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CNA Explains: What is the significance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia?

Analysts who spoke to CNA gave insights into the motivation behind Mr Xi’s visit and the potential outcome of talks between the two leaders.

CNA Explains: What is the significance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 20, 2023. Sputnik/Sergei Karpukhin/Pool via REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping will continue talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (Mar 21), the second day of his visit to Moscow, as the world watches for potential outcomes.

Of global interest is a 12-plan proposal to resolve the war in Ukraine, which has lasted more than a year.

Even as Mr Xi presents himself as an aspiring peace broker, his visit – which comes days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president over war crimes – has been criticised.

Washington denounced Mr Xi's visit, his first abroad since securing an unprecedented third term as China’s head of state earlier this month, saying it showed Beijing was providing Moscow with "diplomatic cover" to commit more crimes.

Analysts who spoke to CNA gave insights into the motivation behind Mr Xi’s trip, and the potential outcome of talks between the two leaders.


Mr Xi proceeded with the trip despite an international arrest warrant being issued for Russian President Putin on war crimes.

This was because of the long standing Sino-Russian alignment and their personal relationship, said Associate Professor Jingdong Yuan from the University of Sydney, who specialises in Chinese defence and foreign policy.

He added that China has already dismissed the indictment as “double standards”. Cancelling the visit at a time when China needs allies would have created more problems, Assoc Prof Yuan told CNA938’s Asia First.

He noted that the tensions between China and the United States have been escalating, with an ongoing tech war between the two countries and US strengthening alliances such as AUKUS and the Quad, which are “pretty much directed at China”.

“Because of this, although China is probably not very comfortable with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this was not the moment to cut ties and cut losses because of the other bigger implications.”


At the forefront of talks between the leaders will be the discussion on the peace plan for Ukraine that China purports to bring to the table, which the Russian president has said he is willing to discuss, said Dr Lim Tai Wei, adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.

He noted that the plan has been critiqued for lacking in details.

“Many will be watching the actual details of the discussion and what sort of ceasefire, if any, will be shaped up by the talk between the two leaders,” he told CNA’s Asia First.

At the end of this week, Mr Xi is expected to make a phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has publicly and repeatedly said that he wants to present Ukraine's version of the war to the Chinese.

“This is something very much encouraged by the White House, which is also urging the Chinese leader to listen to President Zelenskyy’s version of the war. So I think this development will probably take place since the Chinese have taken up the role of mediator in a very complex war situation,” Dr Lim said.

Dr Lim said he is watching out for three things from the talks, including the terms of a ceasefire, if any. He will also be interested in how the territories on both sides will be portioned and what promises, if any, President Putin makes to his counterpart.

“These three items are being watched and anticipated very closely by observers on all sides,” he said.


China’s attempt to play peacemaker is motivated partly by wanting to win over Europe, said Assoc Prof Yuan.

“I think, because of this geopolitical rivalry with the United States and because of its deep economic ties with Europe, and also its recognition that the transatlantic relationship is not always as tight, as solid, as it seems. Winning over Europe would be in China's interest,” he said.

“So that's why China has been trying to prop up this 12-point proposal as an important way of doing that.”

However, he said that the US and European countries are dismissing the proposal, which is seen to be implicitly in favour of Russia.

He noted that Europe feels the Russian threat. On Monday, the United Kingdom held a meeting attended by more than 40 nations to boost international support for the ICC’s investigations into war crimes. The UK government has vowed extra financial and practical resources to ICC investigators.


China has incentive for the war to end, said Assoc Prof Yuan.

Despite cheap access to Russian oil and commodities due to sanctions on Moscow by many other countries, the war in Ukraine has affected China in other areas, for instance, food security, he said.

“At the same time, because of the US and Western sanctions on Russia, a lot of the economic activities that Chinese companies would have normally been doing have now either been suspended or cancelled altogether,” he said.

“So all of these means that if the war is prolonged, that will cause economic costs to other sectors of the Chinese economy.”

Source: CNA/ja(dn)


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