Xi leaves China for first time since Covid pandemic began to meet Putin

LONDON / BEIJING: Xi Jinping will leave China this week for the first time in more than two years to make a trip to Central Asia, where he will meet Vladimir Putin just a month before Mr. Xi is poised to cement his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
His first overseas trip since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic shows how confident Mr. Xi is about his authority in China and how dangerous the global situation has become: Russia confronts the West over Ukraine, the crisis is over. Taiwan and a stagnant global economy.
Mr. Xi will make a state visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday and will then meet Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, according to Kazakhstan and the Kremlin.
Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters last week that Putin is expected to meet Mr. Xi at the summit. The Kremlin declined to give details on the content of the talks. China has yet to confirm Xi’s travel plans.
The meeting will give President Xi an opportunity to emphasize his influence while Putin can demonstrate Russia’s Asian leanings; both leaders can express their opposition to the United States as the West seeks to punish Russia for the Ukraine war.
“It’s all about Xi at home and seen as the international leader of nations against Western hegemony,” said George Magnus, author of the book “Red Flags.” Xi’s Challenges.
“Personally, I imagine Mr. Xi would be most worried about how Putin’s war would play out and indeed if Putin or Russia were to get involved at some point in the near future because China still needs a anti-Western leaders in Moscow.”
Russia suffered its heaviest defeat of the war last week, abandoning its main fortress in northeastern Ukraine.
The deepening partnership “without limits” between China’s rising superpower and Russia’s natural resource giant is one of the most fascinating geopolitical developments in recent years. – and the West is watching with trepidation.
Once a senior partner in the global Communist hierarchy, Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is now seen as a junior partner of a rising Communist China, projected to overtake the United States as the become the world’s largest economy within the next decade.
Despite the many historical contradictions in the partnership, there is no sign that Xi is ready to give up support for Putin in Russia’s most serious confrontation with the West since the summit. high of the Cold War.
Instead, the two 69-year-old leaders are deepening their relationship. Trade between Russia and China increased by almost a third in the first seven months of 2022.
Mr. Xi is expected to break precedent at the Communist Party congress that begins on October 16 and secure a third five-year leadership term.
While Mr. Xi has met Putin face-to-face 38 times since becoming China’s president in 2013, he has yet to meet him Joe Biden personally since the latter becomes President of the United States in 2021.
Xi last met Putin in February just weeks before the Russian president ordered an invasion of Ukraine, which has killed tens of thousands of people and unleashed chaos on the global economy.
At that Winter Olympics opening meeting, Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin proclaimed a partnership of “unlimited”, backing each other in the stalemate over Ukraine and Taiwan with the promise of cooperation. more against the West.
China has refrained from condemning Russia’s activity against Ukraine or calling it an “invasion” befitting the Kremlin, which views the war as “a special military operation”.
“The bigger message really isn’t that Xi is supporting Putin, because it’s clear that Xi supports Putin,” said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
“The bigger signal is that he, Xi Jinping, will be out of China for the first time since the pandemic hit the party congress. If there is a conspiracy against him then this is when the conspiracy will happen. . And he’s clearly confident the plot won’t work out because he’s overseas.”
Mr. Xi, the son of a communist revolutionary, is poised to secure a historic third term in leadership at the 20th Communist Party Congress which begins on October 16. The last time he left China. China in January 2020, before the world went into a COVID lockdown.
After the West imposed the harshest sanctions on Moscow in modern history due to the war in Ukraine, Putin said Russia was looking to Asia after centuries of seeing the West as the focal point of economic growth. economy, technology and war.
Placing the West as a dwindling, US-dominated alliance that aims to bring together – or even destroy – Russia, Putin’s worldview parallels that of Mr. Xi, who sees China as an alternative to the US-led post-World War II order.
Putin’s aide Ushakov said the Xi-Putin meeting would be “very important”. He did not give more details.
As Europe looks to turn away from Russian energy imports, Putin will seek to boost energy exports to China and Asia.
He will also host a three-way Russia-China summit with Mongolia – a potentially much shorter route for Russian energy from Western Siberia to China.
He said last week that a major gas export route to China via Mongolia had been agreed. For years, Gazprom has been studying the possibility of a new gas pipeline – Power of Siberia 2 – passing through Mongolia, bringing Russian gas to China.
It will transport 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year, about a third of what Russia normally sells to Europe – or the equivalent of Nord Stream 1’s annual volume.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries, will admit Iran, one of Moscow’s key allies in the Middle East.

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