Russian President Vladimir Putin had a meeting today with fellow autocrat Xi Jinping of China. Putin made a point of siding with China on the issue of Taiwan.
In their meeting Thursday, Putin condemned the United States for what he said were “provocations” in the Taiwan Strait, and criticized what he claimed were attempts to “create a unipolar world.” Those attempts, he said, have “recently taken an ugly shape and are absolutely unacceptable to most states on the planet.”
Given that many observers have drawn a connection between what Russia is doing in Ukraine now and what China would like to do in Taiwan as soon as possible, you might expect that President Xi would return the favor by offering some support for Russia. But that didn’t happen. On the contrary, Putin himself indicated that China had “concerns” and Xi completely avoided the topic.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks at the start of the meeting. “We understand your questions and concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”
While Chinese officials have offered some lip service in recent months to Russia’s message that the war in Ukraine was the West’s fault, Mr. Xi did not repeat any of those lines in his televised comments. He carefully avoided offering any endorsement of specific Russian policies, instead offering generalities about China’s and Russia’s view of the world…
The lukewarm Chinese support leaves Mr. Putin in an increasingly difficult spot as the invasion approaches the seven-month mark and he faces increasing criticism inside Russia about how he is conducting the war.
Sergey Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said Mr. Putin “has severely undercut his leverage with China” by cutting himself off from the West.
“He has nowhere else to turn but to China,” Mr. Radchenko said. “And the Chinese are best at looking after their own interests.”
China is supporting Russia economically as the rest of the world is either forced or chooses to stop buying Russian energy. But what’s obviously missing here is a full-throated defense of Russia’s actions or a commitment to support Russia’s military at a time when it is clearly in trouble. The Chinese and Russian navies did have some joint exercises but nothing more than that.
You have to read between the lines a bit here but it does appear that Putin went to this meeting seeking a little bit of solidarity from a fellow authoritarian and looking to stoke a conflict with the west and instead of China joining in all of that Xi replied with some cool language about “strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests.” I’m not a mind reader but I suspect Xi Jinping has decided he has enough problems right now without adding Russia’s self-inflicted problems onto his plate. Xi would probably love to give the finger to Europe and the US but with his economy already struggling he can’t afford the kind of sanctions Russia is dealing with.
Even the seating during this meeting didn’t indicate a great desire to be close. Look how far apart they were. And someone else joked that the thing in between them looks a bit like a coffin.
Anyone else notice that Xi and Putin get their own special chairs and their own special distance from the rest of the SCO heads of state. pic.twitter.com/ZM63vc8ek1
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) September 15, 2022
This CNN clip does a pretty good job of highlighting the odd tone of this meeting. I suspect it wasn’t all that Putin hoped for.