Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin: will he bring peace or arms?

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin: will he bring peace or arms?
Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin: will he bring peace or arms?

Russian President Vladimir Putin will receive a high-ranking visit on Monday: Chinese President Xi Jinping. Is he coming to mediate between Ukraine and Russia or to deliver weapons? The latter is not inconceivable, says China expert Ardi Bouwers.

The Chinese president will pay a three-day visit to his Russian counterpart from Monday. According to the Kremlin, talks on “strategic cooperation” are on the agenda and “important bilateral documents” will be signed. It is unclear what exactly will be discussed. According to experts, the visit could go in two very different directions.

Important visit

“It’s a really long visit,” says China expert Ardi Bouwers. According to her, this shows that the Chinese “give great priority” to the meeting between the two presidents. But little is known about what exactly will be discussed. “We have to pay a lot of attention to signals, what do they say and how do they talk about certain topics?”

According to her, it is obvious that China will want to continue talking about the 12-point plan on the war in Ukraine, which the country presented a few weeks ago. Beijing called for a ceasefire and peace negotiations, although it did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That meant that the plan was not well received in the West.

‘Peace Dove’

Russia expert Tony van der Togt of the Clingendael Institute also sees the arrival of the Chinese president in Moscow as an ‘important visit’. “Xi Jinping wants to show that China is a global player.” Xi could show his influence in two ways in the war between Russia and Ukraine: by supplying arms to Russia or by acting as a mediator.

“Xi is positioning itself as a dove of peace,” says Bouwers. She points to previous mediation actions in conflicts in the Middle East and now to a possible mediation role in Ukraine. “He wants to show this to the United States: you have always been busy, but have not achieved anything. You have lost influence. That would be a significant signal.”

Not impartial

Van der Togt calls it ‘strange’ if China were to act as a mediator, because they would not be particularly impartial. “That 12-point plan was coordinated in advance with Russia, but not with Ukraine. It looked more like a public relations initiative than a peace plan.”

Bouwers agrees: “As long as the country does not condemn Russia’s invasion, China is seen as partisan by the West and Ukraine. It is therefore not a logical mediator.” However, it would be a ‘fantastic success’ for China if it succeeds in mediating between the two parties: “It would be special for the whole world and China would be very proud of it. They would see it as a signal that the autocracy of America is over.”

Supply weapons

Another possible outcome of Xi Jinping’s visit to Putin would be less peaceful. According to the Americans, China plans to supply arms to Russia. “That would put the relations even more on edge,” says Bouwers. Sanctions would also follow against the country, which would have major economic consequences.

“China has so far been very careful about this, so as not to harm their interests,” says Van der Togt. “Military support to Russia is really a red line for many countries that China would cross.” And that while the Chinese economy is just picking up after the corona pandemic, says Bouwers.

‘very much needed’

“Although Russia is a convenient Source for cheap commodities such as oil and gas for China, its economic ties with Europe and the United States are also very important. It needs the economic markets of the US and the EU very much.”

Bouwers sees Xi Jinping doing some kind of balancing act. “He does not want to alienate himself from the West, but tries to support Putin enough. They seem to recognize something in each other. They are both similar leaders. I can imagine that they understand each other’s position well.”

Pulling together

The Chinese president does not really approve of what Russia is currently doing in Ukraine, says Van der Togt. “It also harms Chinese interests. But Xi Jinping thinks it’s more important to get along than to argue about it. China realizes how important Ukraine is to Putin, just like Taiwan is to them.”

Moreover, according to the Russia expert, the fact that China does not want an ‘unstable country at the borders’ also plays a role.

Argus eyes

Meanwhile, the relationship between China and the US is deteriorating, Bouwers sees. “Putin is the clear enemy of the US, so if China moves closer there, it will be viewed with suspicion.”

“What kind of promises does Xi Jinping make to Putin? Are they arms deliveries? Then the relations are even more tense. As a result, the chance of a crisis due to a misunderstanding is increasing.”

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China expert Ardi Bouwers explains what Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia means

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Chinese President Jinping visits Vladimir Putin bring peace arms

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