22 mars, 2023
Xi Jinping’s Visit to Moscow in March 2023
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On March 20, 2023, Chinese President Xi made his first visit to Moscow since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 for bilateral talks with Russian President Putin. The three-day meeting – marking the 40th physical encounter between the two autocrats and “best friends” – followed China’s proposed “peace plan” for the war, and signed articles by the two leaders in each other’s newspapers. The meeting resulted in various cooperation agreements in strategic, economic, technological, and other areas. What do these developments signify? Experts from SCEEUS, NKK and FOI explain.
Hugo von Essen, analyst, SCEEUS
For Russia, Xi’s visit plays a crucial role in reinforcing efforts to show that Russia is not friendless, and that Western attempts to isolate Russia are unsuccessful. China is Russia’s sole reliable strategic partner on the global stage, making the visit essential for Russia for further strengthening this critically important relationship. Moreover, China has provided vital support to Russia since the war began – diplomatically, politically, economically, and militarily – helping sustain the Russian economy and war efforts. Putin might therefore hope that the meeting heralds even more Chinese backing, particularly additional military aid for the struggling, sanction-stricken Russian defense industry.
Interestingly, both in his pre-meeting article for Chinese media and during the first day of Xi’s visit, Putin reiterated his September 2022 statements regarding his respect for China’s “well-balanced position” and its peace efforts. Although China’s concept of “peace” aligns with Russia’s interests, Russia thereby also promotes China’s peacemaker image, and acknowledges Chinese concerns.
During the meeting, the ever-increasing power imbalance was on clear display: while Xi modestly commended Putin and Russia, Putin lavished excessive praise on Xi and China; while Xi discussed cooperation areas, Putin enumerated everything Russia would do for China – increase energy exports, allow Chinese companies to replace Western ones in Russia, trade with third countries using the yuan, and grant China a strategic role in the development of Russia’s Far East and High North.
Christopher Weidacher Hsiung, China analyst, FOI
Xi's visit serves as a clear reminder that for China and Russia, the best way to navigate a volatile and increasingly hostile international environment is by sticking together. The war has put China in a difficult position, needing to balance its strategic partnership with Russia against maintaining crucial trade relations with the US and Europe.
China has indicated its desire to play a more active role in mediating the war in Ukraine, and some see the Chinese "12-point position paper" as a sign of uneasiness. However, despite the challenges Putin's war against Ukraine presents for China, Xi seems willing to continue siding with Russia. China's position paper should therefore be viewed as a public relations effort aimed at European and Global South audiences, rather than a genuine attempt to achieve peace.
Ultimately, the primary message from Xi and Putin was to showcase a robust Sino-Russian strategic partnership during a time when both countries are locked in an increasingly intense strategic rivalry with the US. The political elite in both nations share a very strong common threat perception of the US as a geopolitical and ideological challenge. As long as this remains the case, which is likely for the foreseeable future, the Sino-Russian relationship will not only endure but also continue to deepen.
Patrik Andersson, analyst, NKK
The joint statements between China and Russia did not present any significant surprises but were still interesting for several reasons. They were somewhat more restrained than previous statements, making no references to the “limitlessness” of the relationship, although hyperbolic language was still used. For instance, Sino-Russian relations were described as “having reached the highest level in history”, while continuing “to move forward”, and as a superior model to the Cold War alliances.
The two sides committed to further deepening cooperation in a multitude of areas, with an emphasis on economic collaboration. On the miliary front, the statements mentioned enhancing military cooperation but – as anticipated – did not address any Chinese military assistance for Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.
In some instances, the Russian and Chinese positions struggle to coexist, resulting in bizarre inclusions, such as the statement that “the two sides call on all parties to stop all actions that promote tension and prolong the fighting.”
It remains to be seen what implications the state visit will have on Russia’s war against Ukraine, but it does not seem to have led to any substantial deviations from existing polices. However, through deepened economic cooperation, China will continue to facilitate the Russian war efforts.