October 6, 2022 | Foreign Policy

How Far Will Xi Go to Help a Desperate Putin?

Cracks have emerged in their marriage of convenience, but the two autocrats are in it for the long haul.
October 6, 2022 | Foreign Policy

How Far Will Xi Go to Help a Desperate Putin?

Cracks have emerged in their marriage of convenience, but the two autocrats are in it for the long haul.

Excerpt

Anyone who has been in a relationship knows there are good days and not so good days. While trust and respect are the bedrock of healthy partnerships, transactional and even toxic relationships have proven, time and again, to be just as durable. Sometimes more so. That is why Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s marriage of convenience will endure, not despite Russia’s recent battlefield setbacks, but because of them.

To be fair, Xi appears to be concerned about Putin’s accumulating losses in Ukraine. Chinese observers, like their Western counterparts, probably expected the war to last weeks, not months. Even fewer could have predicted Kyiv would mount successful counteroffensives striking deep into Russian-held territory. But these developments aside, Xi is unlikely to turn on Putin, even as Russia resorts to nuclear saber-rattling and sham referendums that challenge Beijing’s long-held anti-secessionist stance.

Indeed, Xi is wedded to Putin’s war because China has much to gain geopolitically from a Russian victory and potentially even more to lose from a Russian defeat. And, just as important, Xi supports Putin’s revisionism, despite the fact that Beijing has gone out its way to avoid violating sanctions which could harm its economy. That risk calculus could change, though, if Xi perceives Putin’s regime is starting to crumble, a prospect that no longer seems too remote to ignore. Even less understood is just how far Xi might go to save Putin, the results of which will test the durability of their “no-limits” partnership.

Craig Singleton is a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former U.S. diplomat. Twitter: @CraigMSingleton

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Issues:

China Military and Political Power Russia Ukraine