China got more out of the meeting than Russia
For a quick video summary of the key takeaways from the Xi, Putin meeting, please click here to see a discussion between Mark McNamee, Director of Europe, and Thomas Zhang, China Practice Leader.
With China’s greater involvement in international diplomacy, and done as a counterpoint to the West, firms can expect to see rising animosity between the West and China, which is likely to spill into economic relations as each side limits their trade exposure to the other, reinforcing current trends of on-shoring, near-shoring, and friend-shoring. Not only these redundant supply chains, and the transition costs of creating them, but also the greater focus on economic nationalism will drive up costs and limit the benefits of trade around the world in the coming years. More specifically related to Russia and the war in Ukraine, China is likely to use its influence to eventually bring about an end to the fighting over the long term, meaning allowing Ukraine to revive its economy and investment environment while Russia remains under sanctions and a subservient partner to China.
- On March 20 and 21, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, in a reaffirmation of their strengthening partnership.
- Xi again presented China’s 12-point peace plan for the War in Ukraine, to which Putin gave only mild assent, noting that it could serve as a “basis for peace” later.
- Xi and Putin ended their visit by noting the opportune moment currently “that we haven’t seen for 100 years” and noting that they “are the ones driving these changes.”
- Though Putin repeatedly called Xi a “dear friend,” Xi failed to repeat the claim of “partnership without limits” as announced in advance of the war.
- Hailed as a major geopolitical moment for both sides, the event occurred just after the one-year anniversary of the war as well as China’s successful diplomatic efforts with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
- Putin invited China to replace Western firms in several industries and assume a larger role in the economic development of the Far East and the Northern Sea Route, reflecting Russia’s issues in financing infrastructure projects as well as sectors struggling from sanctions. Russian and Chinese officials discussed construction of an LNG terminal as well as energy extraction projects in Siberia.
The meeting was heavily one-sided in terms of China receiving what it wanted, while Russia remains in search of more, reflective of the increasingly disproportionate power in the relationship. While still a partner, Russia has become a clearly junior partner with diminishing power, raising China’s leverage consistently into the future. This will have implications for the war and Russia’s economy.
In a show of solidarity with Russia and President Putin, Xi’s visit to Moscow reconfirmed the two nations’ solid partnership and antipathy toward the West, with both sides again decrying the global order as led by the West the last 30 years and interest in amending it to their terms. However, Putin must have been disappointed, as Russia received little from Xi that it wants: no lethal weapons, no loans, no commitments on a new gas pipeline to China. Meanwhile, Xi presented China’s peace plan for the conflict, flexing China’s diplomatic muscles and presenting China (with the Global South in mind) as a mediating, peaceful influence at a global level counter to the disorder of the US-led world.
Though China initially was likely opposed to Putin’s full-scale invasion a year ago, since then Beijing is now happy to see the war prolonged somewhat, enjoying discounts on oil and other commodities from Russia, seeing its partner in Russia becoming increasingly subservient, all while watching the West becoming embroiled in a proxy war and the resulting cost-of-living crisis. Looking ahead, China is now eager to take on a more global diplomatic role, having involved itself further in the Middle East and now in a major European land war, driven in part to demonstrate its effectiveness precisely in areas where the West has failed, boosting its credentials.
While China’s peace plan as it stands is unrealistic and disagreeable to all parties involved (including Russia currently), China’s involvement in the war could increase. At one end of the scale, as Russia’s power declines vis-à-vis China, China’s increasing leverage over Russia matched with the West’s leverage over the Zelenskiy administration in Kyiv, could have a pacifying effect on the war as this leverage is used to push both sides to the negotiating table later this year when both militaries become exhausted. At the other end of the scale, in a nightmare scenario for Beijing to see its junior partner in Moscow begin to decisively lose the war amid successful Ukrainian counter-offensives in the coming months, these conditions could encourage China to finally provide the lethal weaponry Russia has requested since the war began, altering the strategic nature of the conflict and ensuring a prolongation of the war as well as the Putin regime in Moscow. Alternatively, under this scenario, China could use the potential provision of weapons to Russia to facilitate ceasefire talks with Ukraine and the West.
Ironically, meeting on the 20-year anniversary of US’s failed invasion of Iraq, and the geopolitical catastrophe that was for the US, this meeting marks Russia’s turn to face up to its own catastrophe for its empire, and handing the reins to China.
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