Home/ Opinion / Views/  Mint Explainer: The significance of Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia

The world is watching closely as Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Russia for the first time since the Ukraine war began last year. China’s leader has been on a barnstorming diplomatic tour after a long absence from the international scene owing to China’s struggles with its domestic economy and covid controls. 

  • Even as the Ukraine war rages on, President Xi Jinping of China will make a three-day visit to Moscow and meet with his counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin. This will be the Chinese leader’s ninth visit to Russia since he took office as China’s president a decade ago.
  • Xi last visited Russia in February 2022, just before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. During that visit, both leaders toasted the “no-limits partnership" between the two countries. 
  • Since then, China has been caught in a difficult diplomatic spot. While Moscow is one of the few major powers that shares Beijing’s discomfort with America’s foreign policy, the invasion threatens China’s diplomatic outreach to key Western powers.
  • Beijing has had its share of economic troubles in recent years. Instability in its vital real estate sector and its strict zero-covid policy have taken a toll on China’s economic growth prospects. As such, Beijing has embarked on a charm offensive in recent months to court Western investors, particularly in Europe. However, its outreach has been undercut by the widespread belief that it has given Moscow economic and diplomatic cover as it wages war in Ukraine. 
  • Russia’s war in Ukraine also hurts Beijing’s long-standing advocacy of sovereignty and not interfering in the internal affairs of countries. Reports also surfaced in the international media that senior Chinese officials were less than pleased with Russia for launching the Ukraine war. 
  • However, none of that animosity was on display in the immediate prelude to the latest summit. Xi Jinping released an upbeat signed article in RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned media firm. He played up bilateral cooperation in energy, trade, aviation and space. 
  • “Our two sides have had close coordination on the international stage and fulfilled our responsibilities as major countries. China and Russia are firmly committed to safeguarding the UN-centered international system, the international order underpinned by international law, and the basic norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter," Xi wrote. 
  • However, the piece did not mention the war even once. In the end, discussion of Ukraine will be hard to avoid for both sides. As Western sanctions have crippled key sectors of Russia’s economy, Moscow has become more dependent on China’s purchases of energy and other goods. Further, there may also be concern that China is considering providing weapons to support the Russian fight in Ukraine.
  • While some argue that Beijing will not arm Russia for fear of crossing a red line with Europe and the US, others believe China will have to double down and back Moscow, given that it has few other powerful allies in its struggle against America. Xi’s upcoming meeting with Putin will reveal much more about China’s future course of action.

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Updated: 20 Mar 2023, 02:30 PM IST
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