What is President Xi doing in Moscow?
AMBASSADORS’ CORNER JAIME YAMBAO
The Manila Times
THE previously announced visit of China’s President Xi Jinping to meet with his friend of “no limits,” the Russian Federation’s President Vladimir Putin, has been advanced. The summit between the two leaders will be taking place — instead of in April or May — in a few days. The move has fueled expectations that something dramatic might result from the meeting. Could Xi have made a breakthrough in his new role as peace broker in the Ukraine-Russia conflict? Serving as an advance party for his president’s visit, former foreign affairs minister and now Politburo councilor Wang Yi presented a peace plan consisting of 10 points. While welcoming some points in the plan, notably the recognition of the territorial integrity of the parties, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the plan, laying as a precondition for peace talks Russia’s removal of all its forces from the territory of Ukraine. Stalemate Critics have reservations about Xi’s peace-brokering. According to them, he lacks the honesty and impartiality needed to succeed in that function. The plan was not so much meant to put an end to the war as to build up Xi’s image as a responsible, peace-loving leader in the eyes of the Third World. Considering context, the plan has been tailored to Putin’s needs. Putin has of late been sending feelers for the resumption of peace talks. The war has reached a stalemate with either side of the conflict not making significant gains in large measure because of winter conditions. But the war has gone badly for Putin. He failed in his initial plan to capture Kyiv and erase the whole Ukraine from the map, thanks to the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people and the help of ultra-modern artillery sent by the United States and its allies. He has been left Crimea that he illegally annexed in 2014 and the eastern regions which the Ukrainians have recovered chunk by chunk while he was annexing them ceremonially. In the peace talks provided by the plan, Putin hopes to retain some if not all of the territories he has illegally annexed in exchange for peace. The Ukrainians, in other words, are winning the war. With the help of the ultra-modern tanks, artillery, fighter jets, long-range missiles the United States and allies are pouring in, the Ukrainians stand a good chance of beating the Russians and driving them, the Russians, out of Ukrainian territory in the counteroffensive warm weather bids them to undertake. Although Putin has replaced his special military operation with all-out war, conscripting perhaps up to a million to fight in Ukraine, the RussiaUkraine conflict continues to be a future textbook example of how an army of highly motivated, well-paid and well-equipped soldiers can defeat another army vastly superior in number but inferior in those qualities. The relationship between the Russian and Chinese leaders has changed from that of the Cold War. Instead of Mao being treated as the junior partner of Stalin, and later Khrushchev, Putin is now the junior partner of Xi. Might Putin not yield to the better judgment of Xi to cut his losses and end the war by simply withdrawing all his forces and bringing them home where they would rather be? But realistically, these friends and partners, Putin and Xi, are not. They are both driven by delusions of being destined to rejuvenate their nations, recover past glories, and conquer new breadths and heights of accomplishment. Hegemons in the making they both are. The point about “security concerns” in the China plan betrays a sharing of the resentment Putin bears over NATO’s (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) encroachment of what Putin considers Russia’s natural sphere of influence. Could the advancing of the summit schedule have something to do with the grand offensive that Putin is also reportedly planning come spring? Ground forces Russia does not need. It has as mentioned above perhaps a million men conscripted for that offensive. What Putin needs China to do is buy more oil and natural gas so that he can pay his soldiers better salaries, clothe and feed them well. What Putin needs China to do is supply the weapons, the lack of which the conscripts are complaining about. China remains the only military power that Putin could turn to now that can supply Chinese weapons? As television coverage of the war in Ukraine has shown, the United States in general has no equal in military technology. But China has caught up in several important areas, e.g., hypersonic missiles. Experts agree that China’s supplying Russia lethal weapons could result in Russia gaining fresh momentum in its invasion and conquest of Ukraine. China’s supplying of weapons to Russia would only confirm what US intelligence has reported authorities to be planning. Accordingly, US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have warned China of the dire consequences China faces if it does supply Russia with the lethal weapons the latter needs for its war in Ukraine. They have stopped short of specifics, but among these consequences might affect China’s access to the markets of the US and Europe. The Chinese shrugging their shoulders over these sanctions may well be justifiable. So what? The US has already waged a campaign to suppress China’s rise as an economic superpower by cutting its access to essential raw materials and technology. So what? Another dramatic outcome of the forthcoming summit between Putin and Xi might be their closing ranks in their fight against the West. The two might agree on a mechanism of consultations and mutual assistance in order to harmonize their assaults on the West to maximum effect. Could Xi be thinking of taking advantage of the US preoccupation with supporting Russia by invading Taiwan, leading Biden to face the same mistake as Hitler: fighting a war on two fronts. Actually at this juncture, Biden would be fighting a war on three fronts. The third one is domestic.