Putin and Xi unite against the West
“A new form of cooperation has been formed between our countries — one based on foundations like non-interference in domestic affairs and respect for each other’s interests,” Putin told Xi in televised remarks.
In a bit of symbolic stagecraft, both men spoke with both the Chinese and Russian flags behind them — in contrast to Putin’s videoconference last week with Biden, when Putin spoke next to only the Russian flag.
Analysts say that an important factor in Russian-Chinese ties is the personal chemistry between Putin and Xi, both men in their late 60s who have consolidated control over their countries’ political systems. Xi addressed Putin as his “old friend”, while the Russian President called his Chinese style both his “dear friend” and “esteemed friend”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow in 2019.Credit:AP
But Xi and Putin came to the meeting with very different near-term priorities. For Xi, the summit was a chance to deflect mounting criticism over China’s actions in crushing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, in menacing Taiwan and in repressing Muslim minority groups in western China, and over a large number of lower profile issues.
He hopes to show that China is not secluded diplomatically, especially so close to the Winter Olympics, which are intended to showcase its global stature, not the souring of its relations with much of the world.
“I expect that in February of next year, we will finally meet in person in Beijing,” Putin told Xi, addressing the Olympics in his televised opening remarks. “We have unfailingly supported each other in questions of international athletic cooperation, including in not accepting any attempts to politicise sports or the Olympic movement.”
For Putin, the talks came at a high-stakes moment in his brinkmanship over Western influence in Ukraine. Karen Donfried, the American assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, was in Moscow on Wednesday for talks on Ukraine. Russian officials presented her with a proposal detailing Putin’s before stated demands that the West roll back its military sustain for Ukraine and rule out the expansion of the NATO alliance to include Ukraine or other countries in the vicinity.
A Russian tank rolls during military drills at Molkino in the Russian Krasnodar vicinity, near the Ukraine border, on Tuesday.Credit:AP
Western officials are alarmed by Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border, worrying that Russia could be threatening an invasion already as it makes diplomatic demands. The Chinese public account of the meeting mentioned neither Ukraine nor NATO, but appeared to allude to Russia’s security concerns over them.
“China and Russia should carry out more joint actions to more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties,” Xi told Putin, according to the Chinese account.
The leaders’ united front in the meeting seemed intended as a riposte to the “Summit for Democracy” that Biden hosted last week, widely viewed as an effort to build a bulwark against authoritarian governments like those in Russia and China.
“Certain international forces under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia,” Xi said, according to the Chinese account. “Whether a country is democratic, and how to better realise democracy, can only be judged by its own people.”
Cheng Xiaohe, a professor at the Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing, said the relationship between the two countries gave their leaders the opportunity to demonstrate “mutual sustain and joint confrontation” in facing the US. That was especially true at a time of economic uncertainty and rising international tensions.
“Both China and Russia confront the same pressure from the United States,” he said. “consequently, the two countries need to sustain each other in diplomacy.”
The Russian and Chinese leaders meet or speak often — though only virtually since the pandemic began. What was uncommon about this meeting was China’s effort to telegraph its message in improvement.
“Close strategic coordination” between the two countries is basic in today’s turbulent world, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said this week.
The two countries have deepened a relationship that, over the decades, has been fraught with suspicion and, in 1969, erupted into a border clash near Khabarovsk.
When Russia faced sanctions following the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, Putin turned to China to soften the blow, stepping up trade across the border from energy to timber.
That same year, Russian public opinion of China improved severely; 70 per cent of Russians now have a positive attitude towards the country, according to the Levada Centre independent pollster — far better than their view of the US, the European Union or Ukraine.
The militaries of both countries have also stepped up joint exercises and already operations, including in the air and, for the first time in October, naval patrols in the Pacific. They have also pledged to analyze space together.
Before the summit call, Dmitri Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space program, said that a hypothesizedv Russian-Chinese lunar stop would “be based on principles of equal partnership, transparency and consensus in the decision-making course of action” — in contrast, he said, to the terms set by the United States in its lunar stop project.
already so, there are limits to this united front.
China has never recognised the annexation of Crimea, for example, nor does Russia side with China on its expansive claims in the South China Sea. They have also stopped short of binding themselves in a formal treaty alliance, preferring to continue their ability to act independently and flexibly.
“I do not think they are however at a point where Beijing would endorse any adventurous action in Ukraine, nor would Russia eagerly side with China if the Chinese decided to move into Taiwan,” said Sergei Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University, who has written extensively on the relationship.
“I would imagine that they would each show a degree of benevolent neutrality toward the other.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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