Xi Jinping will land in Moscow next week. The Chinese president will begin a three-day official visit to Russia on Monday to meet his counterpart Vladimir Putin. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed the trip, which has been expected since January and announced hours earlier by the Kremlin. It will be the Chinese leader's first official visit to Russia in four years, a month after the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He last visited the country in 2019, as part of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
The visit will dramatize the symbiosis between China and Russia in the context of the war. For the moment, Beijing has maintained a strategic ambiguity to set itself up as a mediator; an objective for which it has gained credibility after sponsoring the diplomatic thaw between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Asian giant has defended Ukraine's territorial integrity but has not condemned Russia's aggression. In this sense, its interests have largely converged with those of Moscow, with whom it claims to maintain "friendship without limits".
This will be the first time Putin and Xi have met in person since September. The leaders last met in the Uzbek city of Samarkand for the annual summit of heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, of which both countries are members. Although they held a videoconference conversation in December. It was then that the Russian president extended an invitation to his Chinese counterpart to visit the country to "demonstrate to the whole world the strength of Russian-Chinese ties". Xi accepted.
They are scheduled to discuss new ways to strengthen their "comprehensive partnership relations and strategic cooperation", the Kremlin said in a statement carried by the state-run TASS news agency. Several relevant bilateral documents will also be signed, according to Reuters. But the talks will revolve around developments in the war in Ukraine, where China wants to play an intermediary role. For this reason, a day before confirming Xi's visit to Russia, his newly appointed foreign minister, Qin Gang, had a telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmitry Kuleba.
Qin told him that China hoped the parties would keep the channels of dialogue open and not close themselves off from finding a political solution. "We always believe that political dialogue is the only way to resolve conflicts and disputes. Showing swords, unilateral sanctions and extreme pressure will only intensify contradictions and increase tensions, which is not in line with the interests and expectations of most countries in the world," said Chinese diplomatic chief Wang Yi.
Beijing presented a 12-point peace proposal to end the war in Ukraine a few weeks ago. In the document, Chinese diplomacy advocated among other things respect for the sovereignty of countries, but did not envisage the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine or the return of the Crimean peninsula to Kiev; it also called for "abandoning the Cold War mentality", a premise that implicitly condemns NATO's eastward expansion, one of the main arguments put forward by the Kremlin throughout this time to justify the invasion. Western countries declared it partial and insufficient, but Xi intends to defend the text.
The Chinese president plans to hold a videoconference meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymir Zelenski, in the coming weeks. Kiev is open to hearing what Beijing has to say, but the Chinese government has not yet confirmed its intentions. Yi insists that China 'will maintain its objective and fair stance on international and regional hot-button issues, such as the crisis in Ukraine, and continue to play a constructive role in the political resolution of the crisis'.
The Chinese government claims to have maintained a neutral stance. Meanwhile, it has become an economic prop for Russia. Beijing is now the largest importer of Russian oil, the second largest importer of piped gas and the fourth largest importer of liquefied natural gas. In return, the Asian giant has become the Eurasian country's largest source of imports. Specifically, semiconductors, a material that the Kremlin needs to manufacture civilian and military equipment. This factor explains why bilateral trade has increased by more than 30% over the course of 2022. These are record levels.
The calculated equidistance, however, is hardly credible. A Politico investigation alleges that several Chinese companies, including China North Industries Group Corporation Limited, one of the country's largest military contractors, shipped 1,000 assault rifles and other equipment that could be used for military purposes, including drone parts and bulletproof vests, to several Russian companies between June and December last year. The US media report that these supplies are said to have been made through companies in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
China is reportedly supplying dual-use equipment to Russian companies, although it is not known whether these importers intend to use the technology for military purposes. One of the buyers is Tekhkrim, a company that has concluded contracts with the Russian state and military. Dual-use equipment could therefore be a surreptitious way of supporting Russia in circumventing retaliation from Western allies. This would be the first confirmation that Beijing is supplying weapons to Russian troops. CIA Director William Burns first warned of this possibility a few weeks ago.