Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

What’s Behind Xi Jinping’s Visit to Moscow?

Chinese president Xi Jinping has visited Moscow for the first time since the beginning of the Ukraine war, in an effort to strengthen trade relations between the two countries.

Wolfgang Mandelbaum

March 23, 2023
Facebook Twitter Share
Image: AFP

Chinese president Xi Jinping has just completed his first visit to Moscow since the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago. This visit, which involved almost three full days of talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin, comes at a pivotal moment in the war. Both Russia and Ukraine are looking for funds and equipment to restart their war machine. A de facto war has transformed into a war of attrition, with neither side managing to gain ground despite the latest advances of the Russian paramilitary group, Wagner, in Bakhmut.

A Visit amid the Specter of War in Ukraine

For some weeks, Beijing has been strengthening its interference in the Ukrainian conflict, trying to create an image of a privileged diplomatic interlocutor for the Russian side, in the face of the United States, which is fully committed to the Ukrainian side and is doing everything to prolong the war indefinitely. After its successful diplomatic coup in restoring relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia,1On March 10, 2023, in a deal brokered by China and after seven years of severed ties, Iran and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies. The joint statement released by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China further stated, “The agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs.” China would like to do the same in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In many ways, China has several advantages. It has important commercial relations with not only Russia but also western Europe, which constitutes a major diplomatic lever. But it faces hostility from NATO allies who see it as too close to the Kremlin and, in the long term, as a competitor in the U.S.-dominated world order.

Beijing outlined a proposed peace plan on February 24, but many analysts perceive it as too vague and unworkable. Nonetheless, both sides were open to the proposals, which was a slap in the face to Western diplomacy. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has shown interest in a diplomatic resolution from China, but the refusal to mention a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine (including the Donbas) in this peace plan means that, in the final analysis, it will remain null and void. In reality, Xi’s proposed plan is mainly an attack on U.S. hegemony and its “Cold War mentality.”

For Putin, the stakes of the visit are twofold. First, he needs to break Russia’s isolation, but also his own. Only a few days ago, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him, meaning that the signatories of the Rome Treaty are obliged to arrest him if he travels to any of the 123 member countries. Ironically, the United States could not arrest him under the terms of the treaty, since it has always refused to ratify it — after the law was enacted in 2002, the U.S. even authorized the invasion of the Netherlands, where the ICC is located, if a U.S. citizen is detained in The Hague.

Second, Putin urgently needs arms and equipment. But Chinese arms shipments to Russia, which the United States believes are imminent, may not take place — at least through traditional channels. China’s position of so-called neutrality in this conflict is important diplomatic leverage. Putin has little to hope for on this front. According to some analysts, Xi would rather extract meager concessions from Putin on the Ukrainian front, and thus strengthen his role as mediator between the two warring parties.

Strengthening Bilateral Trade Relations and a Geopolitical Alliance

The “boundless friendship” between Russia and China, as presented in a statement made during Putin’s visit to Beijing a few weeks before the start of the Russian invasion, soon found its limits, as Beijing still refused to officially support the “special operation” in Ukraine and bowed to Western sanctions. Nevertheless, the pseudo-alliance of circumstance has generally held up, contrary to the hopes of some U.S. analysts: the loss of earnings caused by the sanctions against Russia has been partly made up for by an explosion in economic relations between the two countries. China, for example, has become the leading importer of Russian oil, taking the place previously occupied by Germany. In addition, Chinese exports have also greatly increased, especially of semiconductors, via indirect routes. These chips are of vital importance to Russia, since it uses them for its armaments.

Moscow has thus found in China a commercial partner to compensate for Western sanctions and to maintain its war machine. For its part, Beijing is more than happy to buy Russian oil at reduced prices. This is the main objective of Xi’s visit to Moscow. Beyond the real desire to present himself as a peacemaker in Ukraine, the central goal for Xi’s visit is to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries. China needs oil in large quantities, and the circuit of oil from Saudi Arabia (its main supplier) and liquefied natural gas from Qatar is long and full of pitfalls: the Straits of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, and finally, the South China Sea.

The presence of the world’s largest hydrocarbon basin, in western Siberia, is pushing China to revise its transportation routes and detach itself from the China Sea, which is surrounded by the United States’ allies. To this end, one of the main points that should be broadly discussed is the launch of a new gas pipeline, the Power of Siberia II, which will bring gas from Siberia in a direct line to China, crossing Mongolia. This point of discussion is of primary importance for China, and important for Russia as well, but it is seldom explored in the mainstream media, which maintains its focus on the Ukrainian question.

In many ways, the meeting between Putin and Xi is more important for the latter: China is being undermined by existing and upcoming trade embargoes, and is thus looking for new partners. The task is difficult, however, since most Chinese companies prefer to deal with Europe. Finding opportunities in Russia is proving complicated; for the moment, the evolution of trade relations has been limited to the hydrocarbon and semiconductor markets. The two heads of state have every interest in diversifying imports and exports between the two countries.

While they present themselves as lifelong friends, the “alliance” between Xi and Putin, and between China and Russia, is an alliance of circumstance rather than an organic closeness. Russia vitally needs China’s support, albeit relative, in its conflict, be it political, financial, or military. Concurrently, China is seeking to reduce its commercial dependence on an increasingly hostile West and on the countries of the Gulf, whose exports are conditional, based on the control of the straits that separate them, particularly the Strait of Malacca, a “hot spot of world security.” Furthermore, China is seeking to create a position as a privileged interlocutor in the conflicts that cross the world, particularly with the BRICS and the “Global South.” The next step for Xi Jinping could thus be a discussion in the coming days with Zelenskyy, a first since the beginning of the war.

The reactionary and hostile policy of the Western imperialist powers, starting with the United States, has pushed China and Russia closer together. And even if this rapprochement seems based on establishing a defensive position for both countries, it is not a minor detail. On the contrary, it is an important event for international relations and competition between states. Yet China and Russia’s opposition to the policies of the Western imperialists does not make them “anti-imperialist” powers. Indeed, Moscow and Beijing are seeking their own ways to impose the interests of their capitalist classes on the international scene, and therefore they are deeply reactionary and anti-worker powers. The workers’ and revolutionary movement does not have to choose between these two reactionary “blocs” but must instead seek to create an independent class alternative within the framework of these international frictions and tensions.

This article originally appeared in French on March 21, 2023 on Révolution Permanente.


1 On March 10, 2023, in a deal brokered by China and after seven years of severed ties, Iran and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies. The joint statement released by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China further stated, “The agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs.”
Facebook Twitter Share


Berlinale: Filmmakers Say What the Rest of the World is Saying

At the Berlinale film festival, Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers called for equality and peace. German politicians want to ban such hateful talk.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 28, 2024

“Antideutsche”: The Aberration of Germany’s Pro-Zionist Left

As Germany persists in its unwavering support of Israel and the total denial of its genocide, the German Left is conflicted over the issue. While leftists all over the world are showing solidarity with Palestine, a segment of the German Left is historically pro-Zionist. How did this movement, the so-called Antideutsche (Anti-Germans) come to be?

Seb Zürcher

February 21, 2024

Why German Media are Lying About the Palestine Solidarity Movement at the Free University of Berlin

A rally in front of the Free University of Berlin had as many journalists as demonstrators. This is yet another example of the international campaign to defame all protests against Israel's genocidal military campaign.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 16, 2024

Protests in Germany: “The Whole Regime Is Shifting to the Right”

In Germany, over 1.4 million people took to the streets to protest the Far Right this weekend. Left Voice interviewed Inés Heider, a social worker in Germany and activist of Klasse Gegen Klasse, our sister organization in Germany, about the mobilizations in recent days and the current political dynamics in Germany.

Inés In

January 25, 2024


Black UAW workers, a black-and-white image, holding signs that say "UAW ON STRIKE."

To Achieve Black Liberation, Class Independence Is Key

A united, working-class party fighting oppression is our only hope for Black liberation.

Tristan Taylor

February 29, 2024
A banner reads "Real Wages Or We Strike" at a rally for CUNY, which is experiencing cuts from Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul.

CUNY Faculty and Staff Have Gone One Year Without a Contract — It’s Time to Strike

CUNY workers have been without a new contract for a full year and the university has yet to make any economic offers. It's time to take action.

Olivia Wood

February 29, 2024
Aaron Bushnell, who self-immolated in protest of the genocide in Palestine.

Aaron Bushnell’s Cry of Despair in the Face of Genocide

The media and international community was profoundly affected by the self-immolation of U.S. soldier Aaron Bushnell in protest against the genocide in Gaza. His death and desperate act of protest starkly shows the cruelty and brutality of U.S. Imperialism and Zionism.

Enzo Tresso

February 28, 2024
Florida governor Ron DeSantis stands at a podium that reds "Higher Education Reform"

U.S. Higher Education Is Being Gutted, but We Can Fight Back

Across the United States, higher education is being gutted through program eliminations and budget cuts. We must prepare to fight these attacks with everything we have.

Olivia Wood

February 28, 2024