Russia – China. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping will meet in Uzbekistan – what to expect, what will the leaders’ arrangements be? The New York Times analyzes

This week in Uzbekistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are to meet. The American newspaper “New York Times” estimated in its analysis that relations between politicians may get complicated due to Russia’s losses on the battlefield in Ukraine and the economic slowdown in China.

Billed meeting between the president of Russia Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping will be a demonstration of the strength of two autocratic leaders united against what they consider to be American hegemony, the New York Times predicts.

At the same time, however – as the daily indicates – in the present circumstances it shows a moment of weakness in both countries. Russia is suffering losses in Ukraine, and China is experiencing an economic slowdown. According to the American newspaper, the leaders will therefore come to the meeting to be held in Uzbekistan, with their own agendas and challenges that will test their relationship, which both describe as a “borderless” friendship.

According to the NYT, Moscow needs Beijing. Russia’s recent defeats on Ukraine’s battlefields, coupled with the extensive damage inflicted by Western sanctions, have made Chinese support even more important to her. China has become the main buyer of Russian goods, which helped to replenish the Moscow cash register.

The American daily also notes that Beijing remains cautious. He wants to show his strength in increasingly fierce rivalry with the United States and cannot afford the humiliating failure of his partner in an authoritarian alliance. On the other hand, providing Russia with significant additional aid – be it economic or military – threatens to violate Western sanctions and is a threat to Chinese economy.

Abandoned Russian equipment in the city of Izium PAP / Alena Solomonova

“Xi Jinping’s China is leading an exquisite tightrope walk in relation to Russia,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of history and politics at Oxford University, quoted in the NYT. “They are eager to show support for Russia, but find active support for the invasion too politically troublesome to consider,” he adds.

Xi’s first overseas journey since the start of the pandemic

The New York Times notes that image plays an important role for Xi as he prepares to secure a third term at a key communist party congress in Beijing next month. His trip this week, during which he will participate in a regional summit in Uzbekistan and visit Kazakhstan, marks the first foreign trip since the start of the pandemic. According to the American newspaper, meeting Putin will give the Chinese leader a chance to play the role of a global statesman in front of his native audience.

Russia also provides much-needed support to Chinese politics. When Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi Visiting Taiwan last month, which Beijing considers a rebel province, the Kremlin quickly backed its ally, describing the trip as “provocative” and declaring “absolute solidarity with China.”

Xi JinpingWU HONG / EPA / PAP

However, through its alliance with Russia, China has tied itself to the war, which has so far turned out to be a defeat for Moscow, we read.

Any serious weakening of Putin’s dominance in Russia could harm Beijing’s position at a time when the government grapples with the political and economic consequences of its harsh policies in the fight against COVID-19, the NYT emphasizes.

“China still avoids any degree of military involvement in the war and will continue to do so.”

The question facing China is whether to redouble efforts or to allow Russia to deal with failures on its own. Both strategies come with risks, and most experts expect China to take an indirect route by continuing economic support without openly circumventing sanctions or providing overt military aid.

According to the New York Times, China, which has avoided labeling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as war, seems to be changing its position additionally. When Xi Jingping’s second-highest deputy, Li Zhanshu, met Putin in Russia last week, Chinese state media emphasized the two countries’ mutual respect but avoided explicitly endorsing Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua said Li told Putin that “political mutual trust, strategic coordination and pragmatic cooperation between the two countries have reached unprecedented levels.” The agency made no mention of Ukraine, even as Russian state media claimed Beijing had backed the invasion, portraying Li as saying that China “understands and supports Russia” particularly “about the situation in Ukraine.”

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Parliament, number 3 in the Communist Party of ChinaALEXEI DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL / PAP

“China continues to avoid any degree of military involvement in Russia’s war, and will continue to do so, especially when the Russians found themselves in a drastic defeat on the ground,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. – The diplomatic and political support or sympathy for China will not really help them (the Russians – ed.), Although purchasing their energy resources from April helps a little non-military – he adds.

Putin: Our Chinese friends are tough negotiators

As the NYT writes, Putin, who describes his war as part of a fight against sinister Western powers that threaten Russia’s very existence, seems to think that China is perplexed. He suggested this last week, describing the long-running negotiations for a new pipeline that could allow Russia to export more Siberian natural gas to China, not to Europe. The American daily stresses that the matter is of critical importance to Moscow as Europe is rushing to reduce energy imports from Russia.

“Our Chinese friends are tough negotiators,” Putin said at a conference in the Russian port city of Vladivostok, devoted to strengthening economic ties with Asia. – Of course, they follow their national interests in every transaction, which is the only right way – he added.

Vladimir Putin PAP / EPA / GAVRIIL GRIGOROV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN / POOL

Putin will go to meet Xi, seeing China as a lifeline at probably the most precarious moment for Russia since the invasion launched in February, the NYT estimates. Russian forces have recently lost several thousand square kilometers of territory in Ukraine, the newspaper points out, creating new political obstacles to Putin – even from some of his longtime supporters, now frustrated by inept hostilities.

As Western countries avoid Moscow, Putin points to his growing ties with China as proof that Russia is not isolated. It is a relationship that Putin has devoted a great effort to, and which has grown stronger after relations with the West deteriorated sharply following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

As stated by the NYT, the honor of meeting Xi in person is sure to be hailed by the Russian state media as proof of Putin’s continued prowess on the world stage. “Our relations have reached an unprecedented level,” the Russian president said at a conference in Vladivostok a week ago.

Historical background of China’s relations with Russia

In its analysis, the New York Times also draws attention to the history of relations between Russia and China. As he notes, the relationship between two nations is permeated with ideology. Moscow was crucial to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, its early survival and eventual victory in 1949. Relatively close relations on this line continue to this day, although in the 1960s they were interrupted by a gap so serious that both countries fought border skirmishes.

Xi himself has long been associated with Russia and Putin, with whom he met 38 times. The father of the Chinese leader, Xi Zhongxun, a leading figure in the party in the 1950s, oversaw Soviet experts who came to China to help build heavy industry, says Joseph Torigian, author of Zhongxun’s soon-to-be biography.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in February 2022PAP / EPA

A week after becoming president of China in March 2013, Xi chose Russia for his first foreign trip and then suggested in a speech that the two countries would work together in an alliance against the West.

Today, China and Russia are simultaneously in important periods of national revival, and bilateral relations have entered a new stage, Xi said nine years ago.

China’s economic and military advantage gives it an advantage over Russia

The NYT emphasizes that China now has an advantage in this relationship, given its economic and military might.

China’s economy was ahead war in Ukraine 10 times greater than the Russian. From May to July, China bought record volumes of Russian oil at discounted prices and imported more Russian natural gas and coal. Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, announced last week that China’s payments for gas from a single pipeline will no longer be made in dollars or euros, but in Russian rubles and Chinese yuan. Such transactions make it easier for Russia to bypass Western banks and buy Chinese goods that are similar to high-tech Western export-restricted products.

Gazprom pipeline in St. Petersburg EPA / ANATOLY MALTSEV

According to the US daily, China seems to have avoided the risky business of reselling advanced Western technology to Russia. China also appears to have refrained from sending weapons to Russia this year, forcing Moscow to even request military equipment from Iran and North Korea.

The Chinese military has a long history of training with Russian partners. Last week, China sent over 2,000. soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army, 21 combat aircraft and three warships to participate in joint military exercises in eastern Russia. This was the first time China had deployed air, land and naval forces to participate in a major military exercise that Putin personally supervised.

According to the New York Times, however, it is unlikely that Xi will tie his country to Russia more than in February, when he declared boundless friendship. – I really don’t expect that Xi Jinping will issue some new statement that would be seen as more strategic support for Russia, says Li Mingjiang, China’s international relations specialist at Singapore National University.

– Neither would I expect China to backtrack on what has been said – he adds.

Main photo source: PAP / EPA

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