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Xi ends trip to Russia as China grows more emboldened

William Yang
March 22, 2023

Xi Jinping has concluded his visit to Moscow, and experts say the trip shows Russia is becoming increasingly dependent on China. If the status quo of the war in Ukraine persists, China would be the biggest beneficiary.

Xi Jinping zu Besuch in Moskau
Image: Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded their three days of meetings in Moscow on Wednesday, where they referred to each other as a "dear friend."  They discussed a range of regional and international issues, and both leaders highlighted the important "strategic partnership" between China and Russia, and they also exchanged views on the 12-point "peace plan" on the Ukraine war released by the Chinese government last month.

Overall, China and Russia further consolidated their bilateral relations as Xi and Putin acknowledged the importance for both sides to support each other on issues concerning their core interests and "jointly resist the interference in internal affairs by external forces."

Some experts have said the meeting further emboldened both Xi and Putin as the pair finds more common grounds to deepen the "no-limits partnership."

"It's in Xi's interests to further deepen the partnership with Russia, as it protects Beijing's domestic and international strategic interests," said Sari Arho Havren, a visiting researcher at the University of Helsinki.

China and Russia extend 'strategic partnership'

A shift in power dynamics

According to the Chinese state Xinhua News Agency, Xi said China is prepared to expand cooperation with Russia in areas including trade, investment, supply chain, energy, and innovation. The two leaders also signed two agreements to deepen the strategic partnership of coordination and economic cooperation.

Analysts said one of the outcomes of the trip is the inevitable change in the power dynamic between Russia and China. Moscow is becoming increasingly dependent on Beijing economically and politically and China is not against lending support to its neighbor.

"China wants to maintain its image as a peacemaker, but it's one that leans toward Russia," said Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore (NUS). "The optics suggests that Beijing is not ready to let Russia go and it's willing to support Russia up to a certain point."

Beijing's cease-fire proposal could buy Russia more time

Prior to the trip, China had been presenting itself as a peacemaker, but its position on the war, which was laid out by the 12-point document as well as public remarks by top Chinese officials, has been met with strong skepticism from the United States and other Western countries.

On Tuesday, Putin said China's proposal could be used as "the basis for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine." Putin added that Russia is committed to "restarting peace talks as soon as possible," which China approves.

However, Havren pointed out that if China pushes for a cease-fire while Russian troops remain in the occupied areas, it will "freeze the war" and give Moscow more time to "prepare for a new offensive."

She said that if Kyiv refused to accept a cease-fire because Russia hasn't withdrawn its troops from Ukrainian territory, Chinese and Russian propaganda machines would frame the US and its Western allies as "warmongers that want to fuel the war" while characterizing China as "doing its utmost as a peace broker."

How is Xi's visit to Moscow being seen in Ukraine?

Other experts said China's efforts to present itself as a mediator reflect its urgent desire to "reassert its international influence."

"It will be welcomed in some corners of the world, but definitely not in the US and some of its allies," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. "Major European countries will also be suspicious of China's efforts."

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Beijing for not holding Moscow accountable for "the atrocities committed in Ukraine."

"Instead of condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes," Blinken said.

'China is the biggest beneficiary'

As Xi to continues his diplomatic charm offensive, building on its successful mediation of the Iranian-Saudi deal to establish diplomatic relations and the further consolidation of bilateral ties with Russia, Chong from NUS told DW that Beijing is trying to create an image that it's a major player independent of the United States.

"They are trying to reach out to other states, especially in the Global South, who have the tendency of viewing the US and its allies as potentially problematic," he said, adding that Beijing's goal is to consolidate the relationship with these states.

Is Xi's visit to Moscow a peace mission or show of support?

Despite Xi's efforts to present China as a peacemaker in Russia's war in Ukraine, some observers said Beijing's priority is not for the war to come to an end. Instead, the main importance for China is to ensure the Russian regime remains in power.

"The collapse of the Russian regime and the creation of a pro-Western government in Moscow would be a catastrophic scenario for China," said Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "At the same time, China also doesn't want the war to escalate into something much bigger than it's right now."

Umarov told DW that Beijing could accept a continuation of the war as it would leave Russia with no other option but to lean toward China.

"Also, [an ongoing war] will have the US distracted from the confrontation with China. Beijing would be the biggest beneficiary of the current state of affairs," he concluded.

Edited by: Sean Sinico

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