Xi Jinping’s visit to Vladimir Putin yesterday staged the ratification of the alliance of both countries against the United States, but also a common need to seek an exit course for the war in Ukraine, which has bogged down the troops and the government. of Russia, but which also affects China’s economic prospects in a delicate domestic context.
Xi, who arrived in Moscow to hold contacts for three days, praised the “close relationship” bilaterally and declared himself determined to remain “firmly by Russia’s side” to consolidate the goal of a “true multipolar international order.” However, at the same time, he offered his counterpart a good offices management to find a path towards peace in Ukraine, a country invaded by Russia a little over a year ago and which has become a veritable swamp for the troops of the Kremlin.
Putin’s response was, as expected, favourable, both out of courtesy to the ally and because of the help that finding a negotiated peace or, at the very least, some sort of armistice would bring. “We are always open to negotiations. Without a doubt, we are going to talk about everything, including his initiatives, which we receive with respect, ”he told her.
Concerned about far-reaching geopolitical problems that add noise to the international economy, on whose expansion the “Chinese model” depends, Xi has just obtained resounding success as a mediator in the normalization of the relationship between two giants of the Muslim world, the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the Iranian theocratic republic. Is it now, with his new centrality, the turn to “pacify” Ukraine?
Putin is deeply embroiled in that conflict, in which his troops managed to capture Russian-speaking regions of the east and south, but with far more precarious territorial control than initially projected. Ukraine, increasingly boldly armed by NATO, is putting up a resistance that, although it is not enough to win the war, is enough to pose a difficult balance to sustain sine die by Russia.
In that sense, Xi comes to the rescue of his ally. However, he also defends his own self-interest, given that his political strength as re-elected president and his enthronement to the saints of Chinese communist icons contrasts with weaker economic footing than he would like.
The “zero covid” policy has served to establish unprecedented forms of social control, but it has also generated unprecedented attempts at protest. At the economic level, it has contributed to slowing down activity, aggravating the effects of an oversized real estate sector, both from the point of view of developers and the banks that have financed them.
In this sense, what China needs the least is for geopolitical problems such as the Ukrainian one -in which Russia and NATO settle the spheres of interests in Eastern Europe- and the Middle East one -with its impact on the price of oil- to be add to your domestic inconveniences.
The Chinese authorities have set a growth target of 5% for this year, an important number in comparative terms, but largely a rebound from the meager 3% of 2022, the most modest since the 1970s.
Urged to accommodate millions of new workers in the market each year, China must maintain high rates of expansion of activity to ensure essential social balances. The malaria of the pandemic must be reversed and a war scenario, in which the global economy could slow down in a lasting way, would threaten the heart of its model, exports, and would continue to make food, energy and inputs that must be imported more expensive. in an alluvial way.
In addition to the economic, the Russian invasion has put China in an awkward political position. Objectively tied to its alliance with Russia, it has offered that country an outlet for hydrocarbon exports vetoed by the West, as well as a certain escape route from economic sanctions. All in all, these actions have put Beijing in the crosshairs of the United States, which remains attentive to any provision that could be considered an obstacle to the boycott policy, which would stimulate pressure in Washington for Joe Biden to escalate with more motivated sanctions. by the rivalry between the established and the emerging power than in the war in Ukraine itself.
The war, thus, has forced Xi to maintain a delicate balance, at the same time that it has taken his country out of a diplomatic attitude that he always preferred to keep on the low profile and at the level of discreet influence.
Beyond these considerations, does China have the conditions to present itself as an effective mediator between Putin and Volodimir Zelenski? That would not be easy, given the explicit alliance of the Chinese leader with one of the parties in conflict, which, in principle, does not constitute an impartial party.
“Ukraine is closely following the Chinese president’s visit to Russia and hopes that he will use his influence to end this aggressive war,” Kiev Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said.
Ukraine is in urgent need of finding a revulsion, whatever it may be, to put an end to this tragic stage of the conflict, but its international sponsors seem less eager, at least as long as their geopolitical objectives are not satisfied. Thus, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, indicated that “the world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, with the support of China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms.”
Washington’s distrust was also expressed around the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran -a country linked in turn to Beijing-, but even so the mediation paid off.
Beyond words, wishes, needs and misgivings, how would Xi untie the tightest knots in the clash between Russia and NATO -United States- in Eastern Europe? How could she deal with the limitations imposed on her by the fact that the International Criminal Court seeks to indict Putin as a war criminal? How about the decision of the Russian leader to anticipate his visit by visiting occupied cities in the south and east of Ukraine, manifestations of his decision – apparently unequivocal – to maintain the Russian occupation there?
The coin is in the air.