Chinese leader offers Putin a lifeline as Ukraine war churns
– The Washington Times
Cold War 2.0 shifted into a new gear Monday as Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Moscow in a major show of solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the United States and other Western democracies.
Mr. Xi is seeking to highlight China’s rising diplomatic clout during the three-day state visit, his first overseas trip since formally securing an unprecedented third five-year term as president this month. Analysts say he also aims to give the embattled Mr. Putin a boost just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Russian leader on war crimes charges related to his troubled invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukraine war and the prospect that Beijing could emerge as a broker of peace talks hang prominently over Mr. Xi’s visit, as the U.S. grows increasingly concerned that China is using its expanding military and financial clout to challenge American influence around the globe.
Many are framing the Chinese leader’s trip to the Russian capital as a powerful signal to Western leaders allied with Ukraine against Russia’s invasion that their efforts to diplomatically and economically isolate Mr. Putin have fallen short.
Although China has tacitly backed Russia in Ukraine by buying up Russian oil and gas sanctioned by the West, Mr. Xi has recently begun calling for an end to the war.
Mr. Putin has appeared to embrace the messaging. As he greeted Mr. Xi at the Kremlin, the Russian president said he welcomed the Chinese leader’s plan for “settlement of the acute crisis in Ukraine.”
The two men met for four hours of private talks before attending a state dinner. Neither side offered specifics on any policy breakthroughs or initiatives. Mr. Xi made no public reference at all to Ukraine or the war. The summit continues Tuesday with broader meetings including top aides to both leaders and another ceremonial dinner in an ornate Kremlin hall.
With the details of Mr. Xi’s peace plan unclear, Chinese state media have cast the Xi-Putin summit as a meeting about great-power alignment and solidarity more than anything relating specifically to Russia’s violent incursion in Ukraine.
“Guided by the two leaders, China and Russia have blazed a path of major-country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighborliness, setting a new paradigm for international relations,” said a commentary published in Communist Party-run news outlets.
The Biden administration and its European allies say the Chinese plan in its present form would lock in some Russian territorial grabs since the invasion began in February 2022.
“The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at the State Department in some of Washington’s sharpest criticisms to date on the Beijing blueprint. A plan that does not restore to Ukraine all of its territory “is a stalling tactic at best or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome. That is not constructive diplomacy.”
While Mr. Blinken was speaking, the State Department was making public a $350 million package of high-end U.S. military aid to Kyiv, including ammunition, Bradley armored fighting vehicles, fuel tanker trucks and anti-tank weapons.
Moscow and Beijing have described Mr. Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen the “no-limits friendship” that the two leaders outlined in a joint statement at their last meeting just weeks before Russian forces entered Ukraine.
China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy and as a partner in standing up to what both see as U.S. aggression, domination of global affairs and unfair punishment for their human rights records.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and state-controlled news outlets have dramatically amplified Russian claims about the origins of the Ukraine clash, echoing the Kremlin line that NATO sparked the war by aggressively expanding to Russia’s borders.
Chinese officials have hinted that Mr. Xi will talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his Moscow visit, although there has been no official confirmation. Kyiv, which has had its own economic and security ties to China, has been careful not to dismiss the peace plan out of hand. Mr. Zelenskyy’s nightly address Monday focused on the U.S. aid package and ignored the Putin-Xi summit altogether.
A Cold War 2.0 alignment
Analysts say the joint messaging is a defining characteristic of what has come to be called Cold War 2.0, with Beijing and Moscow moving into full rhetorical alignment against the U.S. and the network of democratic allies around the world.
A special Chinese Foreign Ministry report last month said the U.S. and NATO provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and called it part of a pattern of political, military, economic, technological and cultural “coercion” to preserve America’s position as the dominant global superpower.
The report, published in English on the ministry’s website under the title “U.S. Hegemony and Its Perils,” more broadly claimed that Washington is ramping up “bloc politics” and stoking conflict in several regions to maintain “unipolar” dominance and the post-World War II international system that favors Washington and its allies.
The Chinese propaganda coincides with shifting global opinions about America’s staying power as the world’s most influential diplomatic, economic and military force.
The European Council on Foreign Relations circulated polling data on Monday showing that many people in China and Russia, as well as in Turkey and India, believe the dominance of the U.S.-led liberal order will ebb over the coming decade.
“In China, India, Turkey, and Russia, many expect the West will be just one global power among several,” the council said in a statement. It said the “prevailing view” in Russia and China — 33% and 30%, respectively — is that “dominance will be more evenly distributed among multiple countries.”
Although Mr. Putin is likely to welcome Chinese expressions of support, he has reason to be wary. Many Western analysts say China is angling for dominance in the bilateral relationship and is happy to see both Russia and the West weakened and distracted by a long, inconclusive clash in Ukraine.
Daniel Hoffman, who served as the CIA’s station chief in Moscow and now writes a regular column for The Washington Times, has argued that Russia may become a vassal state and a reliable source of raw materials and energy for China.
“For Beijing, Russia’s massive, unexpected reverses on the battlefield since invading Ukraine in February 2022 offer an opportunity to dominate the Kremlin and turbo-boost its own grand strategy of becoming the world’s dominant power by 2049,” Mr. Hoffman wrote in a recent column.
Ryan Haas, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center, said a top objective that appears to be guiding Chinese leaders in their approach toward Moscow is a desire to “lock Russia in for the long term as China’s junior partner.”
“Of course, Chinese officials are careful to avoid referring to Russia as such,” Mr. Haas wrote in an analysis published by the think tank. “Instead, they treat Putin with pomp and deference. Xi flatters Putin in ways he does not any other world leader.”
China-Russia strategic alignment is clearly growing.
The two, which are among the five U.N. Security Council’s permanent members, have deepened their partnership with joint military drills over the past year. U.S. intelligence officials say they have picked up indications that China is considering supplying Russia with weapons for its fight in Ukraine. Beijing so far has given only rhetorical support.
In an increasingly multipolar world, the U.S. and its allies have been unable to build a broad front against Mr. Putin. While 141 countries condemned Moscow in a United Nations vote marking the anniversary of Russian troops rolling into Ukraine, several members of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations — including India, China and South Africa — abstained. Many African nations have refrained from openly criticizing Russia or taking sides in the war.
“We hope that the strategic partnership between China and Russia will on the one hand uphold international fairness and justice and on the other hand promote the common prosperity and development of our countries,” Mr. Xi said on arrival in Moscow.
Mr. Putin said that “China has made a colossal leap ahead in its development in recent years.”
As Mr. Xi smiled, Mr. Putin said China’s progress is “causing genuine interest all around the world, and we even feel a bit envious.”
The Russian president said the Kremlin is open to China’s peace plan relating to the Ukraine war.
“We will discuss all those issues, including your initiative that we highly respect,” Mr. Putin said. “Our cooperation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”
In an article published in the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper, Mr. Putin said the Moscow summit would send a message to Washington that the two countries would jointly fight any attempts to weaken them. “The U.S. policy of simultaneously deterring Russia and China, as well as all those who do not bend to the American diktat, is getting ever fiercer and more aggressive,” he wrote.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin on Friday. It wants to put the Russian president on trial in The Hague for the reported abductions of thousands of children from occupied Ukraine.
When asked in Beijing how China could justify Mr. Xi’s state visit in the wake of the ICC arrest warrant, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin instead attacked the global court.
“The ICC,” he said, “needs to take an objective and just position, respect the jurisdictional immunity of a head of state under international law, prudently exercise its mandate in accordance with the law, interpret and apply international law in good faith, and not engage in politicization or using double standards.”
Mr. Xi praised Mr. Putin’s “strong leadership” and predicted that he would be reelected to another presidential term in 2024.