As the West largely boycotted the Winter Olympics in China, one person insisted on the opening on Friday: Russian President Vladimir Putin (69). He is not only traveling to Beijing for the ceremony, but above all for a personal meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping (68).
According to Chinese state media, this is the 38th meeting of long-term rulers since 2013 – and it comes at a critical time. In the midst of the Ukraine crisis, Putin is clearly seeking to join forces with Xi.
The head of state of China has already announced that he is looking forward to the “Winter Olympics meeting” and that he is ready to work with Putin “for a common future” to open a new chapter in relations between China and Russia after the pandemic is over.
“Similar Perspectives on the International Landscape”
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between the two countries have steadily improved. It intensified under Putin and Xi Jinping. Cooperation is particularly close in the military and economic spheres. For example, part of the “New Silk Road” passes through Russia, and over the next three decades China will receive natural gas worth 400 billion euros from Moscow.
The two systems are also united by a common enemy: the United States of America. For example, both have long been working to weaken the dollar’s role as an international reserve currency and have been coordinating diplomatic and economic steps – albeit informally.
“We share similar views on the international landscape and approaches to national governance,” Xi said in an interview with Russian media. “Most importantly, we have a high degree of consensus about the strategic importance of the Sino-Russian relationship and thus the same determination and desire to deepen and sustain its growth.”
Russia needs China more than the other way around
For Putin, China’s support in the Ukraine crisis is critical. Russia, a weak superpower, needs a rising superpower China to mitigate the effects of sanctions, for example.
Beijing, for its part, finds it convenient when the United States and its allies occupy Ukraine, more than 6,000 kilometers away. The successful invasion of Ukraine may serve as a clue to the invasion of Taiwan.
But it is unclear to what extent Xi is willing to support Putin in an open conflict. Although the Kremlin claims that the Chinese president supports Putin’s demands for security guarantees against eastward expansion of NATO, one looks in vain at such an obvious statement in Chinese state media. There is only talk of vague mutual support “on topics that affect each other’s core interests”.
A risky game for Putin
Xi’s support is important to Putin – but the relationship is not without risks. He knows that the United States prefers to focus on China rather than Russia. So he expanded Russian influence and tried to impose security guarantees.
But if there is an open conflict, then it is threatened with devastating penalties and great losses. It is unclear how quickly Xi Jinping will really rush to his aid if the worst comes to the worst – or just seize the opportunity to increase Russia’s dependence.
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