China’s Xi wraps up show of solidarity trip to Moscow

When Chinese leader Xi Jinping bid his host Vladimir Putin goodbye after formal talks at the Kremlin on Tuesday, he spoke about “changes that haven’t happened in 100 years” and that Russia and China, together, “are driving these changes.”
To which, Putin replied: “Agreed.”
The two presidents, during their three-hour meeting, appeared to have discussed changes in the world order that their countries could join hands to enforce.
The Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Kremlin is “convinced that Western countries are very nervous about the talks between Putin and Xi.” 
“Two great powers and neighbors are solving the most important questions of the world’s politics, as well as of bilateral relations,” the agency said in its assessment of the talks between both men.
As Xi wrapped up his three-day visit to Moscow on Wednesday – his first foreign trip since being re-elected for a rare third term – earlier expectations that the Chinese president could help mediate an end to the war in Ukraine seem to have diminished.
Instead the world witnessed a spectacular display of China’s support for the Russian president who has been placed under warrant by the International Criminal Court as a suspected war criminal, as well as the documentation of a special partnership, which has been ushered to a “new era.”
No progress on Ukraine conflict
Beijing last month released a 12-point official “Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” which is aimed at mediating peace and putting an end to the bloody war now in its second year.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, President Putin said Russia agreed with “many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China” and the blue print “can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for it in the West and in Kyiv.” 
“However, so far we have not observed such readiness on their part,” Putin added.
Russia and China, Putin said, were “pursuing an independent and self-efficient foreign policy.” 
“We are working in solidarity on the formation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order, which should be based on the central role of the U.N., its Security Council, international law, the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter,” the Russian president said.
Russian matryoshka dolls with portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed among others for sale at a souvenir shop in Moscow, March 21, 2023. [Dmitry Serebryakov/AP Photo]Putin also accused the West of deciding “to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian,” referring to news that the United Kingdom was to supply Ukraine with ammunition containing depleted uranium.
Moscow described them as “weapons with a nuclear component” and threatened to retaliate but the British defense ministry dismissed it as “disinformation,” saying depleted uranium “is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons.”
Feng Chongyi, a political science professor at the University of Technology Sydney, said Xi’s proposed 12-point plan for peace in Ukraine “neither condemns Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, nor regards Russia’s withdrawal as a precondition for peace.”
“Neither Ukraine nor the international community will accept it,” he told RFA Cantonese. 
On Tuesday, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “if China wants to play a constructive role here in this conflict, then they ought to press Russia to pull its troops out of Ukraine and Ukrainian sovereign territory.”
China does not have “an impartial position” on the Ukraine issue, Kirby said, adding the U.S. has “seen no indication that they’re about to or – or fixing to provide lethal weapons.”
Several Western media outlets have suggested that China sent ammunition and military equipment for Russia to use in the Ukraine conflict but the Chinese Foreign Ministry repeatedly denied the reports.
Vassily Kashin, a political scientist at the prestigious Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said there were no signs that China wanted to change its long-standing position of not arming Russia during the Ukraine war.
“Everything China is doing is just as useful for China as it is for Russia,” he said.
“If China sees that it will lose more than gain from some actions to support Russia, such actions are never taken,” Kashin told Radio Free Asia (RFA). “This is why so far China has refrained from selling Russia weapons, even in spite of the fact that Chinese weapons would likely be a complete game changer on the battlefield in Ukraine since China is world’s number one producer of artillery and tactical UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles].”
A Russian army 152-mm howitzer “Hyacinth-B” fires at Ukrainian troops at an undisclosed location, in this handout photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, March 15, 2023. [Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP]In Washington, John Kirby told reporters that Putin was hoping for additional support from China after Xi Jinping’s visit because “he knows that he’s got shortage issues, and he’s trying to overcome them.”
That’s why the U.S. doesn’t want “to see a ceasefire right now,” Kirby said.  “Because a ceasefire right now, freezing the lines where they are, basically gives him the time and space he needs to try to re-equip, to re-man …”
Meanwhile on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of providing “diplomatic cover” for Russia.
China responded that “the U.S. is in no position to point fingers at China, still less deflect blame on us.”
“[T]he world has seen no U.S. effort yet that is actually meant for peace, as it continues to pour weapons into the battlefield,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing. 
‘Russia still has friends’
Luke Coffey, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute, a U.S. think-tank, said it was likely that Xi and Putin discussed “possible ways that China can support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine both diplomatically and through logistical support.”
“Vladimir Putin will use Xi’s visit to demonstrate to his domestic audience that Russia still has friends,” Coffey told RFA Mandarin.
According to him, “it will be Xi that will benefit the most since Russia is desperate for China’s support.”
Feng Chongyi, from University of Technology Sydney, said the Chinese president’s trip was linked to his long-term ambitions to lead an anti-U.S. global alliance.
“He wants to join hands with Russia to deal with the Western world led by the United States, or the U.S.-led international order,” Feng said. “He doesn’t want to see Putin fail, he wants to play off the interests of Putin and Russia to change the international order as he sees it.”
Analysts have spoken about an apparent Russian pivot to China, enhanced by the war in Ukraine. But, according to Ian Chong, a political scientist from the National University of Singapore, “there is a debate over this issue.” 
“Some claim that Beijing wants a junior partner in Russia that can distract the United States and its allies while providing energy and key minerals. Others see a weak Russia as a potential liability to China,” Chong said. “Both are plausible, but such discussions revolve around much speculation at present.”
Gas pipelines are pictured at the Atamanskaya compressor station, a facility of Gazprom’s Power Of Siberia project, outside the far eastern town of Svobodny, in the Amur region of Russia, Nov. 29, 2019. [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]Evan Feigenbaum, a vice director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Sino-Russian partnership should be seen in the context of strategic calculations towards Washington as “Beijing’s principal focus in the world today – and its perception of its principal strategic problem – is the United States.”
The former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state wrote on his institute’s website that while “partnership with Putin’s Russia is not cost-free, since Beijing pays a price reputationally … it will also pay dividends for China.”
“It will win contracts, assure Russia’s enduring economic dependence on China, and link the two countries’ resource producing and consuming sectors more closely together,” Feigenbaum wrote.
Mutually beneficial
On Tuesday, Russian and Chinese officials signed two major joint statements on strategic cooperation in “a new era,” as well as 14 bilateral cooperation documents.
The documents mostly cover areas in “economy and technology, including future energy and infrastructure projects, as well as Chinese industrial investments in Russia,” said Kashin, from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.
The Kremlin said Russia was “ready to increase supplies of oil and natural gas to China.” 
The total volume of gas supplies by 2030 will be at least 98 billion cubic meters plus 100 million tons of liquefied natural gas. 
The two sides have agreed on almost all details of the new Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline, which will carry 50 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia through Mongolia to China.
China has become a leader in the import of Russian oil, while Russia is helping to build nuclear power plants on Chinese territory.
Despite the pandemic and sanctions, trade between Russia and China in 2022 reached a record high of U.S. $185 billion, and in 2023 it is expected to exceed $200 billion. Russia has said to favor using Chinese yuan in settlements between the Russian Federation and the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. 
“We are ready to support Chinese business in replacing the production facilities of Western enterprises that left Russia,” Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, adding that “a large-scale package of 80 significant and promising bilateral projects in various fields worth about $165 billion has been set up.”
Current U.S. and European sanctions against Russia seem to have pushed Moscow and Beijing even closer and “there is not much the West can do to make Russia or China to break that mutually beneficial cooperation,” at least for now, Kashin told RFA.
Fong Tak Ho and Jenny Tang contributed to this report from Washington.


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