What Xi Jinping wants from Putin: The Economist on the hidden intentions of the head of China
Xi Jinping will arrive in Moscow on March 20, his first visit since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In the US, Xi is believed to be weighing Russia's request for lethal weapons, such as artillery shells and attack drones.
Why Xi is going to Russia
According to China, their leader travels to Moscow as a “peacemaker” and does not offer weapons. He could probably use his trip to promote China's “12-point peace plan.”
However, Xi's true intentions are hidden from everyone. Declaring neutrality, he still refuses to condemn the Russian invasion or the war crimes of the occupiers.
In Moscow, he will almost certainly join Putin in blaming “NATO expansion” for the war. Xi Jinping's stance is causing concern among some members of the Chinese elite.
Xi's calculations are dominated by his belief that China is engaged in a long-term confrontation with America that could lead to war over Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. In this context, Russia continues to be an indispensable source of energy, military technology and diplomatic support.
What Xi Jinping Really Wants
A Russian defeat in Ukraine would embolden the United States and its allies. Also, Xi may fear that Russia will be led by a person with truly pro-Western views. China may want to prevent this.
In Xi Jinping's eyes, America poses the greatest potential threat, and China has no other large state on the side that can help counter Western economic or military pressure. Russia is the only option. It's the same logic as during the Cold War, when Mao Zedong saw the Soviet Union as China's number one enemy and decided to move closer to the United States, said Li Mingjiang, an expert on Chinese foreign policy at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
Xi appears to be strengthening relations with Russia, using Putin's miscalculations to tilt the balance of power in his favor and put pressure on him. He now has access to discounted energy and has almost certainly received assurances that Putin will support him diplomatically in a war over Taiwan.
He also gained leverage over high-end Russian military technology, such as anti-aircraft missile systems and nuclear reactors designed to power submarines. In addition, Russia can also help China modernize its nuclear arsenal or develop a common missile attack warning system.
As for Russia's request for lethal weapons, China is most likely undecided. However, if Xi really decides to arm the aggressor, he can do it secretly. In the end, China's decision may depend on how the war develops in the coming months and what the level of tension with the US over Taiwan will be.