The two most powerful autocrats in the world have different views on how to extend their influence.
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Xi Jinping celebrated his 69th birthday this Wednesday with a phone call to Vladimir Putin. It is the second conversation they have shared since the war began in Ukraine. The little that has transpired from the conversation between the Chinese and Russian presidents has been Xi’s offer to help “resolve the crisis in Ukraine responsibly through a negotiated solution,” according to the Chinese state network CCTV.
“China is willing to continue playing its role in this regard”Xi said, promising his Russian counterpart that the second world power would continue to support Moscow in terms of “sovereignty and security.” Xi also sent another nod to Putin, highlighting the good moment bilateral relations have been going through since the beginning of the year “in the face of global turmoil and changes.”
It had been three and a half months since the two heads of Peking and Moscow had not exchanged calls. The two most powerful autocrats in the world have different views on how to extend their influence. One starts by rewriting the rule with a check book and investments to make friends. The other wagers -and executes- an expansion with tanks, missiles and bullets. But both play at home with a growing authoritarianism, which concentrates power in the hands of a single long-standing leader, and as visitors they are assertive forces that share the perception that the United States, their main rival, threatens their interests.
The last time Xi and Putin spoke was on February 25., while Russian troops advanced on kyiv after shelling the Obolon district, just nine kilometers from the center of the Ukrainian capital. So Xi asked his Russian colleague to resolve “the crisis” in Ukraine through negotiation. There was no outright support from the Chinese leader for the invasion, but he did not make any hint of criticism either. Since then, Beijing has continued to walk through that ambiguity.
In the Asian giant they define their position, facing the outside gallery, as neutral. But behind closed doors, the media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) follows the narrative set by the Kremlin, giving tacit support to Russian propaganda.
The war in Ukraine is in its fourth month and since China has not sent weapons to Russia nor have they provided Putin with any kind of military support. Beijing has also not become, for now, Moscow’s economic lifeline, although they criticize Western sanctions almost daily. What the Chinese regime has also failed to do is make any move to play an active role in mediation with a view to achieving a ceasefire.
Despite more pressure from the West to use its influence with its ally Putin and stop profiled in the conflict, Beijing has done little more than ask for peace. Xi has spoken with almost all the important players in the war: Putin, Biden, Macron, Scholz, Ursula von der Leyen… But he is reluctant to call Ukraine’s president, Volodimir Zelensky.
Chinese leaders often praise the “resilience” of bilateral relations with Moscow and continue to bet on the “unlimited strategic coordination” that Xi Jinping agreed with Putin on February 4, at the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics. That day, both promised to deepen cooperation on various fronts. That was the last time the two leaders, who have a close personal relationship, having met nearly 40 times since 2012faces were seen. Xi then supported Putin in demanding that NATO stop its expansion in Eastern Europe.
Those days in early February, Bloomberg reported that Xi had asked Putin not to provoke any military conflict in Ukraine during the Beijing Olympics. From Moscow they denied it. Not even 24 hours had passed since the end of the Games when Putin announced that he recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism