Xi and Putin to Meet in Beijing Amid Global Tensions

As global tensions reach new heights, Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to host Russian President Vladimir Putin for a two-day state visit on May 16-17.

by Faruk Imamovic
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Xi and Putin to Meet in Beijing Amid Global Tensions
© Getty Images

As global tensions reach new heights, Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to host Russian President Vladimir Putin for a two-day state visit on May 16-17. This marks Putin's second visit to China in less than a year, underlining the growing alliance between the two leaders. The backdrop of this visit is a world increasingly divided by conflicts, notably in Gaza and Ukraine, and the looming American presidential elections.

A Renewed Term and Strategic Timing

Putin's arrival in China follows shortly after his re-election, ensuring his rule until 2030. This visit mirrors Xi’s trip to Moscow over a year ago, which similarly marked the extension of his presidency. Both leaders have strategically rewritten their nations’ rules to prolong their terms in power, reflecting a shared approach to leadership.

The timing of this meeting is significant. It comes at a moment when the United States faces international criticism for its support of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, and as Putin launches a new offensive in Ukraine. The summit will offer a platform for Xi and Putin to discuss strategies to challenge American influence and further their mutual interests.

Strengthening Alliances Against Western Influence

The meeting between Xi and Putin is set against the backdrop of a broader coordination of interests among anti-American states, including Iran and North Korea. Western governments believe Pyongyang and Tehran are supporting Russia with military supplies. Both Russia and China are bolstering Iran economically, with Tehran playing a significant role in the Middle East conflict.

During his visit, Putin is expected to tout the strength of Russia's wartime economy. In contrast, Xi aims to demonstrate that his support for Russia has not hindered his engagement with Western nations, despite increasing tensions. An interview with Chinese state media highlights Putin’s enthusiasm for the countries' partnership, emphasizing cooperation in high-tech industries and other innovative sectors.

Challenges Behind the Alliance

Despite the public display of unity, underlying challenges persist. Beijing faces mounting pressure from Washington over its alleged support for Russia's defense industry. In Europe, Xi has encountered mixed receptions, with sharp tensions in France contrasted by warmer welcomes in Serbia and Hungary. NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg has highlighted the global nature of security threats, stressing the alignment of authoritarian powers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right© Getty Images
 

The US has imposed new sanctions targeting Chinese firms, further straining relations. China's official stance is that its trade with Russia remains within the bounds of normal bilateral exchange. However, recent trade data suggests a decline in exports to Russia, possibly indicating Beijing’s cautious approach to avoid deeper Western sanctions.

Bilateral trade between China and Russia reached a record $240 billion last year. Even close observers of Xi’s opaque decision-making are divided on whether all this means the Chinese leader will seek to use his time with Putin this week to advocate for a settlement in the conflict soon. However, analysts suggest that any recalibration in trade is unlikely to stem the deepening cooperation across a range of areas between the two countries, which hold regular military drills and diplomatic exchanges.

Deepening Cooperation and Global Ambitions

Despite these pressures, the alliance between China and Russia continues to deepen. Regular military drills and diplomatic exchanges underscore their close ties. Analysts believe that while Beijing prefers stability, it is crucial for China that Russia does not lose the war in Ukraine.

The Gaza conflict is also expected to feature prominently in Xi and Putin's discussions. Both countries have refrained from condemning Hamas for the October 7 attack on Israel and have criticized Israel and the United States. This stance aligns with a growing global backlash against Israel’s actions, especially within the Global South.

Shared Goals and Regional Influence

Russia and China share broad strategic goals, as articulated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, including the establishment of a "fair multipolar world order" free from American dominance. Their response to the Gaza conflict highlights their alignment and mutual reinforcement as they navigate regional and global dynamics.

Iran’s recent inclusion in BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization reflects this new order, positioning it as a key player in the shared vision of Moscow and Beijing. Conversely, Israel is increasingly viewed as a proxy for the United States, further polarizing relations in the region.

Domestic Perceptions and Policy Questions

Domestically, Xi’s relationship with Putin raises questions about China’s strategic direction. While China remains a crucial global player, internal concerns about the partnership with Russia persist. Public opinion, as seen on Chinese social media, reveals historical frictions and mixed sentiments about the alliance.

The upcoming US elections could significantly impact the future of US-China relations and the war in Ukraine. Some Chinese policy analysts argue that China might have maintained better relations with the West while avoiding such close ties with Russia. However, Xi’s administration shows little room for such debates.

The recent Weibo incident, where users flocked to a page purportedly set up by Russian ultranationalist Alexander Dugin, reflects these historical tensions. Users called for Ukrainian victory and even demanded the return of lands ceded to Russia in the 19th century, illustrating the complex public sentiment toward Russia.

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