As is often the case, American media outlets go down rabbit holes that may be intriguing in the near-term, but pale in their long-term implications: Donald Trump’s legal woes; controversy over statements by Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve; drama at World Baseball Classic (at least this was a good news jaunt—unless you are a Mets fan); the excruciating death and destruction wrought by the war in Ukraine, now having entered its second year.

However, there is another story that received fewer headlines but, I fear, has the potential for more lasting impact than any of this week’s headline-grabbers: the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow to show the world China’s solidarity with Russia.

For both of these ruthless dictators, this relationship signals a troubling development for the peace and stability of the whole world. Curiously, Georgetown’s Philipp Ivanov writing in Foreign Policy, begins his commentary about the current state of affairs between these two nations with an apt historical reference: “In 1949, a new tune hit Soviet airwaves in honor of Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s first visit to Moscow. ‘Moscow-Beijing’ was a hearty military march sung by an all-male choir, with a catchy opening line—‘Russians and Chinese are brothers forever’—capturing the spirit of socialist solidarity. The Soviet Union was cast as a big brother to the newly emerged People’s Republic of China, weakened by the devastating Japanese invasion and the civil war.

“This week, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow, the power dynamics are reversed…China is clearly the top dog in the relationship, with an economy more than 10 times larger than Russia’s, a rapidly modernizing military, technological superiority, and global diplomatic weight.”

Ostensibly, Xi’s visit to Moscow is about solidifying China’s hegemony on the world stage by offering a peace plan for the war in Ukraine. In actuality, as outlined by Chris Buckley, in the New York Times, Xi’s intent lies in solidifying his relationship with Russia in a projected long-term struggle with the US and our Western allies as the West seeks to “contain” China diplomatically, economically and militarily.

As Buckley states, Xi’s visit “demonstrated that his priority remains shoring up ties with Moscow to gird against what he sees as a long campaign by the United States to hobble China’s ascent…Talk of Ukraine was overshadowed by Mr. Xi’s vow of ironclad solidarity with Russia as a political, diplomatic, economic and military partner: two superpowers aligned in countering American dominance and a Western-led world order.”

So, this relationship is clearly no starry-eyed bromance. Philipp Ivanov, again: “Beyond the immediate theatrics of the visit, China and Russia keep getting closer,” and Buckley continues, “Mr. Xi’s and Mr. Putin’s media operatives have cast their relationship as a brotherly bond, cemented over shots of vodka, birthday cakes and ice cream during more than 40 meetings. But Mr. Xi’s calculus toward Russia is not based on sentiment. It is founded in China’s broader strategic calculations that are likely to remain fixed, whatever the outcome of the coming spring battles in Ukraine.”

Putin and Xi are no BFFs. Both autocrats have a vested interest in keeping a cozy relationship with the other. And it is often true throughout history that marriages of convenience often end disastrously. However, in today’s world of rapidly escalating rhetoric and the possibility for trigger-happy responses that can be nearly instantaneous, this is a dangerous alliance. Two power-obsessed leaders who demonstrate a willingness to violently control both their own people and their neighbors bode ill for us all.

4 thoughts on “Vlad and Xi–BFFs?

  1. Besides the shared goal of diminishing the west (and partcularly the US) they have complementary economies. Russia can’t produce anything, but has a lot of resources that China can use to produce anything, but lacks resources itself. That’s a different , and more difficult, challenge for the US than in the 60’s when they relied only on the shared ideology of Communism to form a weak alliance.

  2. At present, I am not certain autocratic Xi is anywhere near as “ruthless” a dictator as is Vlad, who, KGB-style, repeatedly has had (depending on the news source) tens to tens of hundreds of his personal enemies disappeared, imprisoned or murdered.

    Then again, accurate, well-documented news coming out of China is spotty at best.

  3. Yes, that headline jumped right out at me too. Right off, I thought, “bad bid’ness”.. But do you think it could also have a stabilizing effect on Putin?

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