Xi Jinping will leave China for the first time in more than two years to travel this week to Central Asia, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, just a month before consolidating his position as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.
The trip, Xi’s first abroad since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that he is confident both in his grip on power in his third term and in his role as world leader at a time of renewed great-power friction. .
Against the backdrop of Russia’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine, the Taiwan crisis and a faltering world economy, Xi is scheduled to pay a state visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
The Chinese president will then meet Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Kremlin said. China confirmed the trip on Monday.
Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters last week that the Russian president was expected to meet Xi at the summit. The Kremlin declined to give details of their talks.
The meeting will give Xi a chance to underscore his influence while Putin can demonstrate Russia’s bias toward Asia; both leaders may show their opposition to the United States just as the West seeks to punish Russia for the Ukraine war.
“In my opinion, everything revolves around Xi: he wants to show how self-confident he is internally and be seen as the international leader of nations opposed to Western hegemony,” said George Magnus, author of “Red Flags.” (“Red flags”, in Spanish), a book about Xi’s challenges.
“Privately, I imagine Xi will be more anxious to know how Putin’s war is going and, indeed, whether Putin or Russia are at stake at some point in the near future, because China still needs anti-Western leadership in Moscow.”
Russia suffered its worst defeat of the war last week, abandoning its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine.
The deepening of the “boundless” partnership between emerging superpower China and natural resource titan Russia is a geopolitical development the West is watching with anxiety.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia, once the senior partner in the global communist hierarchy, is now a junior partner to a resurgent communist China that is projected to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. of the world in the next decade.
Although historical contradictions abound in the partnership, there are no signs that Xi is willing to stop supporting Putin in Russia’s most serious confrontation with the West since the height of the Cold War.
On the contrary, the two 69-year-old leaders are deepening their ties. Trade soared by almost a third between Russia and China in the first 7 months of 2022.
The visit “shows that China is willing not only to continue ‘business as usual’ with Russia, but even to show explicit support and accelerate the formation of a stronger China-Russia alignment,” said Alexander Korolev, senior professor in politics and international relations at the University of New South Wales.
“Beijing is reluctant to distance itself from Moscow despite facing serious reputational costs and the risks of becoming the target of secondary economic sanctions.”
Xi is expected to break precedent at the Communist Party congress that begins on Oct. 16 and secure his third five-year leadership term.
While Xi has met Putin in person 38 times since he became China’s president in 2013, he has yet to meet Joe Biden in person since the latter became US president in 2021.
The last time Xi met with Putin was in February, just weeks before the Russian president ordered the invasion of Ukraine, which has left tens of thousands dead and wreaked havoc on the world economy.
At that meeting, at the opening of the Winter Olympics, Xi and Putin declared their partnership without limits, supporting each other in the clashes over Ukraine and Taiwan with the promise of further collaboration against the West.
China has refrained from condemning the Russian operation against Ukraine or calling it an “invasion”, in line with the Kremlin, which calls the war a “special military operation”.
“The most important message is not that Xi supports Putin, because it has become quite clear that Xi supports Putin,” said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London School of Oriental and African Studies.
“The biggest sign is that he, Xi Jinping, is going to leave China for the first time since the pandemic in the run-up to the party congress. If there were plots against him, now is when they would happen. And it is clear that he trusts that the plots are not going to take place because he is out of the country.”
Xi, the son of a communist revolutionary, last left China in January 2020, before the world went into lockdown due to COVID-19.
CHIEF OF THE KREMLIN
After the West imposed the toughest sanctions in modern history on Moscow over the Ukraine war, Putin says Russia is turning to Asia after centuries of looking to the West as the melting pot of economic growth, technology and war.
By presenting the West as a collapsing coalition, dominated by the United States, that seeks to shackle – or even destroy – Russia, Putin’s worldview coincides with that of Xi, who presents China as an alternative to the post-war order. World War II led by the United States.
Ushakov, an adviser to Putin, said the Xi-Putin meeting would be “very important.” He did not elaborate.
As Europe moves away from Russian energy imports, Putin will try to boost energy exports to China and Asia.
Putin said last week that a major gas export route to China through Mongolia had been agreed. Gazprom has been studying for years the possibility of a major new gas pipeline – Siberian Power 2 – running through Mongolia carrying Russian gas to China.
It will transport 50 billion cubic meters of gas a year, about a third of what Russia usually sells to Europe, or the equivalent of the annual volumes of Nord Stream 1.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries, plans to admit Iran, one of Moscow’s main allies in the Middle East.