Putin, Xi and the limits of friendship
By Gideon Rachman
19 September 2022
On February 4 this year — three weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — Vladimir Putin met Xi Jinping in Beijing. A joint statement by the two leaders announced that friendship between Russia and China “has no limits”.
Seven months on, Xi may be regretting those words. Speaking before a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Council in Uzbekistan, Putin promised to address the “questions and concerns” that China has about the Ukraine war.
Neither Putin nor Xi chose to elaborate on those concerns in public. But it is not hard to guess. The war has weakened Russia, destabilised Eurasia and strengthened the western alliance. None of that looks good, viewed from Beijing.
The February 4 statement made it clear that the foundation of the Russian-Chinese friendship is shared hostility to American global leadership. A swift Russian victory in Ukraine — coming just a few months after America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan — would have been another serious blow to US prestige and power. That would have suited Beijing well; and might even have set the stage for a Chinese attack on Taiwan.