The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, began this Monday, March 20, a visit to Russia that aims to give a “new impetus” to bilateral relations. Geopolitically isolated by the West, sanctioned by the Americans and Europeans and pressured on the Ukrainian military front, the Russian head of state, Vladimir Putin, counts more than ever on the support of his main “friend”, the Chinese counterpart, as the expert explained to RFI from Russia linked to the University of Minho, Sandra Dias Fernandes.
RFI: What is the importance of this visit?
Sandra Dias Fernandes: This visit shows that Vladimir Putin is not so isolated. There is isolation on the part of Westerners, but the world is not just made up of Westerners. This visit reinforces the image of condemnation by the West, Americans and Europeans, of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the rest of the world, which we increasingly call sub-global, does not have the same vision of what is happening. happen in Ukraine.
This visit by Xi Jinping has this wider backdrop of showing that there is more to the world than the West and that Russia has friends. Incidentally, President Putin and his Russian counterpart call themselves “best friends”. It is this narrative that we are hearing on this visit by President Xi Jinping to Moscow, which will last for three days.
Are we witnessing the redesign of a new geostrategic paradigm?
It’s the big question. As I was saying, Xi Jinping presents himself as President Putin’s best friend, but he has reacted with moderation to the war. We have seen abstentions from China in votes at the United Nations, associated with the fact that the country does not condemn the Russian offensive in Ukraine, referring to the conflict as a “crisis”.
There is also the peace plan which, presented by China in February, talks about a way out of the crisis – it does not talk about war – but, despite everything, it is a reaction with some moderation.
China has sought a combination of balances, in the sense of supporting its Russian ally, but without creating ruptures, or sanctions for itself, in this support for Russia.
The question you raise, of a change in the geopolitical paradigm, I think we can see it, in a more pragmatic way, in the sense of observing whether China will come out of this moderation.
It is also for this reason that the spotlight is on this visit. We must remember that this is the Chinese President’s first visit to Moscow since the war began, the first in four years. We will see at the end of the three days whether China will come out of the moderation it has adopted in the way of supporting its Russian friend.
In circles closest to the Kremlin, there are hopes for a deal this week on the delivery of Chinese weapons, potentially in exchange for the transfer of Russian nuclear technologies that Beijing needs. Is China willing to risk exposing itself to Western sanctions if it supports its Russian ally?
If that were to happen, it would be a profound change in the “course” of this war and China would move from tacit support for the Russian invasion to explicit support, creating a level of ambitions completely different from those it has maintained until then.
I don’t think we are that close to observing this alteration, however, it is certain that we have signs here that may lead us to think that it is a possibility.
Last February, the Americans began to indicate, through the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, that China would be ready to arm Russia. One of the dimensions in which the Russians are weak from a logistical point of view, for example in terms of drones, we know that there is already some support from China.
Here we have elements that leave that door open, but that would have very profound consequences for what this war is and a change in the geopolitical paradigm. Not only on a war level, but also on a world level.
Beijing denies the possibility of delivering weapons to Russia. What role can China play in this war?
The position that China has taken has been heavily criticized [pelo Ocidente], for helping Russia circumvent sanctions. The relationship between Russia and China is fundamental to both. Moscow needs technology and Beijing needs oil and gas. China, as a mediator, is not completely credible, but if you listen to the reactions of the Ukrainians themselves, it is a space that is left open. It is considered that China is an actor that can help in a certain moment of negotiation, of leaving the warlike phase of the conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself refers to the peace proposal presented by China as “an interesting text”.
It is perceived that China has a space to occupy here, although its credibility is called into question, namely with the propagation of messages that the Ukrainians, with the help of the Westerners, have chemical weapons laboratories in Ukrainian territory .
China does not talk about the Zaporijzhye nuclear power plant and what has happened there, that is, they are elements that discredit the country in the role of mediator. However, we cannot forget that China is the third military power on the planet. For these reasons, if Beijing wants to take on this mediating role, it is a role that cannot be taken away from it.
This visit comes after the International Criminal Court issued an international arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, accused of war crimes. Is it a coincidence or does Xi Jinping want to send a message to the West?
I think this visit was pre-planned. However, President Xi Jinping has discredited the arrest warrant, denouncing a double standard policy. Now, what is happening with regard to the identification of war crimes, which will be taken to crimes against humanity, and which, in my view, will allow to constitute material for a crime of genocide, shows the face of this war. It reveals Russia’s face in this war, making China’s role difficult by placing itself too close to President Putin.
The two political leaders must sign a joint declaration. What kind of deals can be expected from this visit?
Clearly, economic cooperation. A global diplomatic support, through a language of peace, friendship, partnership. We can’t forget that Russia and China already signed a declaration to strengthen the bonds of friendship, two weeks before the war started. Here we will have the continuity of that narrative and the strengthening of economic cooperation, as that is how China is also able to benefit its interests, supporting its Russian partner. Without crossing the “red line” that would bring sanctions and condemnation from the West.