Xi’s visit gives Putin a boost

Briefly: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Russia on Monday for a three-day state visit, his first to Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Xi’s meeting with his neighbour and “dear friend” Vladimir Putin comes just days after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest.

On the agenda: Xi and Putin have loads to talk about – they both share a love of martial arts. But according to state media on both sides, key topics included:

  • China’s proposed peace plan to end the Russia-Ukraine war
  • A shared view that nuclear war “must never be unleashed”
  • Concern at the new AUKUS pact, and
  • Concern over NATO’s growing presence in Asia.

And the caviar and Siberian sturgeon must’ve been pretty good, because Xi also issued an invitation for Putin to visit China later this year.

Intrigue’s take: This was all pretty predictable stuff. But sometimes international summits are more notable for what doesn’t happen. And that list is a little more interesting:

  • Xi didn’t offer military support for Putin (at least, not publicly)
  • He didn’t offer new economic support
  • He didn’t offer technical support (like the provision of semiconductors)
  • He stayed silent on Russia’s proposed new gas pipeline to China
  • He stayed silent on Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

And the leaders only signed two broad agreements. These agreements are mostly paper tigers, but can be a barometer for Beijing’s ambition: Xi signed 40 deals when he visited Saudi Arabi, and 33 when he visited Myanmar.

Arguably, the most valuable thing Putin got out of this summit was his photo opp with Xi. When you’re an international pariah, that’s clearly valuable. But when you reflect on the long list of favours Putin didn’t get, it’s possible this summit reveals China’s “domination of Russia is complete”… which, from Beijing’s perspective, might’ve been the whole point of the trip.

Also worth noting:

  • In parallel, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida paid a surprise visit to Ukraine, becoming Japan’s first post-war PM to visit a warzone. He said“I really feel anger at the atrocity upon visiting every place here”.
  • Xi Jinping will reportedly call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later this week to discuss China’s peace plan, which Kyiv has neither dismissed nor welcomed.
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