Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping: no longer a partnership between equals

Putin and Xi are no longer a partnership of equals

  • author, Laura Baker
  • Role, BBC News, China correspondent

Vladimir Putin’s official visit to China this week was a show of force. It was an opportunity for the Russian president to prove to the world that he has a strong ally on his side.

The Russian leader is widely viewed as a pariah after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine. But for Chinese President Xi Jinping, he is an essential partner in the quest to establish a new world order not led by the United States.

Mr. Xi welcomed his guest. He rolled out the red carpet, a band played old Red Army songs, and children greeted the two leaders as they strolled through Tiananmen Square. There was even a brief hug for the cameras.

Russian and Chinese state media focused largely on the close friendship between the two leaders. But in reality, this is no longer a partnership between equals.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, A short hug for the cameras

Putin came to China keen for Beijing to continue trade with an isolated Russia under severe sanctions. His statements were full of sweet tones and attractive phrases.

He said his family was learning Mandarin — which was especially noteworthy because he rarely talked about his children in public.

But Xi himself did not echo these noble compliments. Instead, his statements were more routine – even bland. He said Putin was “a good friend and a good neighbor.” For China, a welcoming ceremony and display of unity is in its interest, but showering its guest with praise is not.

The costly war in Ukraine, which shows no signs of ending, has changed their relationship, exposing weaknesses in the Russian military and its economy. Mr. Xi will know that he is in charge now.

The war isolated Russia. China’s relations with the West may be tense, but Beijing is not cut off from the world like Russia, nor does it want to be.

Money talks

Although the public statements may have lacked enthusiasm, President Xi hinted at the importance China attaches to the relationship.

He invited Putin to his official residence in Zhongnanhai. Only a few leaders have received this honor, including US President Barack Obama in 2014, when relations between the two countries were at their best.

President Xi is trying to find a delicate balance — he wants to maintain his alliance with Putin, while also knowing that close ties with a pariah state jeopardize his stable relations with the West, which he needs to help his faltering economy.

The truth is that this visit was about money: Mr. Putin needs China’s support in his war in Ukraine.

The joint statement issued on the occasion of the visit also included some eye-catching ideas to increase trade – building a port on an island the two countries once argued over for more than 100 years, and talking to North Korea to see if Chinese ships could sail. Cross a major river to reach the Sea of ​​Japan.

He mentioned the word “cooperation” 130 times.

Naturally, all of these matters will be subject to close monitoring by the United States. Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China to stop fueling Russia’s war and trading in components that could be used in Russian drones and tanks.

So they won’t miss the fact that Putin toured a state-backed university known for its cutting-edge defense research during a visit on Friday to the city of Harbin.

The tour – and the celebration and symbolism surrounding the visit – certainly indicates that Xi Jinping is determined to prove that he will not be swayed by pressure from the West.

But behind the scenes of this show of unity, there may be limits to how far Xi Jinping is prepared to go.

After all, China’s interests are not Russia’s interests. As the senior partner in this relationship, Xi Jinping is likely to cooperate when it suits him – even if his “dear friend” and ally needs him.

BBC in depth is the new home on the website and app for the best analysis and expertise from our best journalists. Under a distinctive new brand, we’ll bring you fresh perspectives that challenge assumptions, and in-depth reporting on the biggest issues to help you make sense of a complex world. We’ll be showing thought-provoking content through BBC Sounds and iPlayer too. We’re starting small but we’re thinking big, and we want to know what you think – you can send us your feedback by clicking the button below.

See also  Boris Johnson's no-confidence vote: Live updates
keep in touch

InDepth is the new home for the best analysis across BBC News. Tell us what you think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *