What Happened

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Uzbekistan on September 15, the first time the two had met in person since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Remarks from the authoritarians were mutually endorsing where interests aligned; however, the speeches highlighted a contrast in strategies and exposed the limit of Beijing’s support for its neighbor. Putin took the opportunity to blast the West’s military expansionism and attem.” At the same time,create a unipolar world,” while Xi emphasized China’s and Russia’s roles in bringing order and positivity to a world in chaos.

Russia and China held a four-day joint China-Russia military exercise at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) training base in China’s northwest Ningxia in 2021

What it Means

Putin and Xi’s rhetorical disparity in Uzbekistan suggests the Sino-Russian relationship is limited by self-interests, incongruent strategies, and disparate risk tolerances – all of which will probably continue to weaken the alliance.

The Eastern powers offer mutual moral and political support where objectives overlap, but their strategies are self-reliant, and each has limited influence over the other’s foreign policy. Seven months into Russia’s war in Ukraine, there is little evidence of direct Chinese aid for Russian forces. When the pair last met in February, Xi promised a Russia-China partnership without limits; but Putin’s entanglement in Eastern Europe has apparently posed the limitation of Beijing’s support.

Putin’s and Xi’s independent strategies look to achieve geopolitical and economic dominance by restoring the former glory of their respective empires. However, Xi wishes to climb to the top of the existing order, whereas Putin seeks to play spoiler and upend the international system. Moscow’s ability and inclination to use military force to shape the geopolitical landscape is a competitive advantage that few global powers possess; Putin was troops deploy troops to Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine and use proxies like Wagner Group for contingency operations in Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic. However, the Russian strongman’s hubris and bias for military action have revealed the fallibility of his forces and an aptitude for poor strategic judgment.

Xi’s relative pragmatism and lower risk tolerance suggest Beijing has no plans to rush to Moscow’s aid with the intent of its strategy to displace American order. China relies heavily on the West to consume its cheap exports and will not risk further crippling its faltering economy to reinforce Russia’s ill-fated military exploits.

Why it Matters

Russia’s dependence on China for an economic lifeline has shifted the Sino-Russian power balance in Beijing’s favor; Xi will continue to capitalize on Moscow’s losses and keep a safe distance from Putin’s quagmire in Ukraine. Xi has struck a balance with Putin: too much support for Russia could subject China to sanctions and slow Beijing’s economic and geopolitical moOn the other hand, tootum. Too little could jeopardize the relationship with Moscow and spoil China’s access to cheap Russian commodities.