“Right now there are changes – the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years – and we are the ones driving these changes together,” Xi Jinping to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president replied: “I agree.”
Shortly after Beijing launched a 12-point position paper calling for a ceasefire in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Moscow on a “journey of friendship, cooperation, and peace.” Vladimir Putin, whom Xi has referred to as his “best friend,” would be present during the three days of his tour, which started on March 20.
Both men had their 40th encounter at the summit in Moscow. There was a hope that a breakthrough in putting an end to the war in Ukraine will result from the visit by Xi, who was recently reappointed as China’s leader for an unprecedented third term and who is seeking a bigger position for Beijing on the international stage. The war, which is now in its second year, has resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities, displaced millions from their homes, and caused severe economic hardship, with global inflation soar and a shortage of supplies of goods like energy, grain, and fertilizer. Amidst this background, the visit may bring some positive outcome for the war since the recent history of China as mediator has taken the light of the world. But there are some realities also and those will be also examined with merits.
However, the two leaders urged “responsible dialogue” to end the Ukraine conflict, with Xi noting that Beijing and Moscow had signed a document ushering in a “new era” of cooperation in their relations. The discussions were meant to solidify the “no limits” alliance that the two leaders declared in February of last year, less than three weeks before the start of the Ukraine War. But the whole world is looking for the role as the mediator on the current Ukraine war
China has remained largely quiet regarding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine because it prefers to maintain its neutral stance. The Xi-Putin meeting has prompted inquiries about possible shifts in China’s position on the conflict. In this study, the focus is at the summit’s effects on the conflict in Ukraine and the larger geopolitical context.
What does it mean for the Ukraine War?
Putin hoped that Xi would support Russia in its conflict with Ukraine by arming its military with cutting-edge, functional weaponry, just as the West has done for Kiev. But neither leader mentioned it in their concluding comments or their lengthy joint statement, which was nine pages long. In reality, the joint statement only briefly mentioned the Ukraine war and only to ask for the restart of “peace talks” (with no additional information beyond Xi’s proposal from a month ago).
Additionally, it reaffirmed the axiom that a nuclear conflict “cannot be won,” undermining Putin’s “red lines” regarding the nuclear danger. So no major armament from China will be experienced by the Russian regime which is a practical step toward the peace process.
Likewise, China is not developing or opening a military partnership with Russia, according to Xi. The two countries will “forge a closer partnership” in a wide range of industries, including energy, civil aviation, automobile manufacturing, metallurgy, port traffic capacity, rail and sea cargo, and agriculture, to name a few. Hence, cooperation in other areas will ensure a friendly Russia. But still the arming will be missed by the Russian regime.
As already stated, China had characterized Xi’s visit as one of a peacemaker, particularly in light of the 12-point peace plan that had been unveiled a month ago. Like the Saudi-Iran case, China can be a prospective mediator here.
Moreover, Russia “welcomed China’s willingness to play an active role in resolving the Ukrainian crisis through political and diplomatic means,” according to the joint statement. Additionally, Russia valued the “constructive propositions” outlined in the paper from the Chinese foreign ministry. It shows that, though there is no defense purchase from China happening in a near future, but Russia still wants China as a friend amidst the global economic downturn.
On a peaceful note, from both the sides, the resolution of the Ukraine crisis, it was stated, “must respect the reasonable security concerns of every country and prevent the formation of confrontational blocs that feed the fires.” Hence, China hailed Russia’s reiteration that it was willing to resume peace talks.
But from the other part of the Atlantic, Washington responded with stern remarks. According to John Kirby, spokesman for the US Department of National Security, “If China wants to play a constructive role in this conflict, then it ought to pressure Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine.” So, like many other cases, the USA wants a direct stance from China which may hamper the current state of stability of China in terms of policy making for Russian regime which can give Russia a leverage over the war situation.
CNN claims that Xi’s trip to Moscow “failed to move the needle” in terms of resolving the war in Ukraine. So according to them, the visit ended in a smoke.
Here, the other part of the war parties, Volodymyr Zelensky’s stance, the president of Ukraine, should be taken into account. He told reporters that he had asked China to participate in negotiations but had not yet received a response. According to him, China’s participation in the execution of the peace formula was suggested by Ukraine. The nation distributed the recipe through all media. They asked to converse with them. They are anticipating the response. He stated that although they are getting some signals, they are not yet specific. So, the Ukrainian side also fancies to get China as a mediator since it is the only feasible party to make the two war parties to seat against a single table.
But President Putin informed Chinese President Xi that many of the terms of the Chinese peace plan for Ukraine could serve as the foundation for a resolution when the West and Kyiv were ready for it. He also noted that no such readiness had been seen thus far, according to TASS, a state-run news service in Russia.
Putin stated that a peace settlement could be built on a Chinese plan to end the conflict, but Kyiv and the West were not yet prepared. However, China’s peace initiative has been dismissed by the United States, which asserts that a ceasefire would secure Russian territorial gains and allow Putin’s army more time to reorganize. Besides, Russia “welcomed China’s willingness to play an active role in resolving the Ukrainian crisis through political and diplomatic means,” according to the joint statement.
Additionally, Russia valued the “constructive role” outlined in the paper from the Chinese foreign ministry.
There will be more ramifications. It’s critical to understand that the summit’s primary emphasis was not the conflict in Ukraine. The meeting’s stated goals included strengthening China and Russia’s strategic partnership and talking about a variety of political and economic problems. So, a comprehensive role from China through this meeting should not be expected.
The meeting also emphasized China and Russia’s expanding strategic alliance. The United States, which has been promoting the idea of a new Cold War between the West and China and Russia, is putting increasing pressure on both nations. China and Russia are letting the United States know that they won’t be confined or isolated by fortifying their alliance.
China and Russia’s expanding partnership, however, may offer Russia more negotiating power and diplomatic support with Ukraine and its allies in the West. This might make it harder for Ukraine to accomplish its objectives, like taking back control of Crimea and putting an end to the war in the Donbas.
Hence, little hope for a breakthrough on Ukraine mean that Xi and Putin’s substantive discussions will probably center on strengthening and expanding China and Russia’s strategic and economic relations. It has not yet been possible to organize a thorough discussion of the peace process.
– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).