Russian President Vladimir Putin attended China’s third Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing, where he expressed an “aspiration for equal and mutually beneficial cooperation.” The event, marking the 10th anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is a global network of economic deals that some argue has made China the world’s largest debt collector and brings hope to the Global South.
Putin also emphasized the importance of respecting civilization diversity and the right of every state to their own development model. Some observers interpret this message as a pushback against calls for authoritarian leaders to respect human rights and embrace political freedoms if not democracy. Xi Jinping, a more assertive leader than Mao Zedong, aims to expand China’s global influence with Russia at its side for as long as the deal is convenient.
China’s President Xi Jinping has emphasized the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in his foreign policy, despite its current financing levels. The BRI is a key vehicle for Xi to trade commerce for political favours and attract member states to his three Initiatives – development, security, and civilization. Putin’s role in this framework is also significant, as China is pro anything that challenges or drains American power and influence.
During a meeting, Xi and Putin discussed how they can continue to support each other and work together to push back against the United States and its allies. Xi hailed Putin as “my old friend” and spoke of their close strategic coordination. However, Putin is now tied to the Chinese agenda and Xi Jinping’s vision of a new mode of global governance is best described as autocracy. Putin was even singing Xi’s praises before boarding the flight to Beijing.
President Xi Jinping has been described as a firm, calm, pragmatic, and reliable partner by Russian media, who highly appreciates China’s proposals to end the Ukraine crisis. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a former political adviser at the European Parliament and now with National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan, suggests that Russia has become politically and economically dependent on China under Putin. Ferenczy suggests that in the long run, this might prove to be another of Putin’s miscalculations, as it has made Russia the junior partner for China.
Xi has skillfully turned himself into an indispensable friend to Putin by providing political support to advance shared goals and ensuring Russia has the economic means to sustain the aggression in Ukraine despite international sanctions. Hart from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that there is a clear strategic calculus behind Xi’s moves to court closer ties with Putin.
The Sino-Russia relationship is not based on trust and friendship, but the mutual interest to challenge the U.S. and NATO is solid. However, the relationship’s frailty lies in its unequal alliance based on a common fear of liberal democracy, transparency, and the rule of law. Putin’s reliance on Xi Jinping can lead to win-win outcomes, but it is not a partnership of equals or mutual trust.
Instead, it is based on a shared fear of control and a common embrace of control. Andreas Fulda, associate professor at Nottingham University, offers a more foreboding perspective on social media, stating that the vision of a “multipolar world” led by dictators Xi and Putin is the dream of every autocrat and a worst-case scenario for those who still believe in open societies based on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.