Chinese Leader Xi’s Meeting with Putin a Political Show: Experts

Chinese Leader Xi’s Meeting with Putin a Political Show: Experts
Chinese leader Xi Jinping walks past honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on March 20, 2023. (Anatoliy Zhdanov/Kommersant Photo/AFP via Getty Images)
Frank Fang

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, marking their first meeting in Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine last year.

The trip to Russia also marks Xi’s first official overseas trip since he secured an unprecedented third term as the head of the state.

The two leaders are scheduled to hold one-to-one “informal” talks later on Monday, before having dinner together.

Ahead of Xi’s trip, Putin was accused of war crimes in an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Kremlin considers it illegitimate while Beijing said it reflects double standards.

In a choreographed show of solitary, Xi and Putin each published a newspaper article ahead of their Monday meeting.

In the article published in Russia’s official media Russian Gazette, Xi claimed the regime’s “peace plan,” a 12-point framework published last month to solve the Ukraine crisis, represented “the broadest common understanding of the international community on the crisis,” according to a translation by China’s state-run media Xinhua.

Beijing’s blueprint was largely dismissed by Western leaders as it repeated several Russian propaganda points and lacked concrete plans on how to end the a-year-long war, in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, many cities have been destroyed, and millions forced to flee from their homes.

While Xi sought to portray himself as a broker to mediate an end to the war, the United States and NATO are skeptical of his motives. The Chinese regime has refused to characterize Moscow’s actions as an invasion and blamed Washington for instigating the conflict.

In an article published on China’s state media earlier on Monday, Putin praised the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for taking a “well-balanced stance” in the ongoing Russian conquest of Ukraine, according to a translation provided by the Kremlin.

Putin called Xi “his good old friend“ and welcomed ”China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis.”

A Political Show

For observers, Xi is walking on an awkward diplomatic tightrope amid the trip.

Ding Shuh-fan, emeritus professor of the College of International Affairs at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University,  in an interview with The Epoch Times before Xi left China, said the United States wouldn’t accept any China-led peace deal unless Russia agrees to major concessions to Ukraine.

Any deal that would allow Moscow to maintain its territorial control in Ukraine would not be accepted, Ding added, since it would be an indirect nod of approval to Moscow’s invasion.

“In other words, Xi faces some risk,” Ding said. “If Xi fails to properly play the role of a mediator, China could see its relationship with Western nations be on an irreversible path toward deterioration.”

“However, to make Putin agree to concessions demanded by the West, honestly speaking, it is highly difficult.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Chinese leader Xi Jinping (2nd L) at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 4, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentiev/AFP/Getty Images)<span style="font-size: 16px;"> </span>
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Chinese leader Xi Jinping (2nd L) at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 4, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentiev/AFP/Getty Images) 

Lin Ting-hui, deputy secretary general of the Taiwanese Society of International Law, said Xi’s attempt to be a mediator was nothing more than a political show.

“Fundamentally speaking, China’s attempt to bring peace to the two nations serves nothing more than propaganda,” Lin told The Epoch Times before Xi left China.

“[Xi] won’t be able to have the two nations come to an agreement. In the end, what matters is how the war will evolve between Ukraine and Russia. Only when the war comes to a definitive conclusion will there be any chance of peace talks,” he said.

‘Birds of a Feather Flock Together’

Before Xi arrived in Moscow, two Democrat lawmakers shared their views on the Putin-Xi partnership on Sunday.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an interview with Fox News, called Putin and Xi “two authoritarian leaders,” noting that “birds of a feather flock together.”

“China is very nervous about the fact that NATO has been united, that we’re united with our Asian democratic partners and have a front against authoritarianism,” Van Hollen said. “And Xi is, of course, watching very carefully what happens in Ukraine, which is why it is essential we continue to support the Ukraine people.

“This is another example of why you cannot say you’re tough on China, if you’re weak on Russia and the fight in Ukraine.”

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a member of the House Select Committee on China, in an interview with MSNBC, questioned why Xi would want to align with a war criminal like Putin.

“Obviously Putin has been asking for arms and support, financial support, economic support, and military support for his failed war. And he’s turning to China,” Moulton said.

“I think that the reality is that as long as Xi Jinping is aligning himself with autocrats, dictators, and war criminals, he’s not being the kind of international leader that he aspires to be,” Moulton added.

“If he wants to be, he’s got to start acting like a responsible world leader, and a responsible world leader does not support a war criminal’s illegal war.”

Luo Ya and Reuters contributed to this report.
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
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