Xi rejoins the world

Xi rejoins the world

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After the most prolonged absence of any world leader at nearly 1,000 days, Xi Jinping has finally ventured outside of China.

With his country becoming increasingly marginalized by the US-led world order, he has finally reemerged this week with Russia’s President Putin to put his vision for a feasible alternative on display.

The two leaders are expected to meet for their first in-person discussions since the invasion of Ukraine, revealing that Xi sees the China-Russia relationship as crucial to neutralizing the United States. The meeting will happen on the sidelines of a Chinese-founded security forum scheduled for later this week in Uzbekistan that brings together countries ranging from India to Iran. This assembly aims to hasten the dawn of a multipolar world.

Before that meeting, the Chinese Premier will visit Kazakhstan, the location of the unveiling of his trademark Belt-and-Road trade-and-infrastructure initiative several years ago. The BRI has since become a focal point of the United States and its allies in the G7, which recently announced it would raise $600 billion in financing, so developing countries have an alternative to Chinese funding.

Both stops will underline Xi’s vision of a world where China can expand its interests without worrying about economic or military pressure from the United States. Xi Jinping will expand on that agenda at a twice-a-decade party congress in October, during which he’s expected to lock in a third term as leader of the world’s most populous nation.

The stakes are growing for both Presidents, who professed a “no limits” friendship just weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Recently, Putin has witnessed Ukraine push back Russian forces and retake large areas of the country, while Xi has been under pressure to stop Taiwan from strengthening relations with the United States and the west.

Beijing has not done anything that would lead to further sanctions or assist Russia against Ukraine, even as China offers diplomatic support and more trade. Instead, Beijing’s interest in helping Russia seems to be aimed more at countering US moves that could be used against them one day.

Moscow has sought to highlight China’s support for the invasion by releasing statements accredited to China’s third top-ranking official, Li Zhanshu, telling Russian lawmakers that China’s leadership “fully understands the necessity of all the measures taken by Russia to protect its interests.”

Russia and China will boost efforts to counter NATO’s expansion and the campaign to keep the two countries in line; Li was also reported as saying.

Last week, Putin condemned US-led democracies at an economic forum in Vladivostok, whose attendees included Myanmar’s sanctioned coup leader and Indian Prime Minister Modi. “Western countries are trying to maintain yesterday’s world order that benefits them and forces everyone to live according to infamous ‘rules,’ which they invented,” the Russian leader said.

Similar sentiments are likely to be heard at the (SCO) Shanghai Cooperation Organization on September 15th and 16th in the Uzbek city of Samarkand, which accounts for 43% of the world’s population and one-quarter of global GDP.

An appearance by Xi at the SCO will underpin the idea of a substitute for US power that includes countries such as India and Turkey. India has grown closer to the United States in recent years, particularly via the Quad grouping that includes Japan and Australia.

Although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is more symbolic than substantive, economic ties within the group are critical. For example, as inflation increases globally, Russia remains a source of cheap energy for SCO countries such as India.

IMF data shows that China’s trade links with Moscow have grown despite the American-led, with Russia’s exports to China rising by almost half to $41 billion in the first five months of 2022. That includes massive increases in oil and gas.

Putin would like to expand further trade with China and receive more industrial and technological imports to fill the gap left by sanctions, with Chinese cars, televisions, and smartphones helping Russia fill the void as foreign brands leave the country.

Politically, the trips to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan also provide Xi with a welcoming environment to return to the world stage ahead of the G20 summit in November. Xi is prioritizing engagement with friends and partners rather than allowing the G20 meeting to be his first overseas visit since the pandemic. As a result, he can effectively set the agenda for this trip, something he cannot be sure of at the G20 summit.