in Ukraine was met with skepticism in the West, it is a way for Beijing to reposition itself and see how the conflict develops, analysts say.

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The challenge for Xi is to balance those concerns with the benefits of closer ties with Moscow at a time of heightened tensions with the United States and its allies.

said Alexander Korolev, an expert on China-Russia relations at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

He added that “China will need Russia in its imminent confrontation with the United States, which has become very real,” referring to the close military relations between the two countries and the need for Beijing to prepare alternative routes for energy supplies in the event of oil imports transported by sea from the Middle East. It was banned in any clash with the United States over Taiwan.

With Europe and the United States imposing harsh sanctions on Russia, China’s trade with its neighbor has soared over the past year, jumping 34.3 percent to a record 1.28 trillion renminbi, according to the Chinese. State controlled media. This year, natural gas imports from Russia are expected to rise by a third.

Trade with Beijing has given Russia an economic lifeline, making up for some lost oil sales to the United States and Europe and providing replacements for critical Western components such as microchips, fifth-generation equipment and industrial machinery.

“[The Chinese] We understand that this is a very beneficial moment for them to push Russia deeper into their pockets. “They have an enormous amount of influence,” said Alexander Gabov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Putin’s framing of the war as part of a broader conflict with the West has brought the two countries closer. Analysts say Russia is a useful partner in China’s efforts to push back against US “hegemony”. Russia’s powerful Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev gave his full support to Beijing’s stance on Taiwan when he met China’s top diplomat Wang Yi last month.

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“For Russia, the restrictions that existed before are gone,” said Gaboyev. “Putin is obsessed with this war, the partnership brings him the lifeblood of the economy, crucial components of his military machine, and China is a tool to strike back at the United States — because the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The deepening ties between Beijing and Moscow prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to warn last month that any material Chinese support for the Russian military would have “serious consequences” for relations with the United States.

China responded that the West was fueling the conflict with its arms sales to Ukraine. “China was neither the cause nor the catalyst for the Ukraine crisis, nor has it provided arms to any side in the conflict,” said Chen Gang, China’s foreign minister, this month.

However, while relations with Russia are still important, China has a limited window of opportunity if it is to stabilize relations with larger trading partners in the West.

Xi will have the opportunity to meet with US President Joe Biden at two summits this year, but with the US elections next year, the chances of further rapprochement with Washington will be limited. And while many European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, plan to visit China this year, the success of these meetings will be affected by how much Xi supports Russia in Ukraine.

For this reason, Beijing’s efforts to portray itself as a mediator are important, analysts say. This month, China enjoyed rare success in resolving the dispute when it brokered a deal to restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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Analysts say resolving the Ukraine conflict will be much more difficult. China’s position paper last month failed to condemn the Russian invasion and contained veiled criticism of the West and NATO.

Leif Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said that China “lacks the status of a neutral mediator in the Ukraine conflict because of its outsized support for Russia.” “For China to be useful, it should not suggest what Kiev would concede, but rather find a face-saving way for Moscow to withdraw its troops.”

The contact between Xi and Zelensky may represent China’s concession to Western suspicion. But analysts said any contact was likely to be virtual rather than in-person and the results inconclusive, with Xi seeking to balance China’s desire to play peacemaker with giving any ground to the United States.

An expert at a Chinese think tank in Beijing said that Beijing viewed the conflict in Ukraine as a proxy conflict pitting Russia against NATO and the United States and “Zelensky lacks decision-making power”.

“Whatever it is [Zelenskyy] Can do is forward the message to Joe Biden. President Xi does not need Zelensky’s endorsement by meeting him in person. China respects Ukraine’s interests. But this is different from prioritizing American interests.”

Additional reporting by Sun Yu in Beijing, Katherine Hill in Taipei and Edward White in Seoul