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Putin and Xi’s Alliance Shows Signs of Imbalance

Xi and Putin's love-in is an ominous sign for the West

Vladimir Putin’s recent state visit to China served as an important demonstration of Russia’s alignment with China amongst increasing global isolation due to the Ukraine conflict. The visit, marked by ceremonial grandeur, underscored the strength of the Sino-Russian partnership in the face of Western opposition. However, it also highlighted the imbalance in the relationship, with China emerging as the dominant partner.

President Xi Jinping welcomed Putin with remarkable hospitality, featuring a red carpet reception, a band playing Red Army songs, and cheering children at Tiananmen Square.

Such a warm reception was meticulously covered by Russian and Chinese state media, emphasizing the close ties between the two leaders. Putin reciprocated with effusive praise for China and its rapid economic development, even mentioning that his family was learning Mandarin—a rare public comment on his private life.

China and Russia reinforce partnership

Despite the outward show of camaraderie, Xi’s remarks were noticeably reserved, referring to Putin merely as a “good friend and a good neighbor.” This contrast in tone suggests a pragmatic approach by China, which benefits from showcasing unity without overly committing to effusive praise for a politically isolated Russia.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has seriously weakened Russia’s international standing and economy, making Putin increasingly reliant on Chinese support. China, despite its tensions with the West, remains globally integrated and is cautious about jeopardizing its economic ties with Western nations.

Xi’s invitation to Putin to Zhongnanhai, his official residence, underscored the importance of their relationship. However, this gesture also reflected the careful balancing act China is attempting—maintaining an alliance with Russia while safeguarding its economic interests with the West.

Putin’s entourage, comprising high-level economic and financial officials, highlighted the economic focus of the visit. The joint statement issued during the visit outlined ambitious plans to boost bilateral trade, including the development of a disputed port and negotiations with North Korea to secure a navigational route to the Sea of Japan. The term “co-operation” was remarkably mentioned 130 times, underscoring the economic motivations driving the visit.

The visit’s timing and context were closely monitored by the US, especially given Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent warning to China against supporting Russia’s war efforts. Putin’s tour of a defense research university in Harbin further signaled China’s commitment to maintaining its strategic partnership with Russia, despite US concerns.

While the visit reinforced the strong ties between China and Russia, it also underscored the limits of this partnership. Xi’s strategic pragmatism means that China will continue to support Russia when it aligns with its own interests but will avoid actions that could severely harm its relations with the West. This dynamic reveals the difficulties underlying the public display of unity between the two nations.

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