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Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow Monday for a three-day state visit to Russia. Relations between the two countries have grown closer over the past year as China’s imports of Russian oil have increased and both countries seek to undercut the U.S. on the world stage. Sasha Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discussed the visit with Nick Schifrin.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow today for a three-day state visit to Russia.
Relations between the two countries have grown closer over the past year, as China's imports of Russian oil have increased, and both countries seek to undercut the U.S. on the world stage.
Nick Schifrin has the story.
They call each other dear old friends. And in their 40th meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin his partner in war and peace.
Xi Jinping, Chinese President (through translator):
China attaches great importance to China-Russia relations, because we are each other's biggest neighboring countries as well as strategic partners.
The two men share authoritarian recipes for power and a mutual desire to upend U.S. influence. China remains one of the biggest buyers of Russian energy.
Chinese companies are providing Russia with parts essential to maintain Russian weapons. The two countries conduct joint military exercises. And since the war in Ukraine began, China has neither endorsed, nor condemned it. Beijing's new peace plan calls for upholding Ukraine's sovereignty, but not for Russian troops to withdraw, an approach Putin endorsed today.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator):
We know that you proceed from the principles of justice and observance of the fundamental provisions of international law, of indivisible security for all countries.
But, today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected in advance any call for a cease-fire.
Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State: Calling for a cease-fire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest. It would recognize Russia's attempts to seize a sovereign neighbor's territory by force. It would enable Russia to further entrench positions in Ukraine.
This weekend, Putin tried to show just how entrenched his position in Ukraine already is. In a staged and scripted nighttime visit, Russian TV showed him speaking to residents of Mariupol. Never mind the daytime view, a city nearly obliterated by Russian troops.
This weekend, Putin also visited Russian-occupied Crimea, including what Russian media described as a children's center, one day after Putin became an indicted war criminal for allegedly overseeing the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.
In part because of those war crimes, Putin and Russia are increasingly isolated. But today's visit came with an endorsement from the leader of the world's second largest economy and military.
Xi Jinping (through translator):
Thanks to your strong leadership, Russia has achieved significant success in reaching prosperity and well-being of the country. I am sure that the people of Russia will support you in your best efforts.
Beijing cast Xi as a peacemaker, and he's expected to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following his trip to Moscow.
So, what is driving the increased level of cooperation between Russia and China?
For that, we turn to Sasha Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who joins us from Geneva.
Sasha Gabuev, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks very much.
Firstly, how important is it for Putin to get this visit from Xi?
Sasha Gabuev, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: It is very important, because China over the course of the last 12-plus months has turned into a major supporter of Russia. It's the major market for Russian hydrocarbons and the major source of cash for Putin's war chest.
It's the major source of imports, including dual-use imports and civilian chips, that enable Putin's war economy going. When China stands next to you or behind you, you can say that you are not isolated.
So, I want to drill down into what China is sending to Russia. But, first, let's get the other side.
How does Xi Jinping see the importance of the relationship between Beijing and Moscow right now?
I think, for Xi Jinping, the relationship with Russia was always important.
Russia is an important source of raw materials. And Russia is the only like-minded authoritarian state on the U.N. Security Council among permanent members.
But what also colors his perspective now is this view that the U.S.-China relationship is going off the cliff. It's continued confrontation that gets worse. And here Russia as a junior partner is a very valuable assets.
And that is the case especially as President Biden sees the world or at least paints the world in terms of democracy vs. authoritarianism, right?
That's absolutely right.
That's the depiction that helps to bring Russia and China closer together, particularly since both are quite obsessed about what they see the U.S. democracy promotion effort. Both Xi Jinping and Putin see themselves vulnerable at home, and they definitely want to join hands to push back against U.S. hegemony.
Senior U.S. officials are particularly worried about right now if China were to decide to send weapons openly to Russia.
But how do you see China already supporting Russia's war in Ukraine?
I think that providing cash by opening its market for Russian hydrocarbons is very important, because soldiers need to be paid and all of the military procurements also need to be covered.
But, also, China provides the civilian chips and also some of the components of Russian arms, like radars and surface-to-air missiles and many other arms and Russian weapons that are used on the battlefield in Ukraine.
And are these supply chains that are going from China to Russia? Are they long established? Because U.S. officials have repeatedly said that Beijing hasn't made the overt decision to arm Russia.
These are long established relationships. These are not ready weapons, re complete. These are just components.
But these are ties from sanctioned Chinese entities to sanctioned Russian entities that go back years and years. We don't see evidence that China has already provided some significant amount of weapons that will be lethal and that will be used on the battlefield.
As I mentioned before, Beijing portrays Xi Jinping as a peacemaker and this visit as part of a diplomatic effort to try and end the war in Ukraine.
How much of this visit is really about that effort?
Right now, the mood in Kyiv and in Moscow is give war a chance.
China perfectly gets it. And, for Beijing, its diplomatic effort is just more a tool to push back against Western criticism that it's leaning too much in support of Vladimir Putin's war. And, at the same time, it provides justification for Xi Jinping to go to Moscow to engage Putin on a state visit.
But that needs to be coupled with outreach to President Zelenskyy, which will also happen, but in a separate phone call, rather than a full-fledged visit.
And, finally, we expect a joint statement out of this trip from both leaders.
What should we be looking out for?
The language might be a little bit guarded, but it cannot mask that the relationship is getting deeper, it's increasingly asymmetric, the terms are dictated by China, and that the primary target that they have in mind as their opponent are the United States of America.
There will be some documents that are the underwater part of the iceberg, for example, decisions to sell secretive Russian military technology, like surface-to-air systems, S-500, or the most advanced Russian fighter jets, to China that both Moscow and Beijing is not the right time to publicize that, given the war and the negative optics.
But it's OK to start implementing them and go public about that months from now and maybe even years from now.
Sasha Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thank you very much.
Thank you for having me.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Zeba Warsi is Foreign affairs producer, based in Washington DC. She's a Columbia Journalism School graduate with an M.A. in Political journalism. Prior to the NewsHour, she was based in New Delhi for seven years, covering politics, extremism, sexual violence, social movements and human rights as a special correspondent with CNN's India affiliate CNN-News18.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
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