A decade of camaraderie and cooperation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to continue as Putin lands in Beijing for a crucial meeting this week. The personal bond between the two leaders is well-known, with Xi referring to Putin as his “best friend,” and Putin cherishing Xi as a “reliable partner.” This enduring relationship has persisted even in the face of increasingly strained relations with Western countries.
A Rare Foreign Trip
Putin’s presence at a leadership forum in Beijing is not just a rare foreign trip for the Russian leader but also an opportunity to support Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. The visit is significant for Moscow, as it helps bolster Russia’s international image, particularly at a time when it faces international isolation due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Friendship Forged in Cake and Vodka
The friendship between Xi and Putin began over cake and vodka shots at a summit in Indonesia in 2013, and it has only grown stronger since. The leaders have shared memorable moments, from high-speed train rides and making traditional steamed buns to caviar-topped pancakes and river cruises.
Commonalities and Challenges
Both leaders share several similarities, from their birth in the early 1950s to their roles as leaders in socialist nations. They’ve also faced the consequences of the collapse of the USSR, with Putin considering it a “major geopolitical disaster” and Xi drawing lessons from it for China’s Communist Party. Both leaders have prioritized national revitalization and managed dissent during their long tenures.
China-Russia Partnership as a Counterbalance
The close relationship between Beijing and Moscow has served as a counterbalance against the Western world, and the two nations describe their partnership as a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with limitless cooperation potential. This partnership has endured despite Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and China’s stance has been described as “pro-Russia neutrality.”
However, the relationship is not without its complexities. As Moscow increasingly relies on China for economic support and assistance in sustaining its military operations, some experts suggest that Russia is moving towards a “client relationship” with Beijing. This dynamic underscores the changing nature of their partnership, with China holding significant leverage.
While infrastructure projects and other developments may materialize in the coming months and years, experts do not anticipate major, immediate agreements during Putin’s visit to China. China is seen as having the upper hand in negotiations, dictating the pace of the relationship’s evolution.
Putin’s visit to Beijing showcases the enduring and evolving relationship between Russia and China, a partnership that continues to shape geopolitics in significant ways.