By: C. Paixão
China's President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow this week shed light on his growing relationship with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Both leaders have met more than 40 times in recent years, and they now refer to each other as "dear friends." Other international leaders, like Robert Mugabe and Donald Trump, have previously characterized the Chinese President as a wonderful ally, but he does not always return the compliment as he does with Putin.
Xi and Putin share a basic foreign policy goal: undermining, if not deconstructing, an international order that they feel is based on Western hypocrisy and denies them proper recognition as strong global powers. This sentiment has grown in Putin's mind since the demise of the Soviet Union, and he has spent years attempting to change the international order. However, China is the only US rival with "the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to" remake that order, according to President Joe Biden's national security plan.
In 2013, Xi’s first visit abroad as China’s President was to Moscow, where he met with Putin and told him that their personalities were very similar and that they should "always treat each other with an open heart."
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, creating international turmoil as the United Nations supported Ukraine and imposed sanctions on Russia for the act. In contrast, according to a Chinese foreign ministry official who spoke on behalf of China, the country expressed "complete understanding" of the issues Russia faced and stated that they would support Moscow's "approach to resolving" the Ukraine issue.
In 2015, both countries signed a "non-aggression pact" in which they agreed not to launch cyber-attacks against each other and to support each other's decisions by avoiding conflict with each other.
In 2019, both leaders met to establish a five-point "comprehensive strategic partnership" based on mutual consensus and strengthened their ties. The Chinese President told the Russian media that "President Putin is the foreign leader that I have interacted with most extensively. He is my best friend, and I greatly treasure our friendship." This further nurtured the relationship between the two countries.
In 2022, Xi and Putin met seven times: in February, March, April, May, June, September, and October. Xi repeatedly made it clear throughout 2022 that Russia had China's support on matters regarding sovereignty and security, and both countries repeatedly backed each other up and showed mutual assistance.
In February and March of 2023, China has shown support towards Russia during the Russia-Ukraine war, despite having declared themselves as neutral. The West criticized China's 12-point peace proposal, which called for a truce and an end to sanctions, and suggested that China and its enterprises might assist with post-war reconstruction. In March, Xi Jinping welcomed one of Putin's closest allies to Beijing, the Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko. Beijing's friendly reception of a head of state with "international pariah status" who had personally aided Putin's invasion, while disregarding requests and appeals from the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has raised speculation about whether China is a neutral peacemaker as claimed. Moreover, on March 20, only days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin for engaging in acts of war and being a war criminal, Xi visited Putin in Moscow. Putin welcomed Xi as an old friend, and during an informal conversation, Xi Jinping stated that China was ready to stand watch with Russia "over the world order based on international law."
After numerous meetings and continuous support between both countries, China and Russia, analysts and other countries have raised doubts regarding China's claimed "neutral status towards the Russia-Ukraine War
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