Simone: There seems to be real chemistry between these two men. Which results in the close relationship between the two countries.
Wang Yi: Sino-Russian strategic cooperation has no end, no restricted area, and no upper limit.
Simone: But the war shook things up.
Qin Gang: The cooperation between China and Russia is not restricted, but there is a bottom line.
Simone: Will this friendship cost Xi Jinping his third term as the supreme leader of China? Or will we see a China-Russia alliance overthrowing the so-called American hegemony after all?
Simone: Narration: Cooking pancakes together, laughing and giving each other compliments.
This is Xi Jinping and Putin at the seafood market during the 4th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia’s largest city in the far east of its territory. The city was ceded to Russia by China in 1860 and has remained a sour spot for the Chinese people since then.
But this history did not affect the affinity between Xi and Putin. The harmony between them seemed real, particularly compared to this.
This was Putin treating Obama to a traditional Russian breakfast in 2009 at Novo Ogaryovo, Putin’s residence near Moscow, captured by the Euronews. Putin seemed unhappy and uninterested in whatever Obama had to say. The chemistry between the two is non-existent, in contrast to that between him and Xi Jinping.
But after Ukraine, things are somewhat different. I believe both Xi Jinping and Putin probably felt betrayed by the other party to some degree. On March 23, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said this when being interviewed by the Phoenix TV.
Qin Gang: The cooperation between China and Russia is not restricted, but there is a bottom line. This bottom line is the principles established by the UN Charter. It is the basic norm of international law and international relations.
Simone: This is a walk back from Beijing’s previous declaration that Sino-Russian strategic cooperation has no end, no restricted area, and no upper limit.
Wang Yi: Sino-Russia strategic cooperation has no end, no restricted area, and no upper limit.
Simone: This change reflected Beijing’s awkwardness in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prior to the invasion, Putin went to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, a much needed vanity support for China and Xi Jinping. As appreciation for Putin’s support and a will to strengthen the Sino-Russian relationship, China signed an estimated total of $117.5 billion in agreements to purchase Russia’s oil, natural gas and food over the next two decades.
Simone: In retrospect, what would make this $117.5 billion purchase agreement weigh heavier is whether during that time Putin told Xi his real plan in Ukraine, that is, Russia was going to invade Ukraine. China expert Jiang Feng told me, based on his own observation in four areas, Putin did.
Jiang Feng: Politically, on February 21, the torch of the Winter Olympics was extinguished, and on the same day, Putin delivered a national video speech declaring the recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, as independent states. Some careful netizens found that Putin accepted the opinions of a senior official, while his watch in this video shows the earlier time, indicating that this so-called live video has been recorded long ago. Because the whole world knows that as long as the independence of these regions is recognized, it means that Russia has torn up the Minsk agreement and is ready for military intervention. In order not to give the West and Ukraine more preparations, Putin used the recorded video as a live broadcast. In addition to military considerations, Putin deliberately postponed the release time, let Xi Jinping finish the Winter Olympics to satisfy his will of political show? Is it an appointment? Be my guest!
Militarily, The Times reported on April 1 that according to an intelligence memorandum provided by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), China (CHINA) carried out a large-scale cyberattack on Ukrainian military and nuclear facilities in the prep stage before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Security Service said hackers coordinated by the Chinese government carried out thousands of attacks on more than 600 websites, including Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and other agencies, which began before the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics and peaked on Feb. 23, the day before Russia invaded Ukraine. If cyberattacks were taken as part of the war, the Chinese and Russian armies would have acted simultaneously at the first time of the war.
Economically, on February 24, the Russian army officially invaded, and on the same day, the Chinese General Administration of Customs announced that China would import all-territory Russian wheat. Because there are normal testing procedures to comply with regulations, it is not difficult to see that this all-territory wheat import operation was planned earlier. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ukraine and Russia are major wheat exporters, with Russia and Ukraine together accounting for 23 percent of global wheat trade in the 2021-22 sales year. Chicago Exchange wheat price up 1.5 percent, its highest level since 2008. On the first day of war. China acted ahead of time, took advantage of the price, and achieved an important strategic layout before the inevitable global food crisis.
None of these three said preparations will be accidental, they are strategic actions that require time to prepare and require the coordination of a considerable numbers of departments. Therefore, it can be concluded that Putin has already informed Xi Jinping of the timetable for the war against Ukraine, and even, from the point of time when Xi Jinping ended the Olympics and Putin declared the independence of Donetsk, the timetable for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was probably jointly formulated by these two dictators.
Simone: The Wall Street Journal reported on February 16 that right after Putin boarded the plane back to Moscow after meeting with Xi and attending the Feb. 4 opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, China’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s final arbiter of power, had closed door meetings for days. According to people with knowledge of the matter, one topic of intense discussion was how to respond to the Russian-Ukraine crisis and back Moscow without hurting China’s own interests.
The Journal argues that Ukraine is an important member of Xi’s signature Belt and Road initiative, the vast infrastructure lending and construction program designed to put China at the heart of trade from Southeast Asia to Europe.
State-owned Chinese engineering, power and construction companies in recent years have invested billions of dollars in projects in the Eastern European country.
The war in Ukraine will hurt the Belt and Road initiative significantly plus supporting Russia will further alienate the West which already sees China as its number one rival.
Simone: For this reason Xi Jinping, who has been on the forefront of championing Putin for years, is under tremendous pressure for what has turned out in Ukraine. Some say this will even impede his bid for a third term as the General Secretary of the Party this fall because the support he gave to Putin is now seen by many as being reckless and harmful to the country. So what lies ahead for the Sino-Russian relationship? Will Xi Jinping abandon Putin? One observation I would like to make is that the formation of the Sino-Russian partnership is not merely out of convenience, that is, the common goal of countering the United States. It formed, as we indicated before, because of how Xi Jinping and Putin perceived each other, as a person and as a statesman.
Simone: Xi Jinping chose Russia as the destination of his first visit abroad after assuming office as General Secretary of the Chinese Communisty Party. Since then, Xi has met with Putin 38 times, more than he has with any other world leader. When Xi visits Russia, Putin usually receives him at the Kremlin. According to Russian media, this is a very high courtesy as for some time Novo Ogalyovo, on the outskirts of Moscow, was the official residence of Putin where he usually received foreign guests.
But all activities related to the visit of the Chinese President were arranged in the Kremlin. This Xinhua News video report captured the spirit of the welcoming event well.
The official ceremony was held in the most famous George Hall in the Greater Kremlin. The ceremony was grand and luxurious, just as the resplendent George Hall itself.
During Xi Jinping’s 2013 visit to Russia, he attended 20 formal events in a day and a half, including a visit to the National Defense Department, which no foreign leaders have visited.
Xi Jinping was reported to have called Putin a good friend, an old friend, and a true friend.
He even said to Putin: “I feel that our personalities are quite similar.” to which Putin smiled knowingly.
Jiang Feng: If I remember correctly Xi said that in the first year in office, year of 2013. Xi was right, they are energetic, and physically muscular man. Putin has been a KGB front-line intelligence officer with military literacy, and Xi Jinping is willing to show off his military general family origin and service as a secretary of the Central Military Commission, that will make him have a unique control over the army compared with his former CCP leaders. You know the funny thing is, Xi Jinping’s words became a prophecy that they two were not only similar when their energy was good, but also similar when their bodies were not good at the same time under great pressure. Because the news came out, and watch tv, the two people need a doctor at the same time. Of course, Xi’s mentioned character, I am afraid to say that the political character is more described. Both Putin and Xi Like to dream. Putin dreams of great Russian rejuvenation, and Xi dreams of China’s rejuvenation. In addition, in terms of greed for power, Xi Jinping revised the constitution in 2018 to give himself the opportunity to stay in office, while Putin amended the constitution in 2020 to keep himself from retiring for a lifetime.
Simone: Besides similarities on personalities and political aspirations, the two men learn from each other, though Xi learned more from Putin. When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, Putin had been in power for more than a decade. Russia in 2000 and China in 2012, when Xi took office, had many similar problems. But under Putin’s 13 years of ruling, Russia has transformed from a weak, chaotic, and corrupt post-Soviet society into an economically viable, stable and less corrupt state although the price is the vanishing of personal freedom and the rise of an autocratic rule. But for Xi Jinping, this is not a drawback but an advantage. When we analyze Xi Jinping’s policies, strategies in dealing with political opponents and dissidents, we see a striking resemblance between him and Putin.
Simone: When Putin first took office, he waged an anti-corruption campaign that targeted political rivals. This campaign helped him gain popularity among the Russian people and paved the way for his continued rule. In 2004, Putin was reelected to the presidency by a huge majority.
Xi Jinping copied this playbook almost word by word. He waged the biggest anti-corruption campaign in the Chinese Communist Party’s history after he took office. The initial goal of this campaign was to eliminate the power and influence of his political rivals who allegedly intended a coup to remove him from the top leadership; it expanded to include more and more old and new political oppositions, and recently was even used by Xi’s opposition to weaken his power as well. The campaign persisted for almost a decade and is still going. More than 100,000 officials have been indicted for corruption and more than 1.3 million lower-level officials have been punished.
Like Putin, Xi Jinping gained popularity among the ordinary Chinese people because of the anti-corruption campaign.
Simone: Xi Jinping also borrowed Putin’s tactic of grabbing power. Putin established a vertical power structure. He weakened local power to give himself sole authority over most decisions. Putin felt Yeltsin’s ten-year experiment with decentralization had caused disobedient local government and chaos. His closely-knit vertical power structure ensures all strands of power lead back to himself. This gave him the freedom to reform as he saw fit. Thanks to oil price rise and other factors, during Putin’s tenure, the Russian economy flew and the society was significantly stabilized which further solidified his rule. Xi Jinping was deeply inspired by this approach.
Simone: He admires a centralized, stabilized and orderly society, thus he centralized his power unprecedentedly. Despite being the supreme leader for the Party, the military and the state, he deprived the functions of many government agencies and established many working groups. And he appointed himself as the director of most of these groups. For example, the Central Leading Group for Cyber Security and Informatization, the Central Leading Group for Finance and Economics, the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Work, and etc. Xi was given a nickname: The Chairman of everything.
After the 19th National Congress, Xi Jinping had established himself as the most powerful ruler since Deng Xiaoping. “Xi Jinping Thought” was written into the party constitution, which means that Xi had the same footing as Mao Zedong.
Simone: There are other similarities between Putin and Xi Jinping. For example, they both suppressed media and political dissidents. For a Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping’s suppression of free information is expected. But he did more than his predecessors. China in general is more ideologically rigid under Xi Jinping than under Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Despite the similarities, there is one big difference between the two men.
Simone: Xi Jinping is the leader of the biggest Communist country in the world, a true follower of Mao Zedong, and a world apart from this…
Putin is Russian Orthodox. His mother secretly baptized him as a baby during the Soviet years, and she regularly took him to services. According to Putin, shortly before an official visit to Israel, his mother gave him his baptismal cross, telling him to get it blessed. Putin said he never took it off since.
Can these two men with vastly different metaphysical views be true friends?
Jiang Feng: To be friends? Even when China and Russia have the same political system in history, that is, in the Soviet era, when beliefs and values were the same, the two regimes cannot become true allies.