China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow at a time when both the countries are facing hostilities from the US-led West. In the meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Putin for crimes committed in Ukraine. Xi exuded confidence in Moscow, positioning himself as a global statesman after having brokered a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, thought to be an impossibility till recently. China and Russia declared their resolve with great flourish at the end of the three-day visit, to cement their ties further and strive for setting up an international order that can counterbalance the one established by the US and its democratic allies. This may remind some of the attempts made in the early 20th century by Germany, Italy and Japan to establish a new order under those Axis powers. However, the outcome of the World War II defeated the Axis ambitions but at great cost to humanity.
In unambiguous terms, Russia and China decried what they called America’s policy of dictating terms to other countries. Significantly, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the same time. This only demonstrates the whole show is intended not so much to end the Russia-Ukraine war but to send the message that China would back Russia in the latter’s attempt to nibble at Ukraine’s territory and Russia would stand by China in dealing with the challenge posed to it by the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) encircling China with nuclear-powered submarines and other arsenals.
Apart from showcasing their close personal rapport, Xi and Putin signed over a dozen agreements bolstering cooperation in areas from trade to technology. Their central statement asserted the two countries would “deepen” their relationship.
Putin gave his seal of approval to a formula proposed by Xi to handle the Ukraine imbroglio. Predictably, the West has spurned it for the simple reason that China has neither condemned Russia’s invasion nor does its proposal talk about ending the war. Instead both leaders called for cessation of actions that “increase tensions” and “prolong” the war in Ukraine. Their joint statement did not acknowledge that Russia’s invasion and military assault were the cause of ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
The leaders also urged NATO to “respect the sovereignty, security, interests,” of other countries – a reference that appeared to echo the stand taken by both countries blaming the Western security alliance for provoking Russia to invade. Putin said “many of the provisions” put forward by Xi could be “taken as the basis” for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, “when the West and Kyiv are ready for it.”
But the proposal has been viewed as a nonstarter in the West and Ukraine, because it includes no provision that Moscow withdraw its troops from Ukrainian land. Zelenskyy himself correctly explained the real intent of a ceasefire which, according to him, would “simply freeze” the conflict, giving Russia time to “prepare and come back again with their single wish to occupy our country.”
The intention of China and Russia seems to be to build their alignment against the US and establish a world order suited to their own autocratic agendas. The discussion on the conflict in Ukraine appears to be a smokescreen. Xi’s parting message leaves no one in doubt about it as he said during a goodbye handshake with Putin, “Together, we should push forward these changes that have not happened for 100 years. Take care.” Their call for promoting a “multipolar world” is a clear challenge to America’s global domination.
Apart from pledging more joint military exercises, Putin and Xi declared the two countries’ economic cooperation would be strengthened further. This would be beneficial for both as Russia is feeling the heat of sanctions imposed by the West and China would gain with Moscow ready to support Chinese businesses replacing Western enterprises. Russia has become increasingly reliant on China as an import market and an exporter of electronics after being slapped with sweeping sanctions. The partners appeared to be going ahead with their plan to continue a surge in energy trade over the past year as Europe cut its reliance on Russia’s key resource.
The upshot of the high profile visit is that Xi is sailing smoothly in his attempt to enhance his image as an international player after having consolidated his position in his country. Putin tries to come out of international isolation for his misadventure in Ukraine getting China by his side as his most reliable ally.
With these events as the backdrop, it is anybody’s guess as to what India will do in the coming months. India had openly sided with Putin at the international level multiple times thereby alienating the West. Now that China has openly offered its partnership to Russia, India might find itself isolated from both sides.
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