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Analysis: Xi Jinping and Putin’s New Friendship Is a Test for the US

Analysis: Xi Jinping and Putin’s New Friendship Is a Test for the US

As two autocrats exchanged tribute over a feast of quail, venison, white Siberian salmon and pomegranate ice cream, China and Russia seemed to conjure up the anti-Western pact that the United States had long feared.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit this week to his friend President Vladimir Putin came at a critical juncture in Russia’s swampy war in Ukraine and Beijing’s emergence as a great power whose influence now extends far beyond Asia. .

The entire visit was refracted through a prism of both nations’ mutual antagonism toward the United States.

And at every turn, Washington, watching fiercely from the sidelines, has spurned the idea of ​​China as a peacemaker in Ukraine, accusing Xi Jinping of providing diplomatic cover for a violent Russian leader who has just been cited for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

But it seems doubtful whether China and Russia have really forged the kind of anti-US united front long feared by Washington foreign policy professionals.

Still, the United States clearly now has a serious foreign policy challenge on its hands.

The US is simultaneously preparing for what many experts warn could become a Cold War with China and waging a proxy fight in Ukraine with its foe in the 20th century’s version of that confrontation.

And China and Russia together have more ability to thwart US objectives in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Xi and Putin are united on a central foreign policy priority – discrediting and even dismantling a world order they believe is built on Western hypocrisy and denies them due respect as major global powers.

That resentment has festered in Putin’s mind since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he has tried for years to reshape the international system.

But under President Joe Biden’s national security strategy, China is the only US competitor with “the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to” reshape that order.

In the short term, China’s 12-point peace proposal for the war in Ukraine is largely contrary to the US’s aims to punish Moscow for its unprovoked invasion, although it appears to have little chance of gaining traction in Kiev as it would halt the Putin’s seizure of swathes of Ukrainian territory.

A separate peace plan proposed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – which would include a final peace treaty with Moscow and a special court for alleged Russian war crimes – was not discussed between Putin and Xi on Tuesday, the Kremlin said. .

But even if China refuses what the US says are Russian requests for lethal weapons, expanding the country’s economic and trade ties with Moscow could help Putin stay in the war much longer.

A grueling conflict of attrition could not only deplete Ukraine’s military strength, but also test the resolve of the United States and allied states to continue funding Kiev’s resistance and open up the kind of western political division over the war that is already looming. in the Republican presidential primaries.

And if Washington remains deeply engaged in Ukraine — and depletes its own stockpiles of ammunition and weaponry, for example — it may be less focused on what could be a generational rift with China in Asia. That would serve Beijing very well.

To puncture the unity choreography in Moscow this week, the White House mounted a public relations counter-offensive during the Xi-Putin summit. And it bolstered its multibillion-dollar support for the Zelensky government by announcing on Tuesday the earlier-than-expected deployment of US Patriot missile defense systems.

Ukrainians are learning to operate the systems at Fort Sill, Okla., where men and women ages 19 to 67 train from 7 am to 6 pm, six days a week for 10 weeks, reported Natasha Bertrand of CNN .

The US will also speed up the time it takes to ship Abrams tanks to Ukraine by shipping older models, two US officials said on Tuesday.

The American goal here is obvious – to demonstrate that while Putin may be welcoming Xi and asking for more support for his brutal war, the West is not shy about backing Ukraine in a conflict that Biden has portrayed as vital to saving democracy. global autocrats.

global competition

But the US-China rivalry is playing out on a much broader global stage – where Russia, despite its diminished global influence, could also be a useful ally for China.

Xi made no attempt to hide that his trip to Moscow was in the service of undermining US and Western power.

Before leaving, he warned in a statement that “our world is confronted with complex and intertwined traditional and nontraditional security challenges, harmful acts of hegemony, domination and intimidation” – language usually reserved for Washington.

John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, spelled out strategic risks more succinctly in an interview with Christiane Amanpour of the CNN .

“This is a marriage of convenience, not affection, not love… where they intersect is a backward step against the United States and our influence around the world,” said Kirby. “They would like to change the rules of the game, and in each other they see a useful advantage.”

China’s model of authoritarian capitalism as the foundation for a new global system could be attractive to some states around the world as it seeks to build ties in Africa, Central America and elsewhere.

Some nations in the “Global South”, such as South Africa, for example, share China’s antipathy to some of the policies pursued by the US and its allies.

Former US Ambassador to Beijing Gary Locke said on Tuesday that Xi and Putin’s talks were rooted in both nations’ mutual hostility to US power.

“China is trying to present itself as a kind of new force, standing up to Western powers or the Western order. China and many of these other countries that are emerging much stronger economically and politically feel that they are having to play by the rules made by the United States and some of the European countries,” Locke said on the “Inside Politics” program of the CNN .

“And they feel they should have a say in the so-called country club bylaws. And they really resent the heavy hand and dominance of the United States and European countries in terms of many world affairs.”

But at the same time, Chinese and Russian ambitions will be challenged by the fact that the Western alliance is healthier than it has been for years under Biden’s unifying leadership since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Russia-China friendship may also be less substantial than the Kremlin’s pageantry might suggest.

There was no sign from the Kremlin summit that Xi had pledged his full support to Putin arming Russian forces in Ukraine or that he had persuaded the Russian leader to stray from his ruthless path in a way that might legitimize his status as a peacemaker.

And given that the China-Russia model relies on autocracy and intimidation, and that Moscow is increasingly an outcast and China’s nationalist approach also worries some minor powers, there is reason to question how effective a joint global diplomatic offensive can be.

A haunting geopolitical nightmare

The idea of ​​a Russia-China strategic alliance has long preoccupied US policymakers.

The Nixon government’s overture to Beijing in the 1970s was premised on dividing the People’s Republic and the Soviet Union, although territorial and historical antagonism between the communist giants existed before the US initiative.

After the Cold War, Russia was seen as much less of a threat to the US – until Putin’s harsh turn against Washington over the past two decades.

One of the most revered architects of US policy in the Cold War, diplomat George Kennan, warned before his death that NATO expansion into the former Warsaw Pact states of eastern Europe could push Russia into Beijing’s arms.

In his diary of January 4, 1997, he predicted that Moscow would respond as if it had been victimized, further militarize its society, and “develop much closer relations with its eastern neighbors, notably Iran and China, with a view to forming a strongly anti-Western military bloc alliance as a counterweight to a NATO push for world domination”.

Both China and Russia have recently grown closer to Iran – another sworn enemy of the US.

But their relationship, despite all the warm words uttered in the Kremlin this week, is far from being a military alliance and is not a formal alliance like those, for example, that the US maintains in Europe to deter Russia and in the Pacific, in part to balance China’s power.

The United States, as part of its off-stage comments at the summit, tried to keep things that way, warning for weeks that China should not supply much-needed weapons or ammunition to Moscow with its forces fighting on many fronts against fierce resistance. ukrainian.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg renewed the warning on Tuesday.

“We have not seen any evidence that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia, but we have seen some signs that this was a request from Russia and that this is an issue that is being considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” Stoltenberg said. he told reporters in Brussels.

The question of whether China would supply Russia with weapons is complex, however.

Such a move would tend to damage the reputation of avoiding bold foreign policy maneuvers outside its region and would irrevocably align it with a rogue power in Moscow.

The Chinese economy would likely face tough international sanctions as it struggles to recreate its high growth rates. Beijing could not only worsen its already tortured relations with Washington, but also sever its equally crucial economic ties with the European Union.

China is already reaping significant benefits from the war in Ukraine – in terms of increased trade and the ability to buy Russian gas and oil at reduced prices blocked from European markets. Sanctions can be an unwanted counterweight to this situation.

History also suggests that Beijing often conditions its strategies purely on a ruthless calculation of its national interest.

His global image, therefore – and an ultimate goal of creating an alternative political and diplomatic system to the Western-led global order – might be better served by posing as a peacemaker in Ukraine, rather than Putin’s gunsmith in a war. by proxy that Russia may lose.

So while there is reason for the US to be concerned about expanding Russia-China cooperation after the summit, it seems unlikely to be the game-changer that Putin – who in body language and rhetoric sounded so much like the minority partner – would like it to be.

Source: CNN Brasil