How a mandate for Putin gives a new twist to Xi’s visit to Russia

WASHINGTON: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week have highlighted China’s aspirations for a greater role on the world stage. But they also revealed the dangers of global diplomacy: Hours after the trip was announced on Friday, an international arrest warrant was issued for Putin war crimes accusations, taking at least a little breath away from the sails of the great Chinese revelation.
The flurry of developments – which followed China’s brokering of a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic ties and its release of what it calls a “peace plan” for Ukraine – came as the administration Biden is suspicious of Beijing’s moves to assert itself more strongly in international affairs.
US President Joe Biden said on Friday he believed the decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to impeach Putin was “justified”. Speaking to reporters as he left the White House for his home in Delaware, he said Putin “clearly committed war crimes.”
Although the United States does not recognize the court, Biden said it “is a very strong point” to call out the Russian leader for his actions in ordering an invasion of Ukraine.
Other US officials have privately expressed satisfaction that an international body has agreed with Washington’s assessment that Russia has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
When asked about the Xi-Putin meeting, Biden said, “Good, we’ll see when the meeting takes place.”
The Biden administration believes China’s desire to be seen as a peace broker between Russia and Ukraine may be viewed more critically now that Putin is officially a war crimes suspect, according to two US officials. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said the administration hopes the mandates will help mobilize hitherto neutral countries to intervene in the conflict.
A look at the Xi-Putin meeting and how it could be affected by the mandate.
The visit to Russia will be Xi’s first overseas trip since he was elected to an unprecedented third term as China’s president. It comes as Beijing and Moscow have deepened ties that began just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with a meeting between the two leaders in Beijing during last year’s Winter Olympics in which they declared a “limitless” partnership.
Since then, China has repeatedly sided with Russia in blocking international action against Moscow over the Ukraine conflict and, US officials say, is considering supplying Russia with weapons to support the war. But he has also tried to play a more neutral role, offering a peace plan that has essentially been ignored.
The Moscow meeting is likely to see the two sides re-commit to their partnership, which both see as crucial to countering what they see as undue and undeserved influence exerted by the United States and its Western allies.
In the immediate term, the ICC’s mandate over Putin and one of his aides is unlikely to have a major impact on the meeting or China’s stance vis-à-vis Russia. Neither China nor Russia, nor the United States or Ukraine have ratified the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. The United States, beginning with the Clinton administration, has refused to join the court, fearing its broad mandate could involve the prosecution of American troops or officials.
This means that none of the four countries formally recognize the court’s jurisdiction or are bound by its orders, although Ukraine has agreed to allow some ICC investigations into crimes on its territory and the United States has cooperated with the ICC investigation.
Furthermore, Putin is highly unlikely to travel to a country bound by obligations to the International Criminal Court. If he did, it is questionable whether that country would actually arrest him. There are precedents for previously indicted individuals, notably former Sudanese President Omar Bashir, to have visited members of the ICC without being detained.
However, the arrest warrant stain could very well work against China and Russia in the court of public opinion, and Putin’s international status could take a serious blow unless the charges are dropped or he is acquitted.
US officials are not mincing their words when it comes to Xi’s planned visit to Moscow. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called Beijing’s push for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine a “ratification of Russian takeover” and warned that the Russians could use a ceasefire to rearrange their positions “so that they can resume attacks against Ukraine at a time of their choosing”.
“We do not believe this is a step towards a just and lasting peace,” he said. Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan this week invited Xi to also speak with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Ukrainian leader has also expressed interest in talks with Xi.
Speaking before the ICC’s mandate was unveiled, Ukrainian analysts warned of falling into a potential trap ahead of the Xi-Putin meeting. “We must be aware that such peace talks are a trap for Ukraine and its diplomatic corps,” said Yurii Poita, who heads the Asia section of the Kyiv-based New Geopolitics Research Network.
“Under such conditions, these peace talks will not be directed towards peace,” said Nataliia Butyrska, a Ukrainian policy analyst on East Asia. She said the visit reflected not so much China’s desire for peace, but her desire to play an important role in whatever post-war solution might be achieved.
“China does not clearly distinguish who is the aggressor and who is the victim. And when a country starts its peacekeeping activities or at least tries to help the sides, not making distinctions will affect objectivity,” Butyrska said. “From my point of view, China is trying to freeze the conflict.”
Even if China stops providing military assistance to Russia as the United States and its allies fear, Moscow sees Xi’s visit as a powerful signal of Chinese support that challenges Western efforts to isolate Russia and deal crippling blows to its economy.
Kremlin spokesman Yuri Ushakov noted that Putin and Xi have “very friendly and trusting personal ties” and hailed Beijing’s peace plan. “We very much appreciate the moderate and balanced stance of the Chinese leadership on this issue,” Ushakov said.
Observers say that despite China’s stance as a mediator, its refusal to condemn the Russian action leaves no doubt where Beijing’s sympathy lies.
“China’s peace plan is a fig leaf to fend off some Western criticism of support for Russia,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The perspective he creates is that China has a peace plan, both warring sides approved it and were ready to explore opportunities and then he was killed by the hostile West.”
Chinese officials have boasted of their newfound clout in the international arena as their country’s foreign policy has become increasingly assertive under Xi.
In announcing Xi’s visit, China’s foreign ministry said Beijing’s ties with Moscow are a significant global force. “As the world enters a new period of turbulence and change, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a major power, the significance and influence of China-Russia relations go far beyond the bilateral scope,” he said .
He called the visit “a friendship trip, further deepening the mutual trust and understanding between China and Russia, and consolidating the public opinion and political foundations of the friendship between the two peoples for generations.”


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