Much has been discussed about Xi's recent visit to Moscow. State media organizations in both China and Russia expectedly hyped up the relationship. Russian commentators on social media observed the two leaders' body language at every public moment. Did Putin hold Xi's hands more warmly and with a tighter clasp than Xi? Was the no-limits partnership one between equals?
In the West, the reaction ranged from one of concern to that of dismissal. American Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Xi's visit as giving diplomatic cover to Putin days after the ICC cited him for war crimes. Never mind that America, Russia, and China do not recognize the ICC's jurisdiction, so Blinken's comments were hollow. He would not have followed the ICC's decision had an American been in its crosshairs.
Only NATO's chief Jen Stoltenberg's statement was based on some sense of reality. He expressed dismay that China's visit would embolden Russia and present the greatest threat to NATO since the Soviet Union. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a steadfast Ukraine supporter who has driven America closer to nuclear war, testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee that the growing alliance between China and Russia is "troubling," in what amounted to be the understatement of the year.
A closer examination reveals Xi's visit was more of a win-win-win for China with no undersides. The Chinese leader, a shrewd tactician, would not have undertaken to travel to Moscow otherwise.
If Russia wins in Ukraine, China could count on Russia's help for generations, including in any hostilities in the South China Sea. On top of the diplomatic victory of bringing erstwhile rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran together, China can claim that Xi Jinping neutralized American hegemony. Global South countries, other than India, will likely warm to an alternate superpower vision where China's vaunted principle of non-interference would dictate future partnerships.
If the war grinds out to a stalemate, Xi would be happy that without expending any Chinese blood or weapons, he has pushed America and the West to their limits - militarily, financially, and diplomatically - to defend Ukraine. Each day of destruction increases the cost of Ukraine's reconstruction, already estimated to be $1 trillion, with nearly $700 billion to be borne by America. A distracted and overwhelmed America, already facing a $31.4 trillion deficit rising at a rate of $2 trillion annually because of the increased cost of servicing the debt as the Fed raises interest rates, will be more restrained in defending Taiwan. Fed Chairman Powell increased the Feds Funds rate again this week by 25 basis points, with future increases likely as America and the West scramble to quell a banking crisis that has raised its ugly head from nowhere.
If Russia cannot confront an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive and reluctantly agrees to peace talks, or Ukraine, sensing decreasing support in the West, does the same, China can bask in glory as the only country that put forth a peace plan. While deliberately vague, Xi's plan includes broad principles around which other nations could rally. Since the start of the war, America has failed to engage diplomatically with Russia, a fact that Global South countries have consistently noted. Remember, it was Turkey, working with the United Nations, Ukraine, and Russia, that devised the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed nearly 25 million metric tonnes of foodstuff from Ukraine to reach global markets. America and the West were not even at the table.
Xi also won a grateful Putin's nod in trade matters that would further strengthen China's global heft. Russia, the world's largest country with nine time zones, is rich in natural resources and shares a land border with China. Xi won concessions to import Russian raw materials and sell China's products and services to Russia to fill the void left behind by Western companies. Chinese models are now Russia's #1 automobile imports. Eager to bring African nations to the Russia-China fold, Putin suggested that future commerce between Russia and African countries should occur in the Chinese Yuan, dealing a blow to the U.S. dollar. Saudi Arabia and Iran have already discussed Yuan-based energy trades.
President Xi’s parting words to his Russian counterpart following a state dinner at the Kremlin point to the changing power dynamics. He said, “Together, we should push forward these changes that have not happened for 100 years. Take care.”
A more powerful Xi, already re-elected as the leader to an unprecedented third term, starkly contrasts the positions of American and Western political leaders. With the 2024 election season starting, America has never been more divided. Local prosecutors are eyeing arresting the leading Republican contender. The Democratic Party appears ready to nominate President Biden for a second term, although he will be 82, and American domestic and foreign policy performances have been dismal. In France, Macron has been politically weakened because of the way he pushed through pension reforms.
President Xi's visit to Moscow has significantly helped China's standing among non-Western nations and, in so doing, cemented China as a counter-balancing power to the American-led alliance that has maintained global security and the world order since 1945. No other country has accomplished this feat.