Russia Says Xi Jinping Will Visit in Spring: China Refuses to Confirm
The Russian Foreign Ministry appeared to confirm a visit to Moscow by Chinese dictator Xi Jinping on Monday, calling Xi’s presence in the country “the central event in the bilateral agenda for 2023.”
A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, asked about the statement from its counterpart in Moscow on Tuesday, refused to confirm such a visit, instead emphasizing the close trade and political ties between the two countries.
Xi and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are each other’s closest allies and the two maintain close personal ties. Xi and Putin last spoke on a video call on December 30 – they have developed a tradition of ending the year together – after which the Kremlin claimed that Putin invited Xi to visit Russia. On that occasion, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also refused to confirm or deny Xi’s travel plans.
Xi has largely refused to leave Beijing since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic began in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. He broke his streak of no international travel in September, visiting neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and made meeting with Putin in person at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in the latter country a priority.
“This year, Russia and China will join efforts to enhance and promote further bilateral relations between the two governments. As you know, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Chinese leader Xi Jinping on an official visit this spring,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday, according to the Russian news agency Tass. “We proceed from the understanding that this will be the central event in the bilateral agenda for 2023.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not state that Xi Jinping had accepted Putin’s invitation.
“Amid radical changes in the geopolitical situation, our countries have effectively managed to coordinate their foreign policy courses in order to maintain global peace and stability,” the Foreign Ministry claimed – omitting Russia’s ongoing invasion of neighboring Ukraine from this assessment, “to settle regional conflicts, to overcome confrontation and promote a unifying agenda.”
“In cooperation with our counterparts, we have been taking consistent steps toward fighting attempts by the United States to achieve global dominance by promoting the concept of a rules-based order,” the statement concluded.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also highlighted China’s status as Russia’s largest trade partner, “a status it has held for more than a decade,” and claimed Putin’s government is seeking to increase China-Russia trade volume to $200 billion in 2023.
Russia is one of the few countries that China has a trade deficit with, which tripled in 2022 as Beijing increased spending on crude oil from its neighbor. While the Chinese Communist Party has remained nominally neutral on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has protested sanctions on Russia stemming from its military belligerence by engaging in large-scale purchases of Russian fossil fuels.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning declined to confirm Xi Jinping’s alleged visit to Moscow during her regular press briefing on Tuesday.
“China and Russia have maintained close communication at various levels to advance bilateral relations and contribute to world peace and development,” she told reporters. “As to whether there will be such a visit, I have nothing to share at the moment.”
Xi Jinping personally visiting Russia will likely be seen as an endorsement of diplomacy and business with that country in the face of the ongoing war in Ukraine – and a pointed rejection of multiple requests by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for talks. Xi and his government have publicly rejected taking sides on Ukraine repeatedly – during his talk with Putin in December, Xi stated that China maintained an “objective and impartial position” on the Russian invasion – but done nothing to endorse the Ukrainian war effort or punish Russia for its involvement.
This has not stopped Zelensky from trying to reach Beijing.
“I would like to talk directly. I had one conversation with [President] Xi Jinping that was a year ago,” Zelensky said in an interview with the South China Morning Post in August. “Since the beginning of the large-scale aggression on February 24, we have asked officially for a conversation, but we (haven’t had) any conversation with China even though I believe that would be helpful.”
In the same interview, Zelensky invited “Chinese businesses” to rebuild the parts of Ukraine destroyed once the war was over. Ukraine maintains friendly ties to China – despite the Communist Party’s financial support to Russia – and is a member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global project China uses to trap poor countries in predatory loan deals that often result in Beijing expanding its influence in those countries and sometimes seizing properties when the loans go into default.
More recently, during this month’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky’s wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, handed a personal letter from Zelensky to Xi to members of the Chinese Communist Party delegation at the event.
“It was a gesture and invitation to dialogue and I hope very much that there will be a response to this invitation,” Zelenska said.