Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to travel to Moscow next week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Kremlin troops invaded Ukraine.
The March 20-22 visit, 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 crippling war against Kiev.
There has been much speculation about the nature of the trip, with Western officials warning that China is considering providing military aid to Russia.
But China, which tries to portray itself as a neutral arbiter of the conflict, has denied such claims, though it has refused to condemn the invasion.
Whatever the outcome, the meeting is sure to intensify ties between the two leaders, who have already met 39 times – a year ago in Beijing on February 4, 2022, at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. At that meeting, held shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the two declared a “no limits” partnership.
What Putin and Xi hope to get out of their joint meeting, and a curveball ahead:
Putin likes weapons
After launching the attack on Ukraine a year ago, Putin found himself with a limited number of friends, a key given Moscow’s ability to import and resupply weapons and ammunition critical to the fight.
China has so far withheld such lethal aid, choosing instead to support Russia through increased trade and additional joint war games.
But Western officials have recently begun to warn that Beijing might move to offer Moscow military assistance — the best place for the two to make such an announcement is next week’s meeting.
Also cautious were comments from Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who recently accused the United States of hypocrisy in warning China against supplying arms to Russia, pointing to the Biden administration’s supply of arms to Taiwan.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that he was referring to any sight of an arms deal between the two countries. “Obviously, Russia has its own interests in trying to draw other countries into this conflict, but our position is the same whether they meet or not.”
While unlikely to deliver a decisive victory for Putin, the prospect of Chinese weapons worries U.S. officials because it could derail the conflict and drain U.S. weapons, aid resources, and public goodwill to help Ukraine in the war.
Xi wants to build his reputation as a peacemaker
Fresh from a Chinese-brokered deal to resume diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, announced earlier this week, Xi has now turned his sights on the Ukraine-Russia war.
Without referring to the country at issue, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Xi’s visit was partly to promote “peace” with talks touching on key regional and international issues.
Xi’s government has already released its so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine, a 12-point agenda for a “political solution to the Ukraine crisis” that has largely been ignored in the West.
In a phone call on Thursday, senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang told the Ukrainian delegation that Beijing hoped “all parties will remain calm, rational and moderate and resume peace talks soon,” according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. .
But the U.S. and NATO are wary of China’s intervention because Beijing has not condemned Russia for war, or called the conflict outwardly as such, rather than Russia insisting it was a “special military operation.”
Further drawing Western suspicions, China has repeatedly sided with Russia and blocked international action against Moscow for war.
Both want a new world order
One possible outcome of the Xi-Putin meeting is a public reassessment of the partnership between the two, which is seen as essential for them to counter what they see as unjustified Western interference in their affairs.
Xi’s visit to Russia — and the accompanying Chinese support — represents a challenge to the United States and its allies.
The relationship is symbiotic, as Russia lends 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 era of turmoil and change, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a major power, the importance and influence of China-Russia relations goes beyond bilateral scope,” China’s Foreign Ministry said. Announcement of Xi’s visit.
Ryan Haas, a senior fellow at the Washington DC-based think tank Brookings, said securing Russia as China’s partner is “fundamental” to Xi’s vision of national renaissance.
“China sees the United States as a major obstacle to its rise,” Haas writes.
“Xi also sees the benefit of Russia diverting US strategic attention away from China. Neither Beijing nor Moscow can deal with the US and its partners alone; they will stand together rather than face external pressure alone,” he added.
Shaking things up – Xi began meeting with international fugitives
The Xi-Putin meeting was announced hours earlier The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president on war crimes charges related to the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
An arrest warrant — one of the first indictments against Putin for war crimes in Ukraine — is now due Monday for an international fugitive.
Typically, such a warrant carries an important element of public humiliation – a signal to other countries to carefully consider their interactions with a person under investigation, according to international legal experts.
“Henceforth, the Russian president has received official status for having committed an international crime – the illegal deportation and migration of Ukrainian children,” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin wrote on Facebook.
“This means outside of Russia, Putin must be arrested and brought to justice. World leaders will think three times 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 its leadership and allies will be brought to justice.”
Putin is unlikely to be brought into the custody of the International Court of Justice, and it is unlikely that the warrant will greatly affect the meeting or Beijing’s position towards Moscow. But this legal action could put pressure on both countries on the world stage.
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