China's Xi Jinping Could Visit Russia After Retaining Presidency

President Vladimir Putin is likely to host Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Russia for a state visit next spring, according to Moscow's top diplomat in Beijing.

The move to further cement the personal relationship between the two leaders could happen after Xi retains the title of president at the Chinese parliament's annual gathering, which typically takes place in March during a political event known as the "two sessions," Igor Morgulov told the Russian press on Thursday.

Xi emerged from the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) twice-a-decade national congress in October having secured an unprecedented third five-year term as its general secretary and chairman of its Central Military Commission. Even without the widely expected extension of his presidency, he's already become the country's most powerful leader in decades.

"In order of priority next year, a state visit to Russia by the president of the [People's Republic of China] should be organized, which will most likely take place, one can assume, after the Chinese parliamentary session traditionally held in early spring," Morgulov said, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Xi and Putin have forged a strong bond in recent years, based on a shared strategic outlook that identifies the United States and the West more broadly as threats to their global leadership and domestic legitimacy.

The neighbors have increased coordination of their national economies and upped military ties, though Beijing still publicly insists its relations with Moscow aren't that of an alliance.

Since Xi became Chinese president in 2013, Putin has been his favorite foreign leader to meet by far. They've arranged dozens of face-to-face meetings, including for talks in Beijing in early February, just weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and again in September on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

In the interim, the two presidents spoke at least twice on the phone this year, according to publicly available records. They included one call on February 25, the day after the Ukraine war began, and another on June 15.

Xi Jinping To Make Russia State Visit—Envoy
Left to right: President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders' summit on September 16, 2022, in Samarkand. Moscow's top diplomat in Beijing said Putin was likely to host Xi in Russia for a state visit in spring 2023. SERGEI BOBYLYOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Historical mistrust between the two governments during the Cold War notwithstanding, China now quickly moves to quash any suggestion that Beijing and Moscow don't see eye to eye.

Just last week, after President Joe Biden said Xi and his officials were "keeping their distance" from the Kremlin because of the latter's ongoing offensive in Ukraine, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said relations with Russia were "rock solid."

Morgulov, the Russian envoy, said the CCP's decision to reelect Xi as its leader would "further strengthen sociopolitical stability in China," according to Russia's Tass news agency.

"Accordingly, China's stability and prosperity are very important to us. They open up new opportunities for Russian-Chinese relations," he reportedly said.

"Secondly, we see eye to eye with China on the key problems of our time," Morgulov was quoted as saying, arguing that Moscow and Beijing both seek a world free from "rules written by nobody knows whom or on what basis."

Newsweek has contacted the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Desperate Times

China and its state-owned enterprises are abiding by U.S. and Western sanctions on Russia out of an abundance of caution, wary of secondary measures that might hit the Chinese economy. But Beijing has dismissed suggestions that it should do more than it needs to.

In the eight months since the war began, Russia's economic isolation from the West—the exodus of global brands and Europe's winding down of Russian energy imports—has increased its reliance on neighboring China, according to the Germany-based Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

"While the EU was Russia's most important trading partner in the summer of 2021, China has now taken over this top position. Compared to the previous year, the EU exports 43 percent fewer goods to Russia, while China exports 23 percent more. However, the increase in exports from China to Russia lost momentum in September," said the Kiel Institute report from earlier this month of November.

"Since China's exports are currently not sufficient to compensate for the drop of Russia's trade with the EU, Russia's efforts to replace slipping imports from Europe are proving increasingly difficult," said Kiel researcher Vincent Stamer. "The sanctions imposed by the Western alliance are apparently hitting the Russian economy hard and noticeably limiting the population's consumption options."

Xi Jinping To Make Russia State Visit—Envoy
President Xi Jinping of China waits to meet President Emmanuel Macron of France on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 15, 2022. LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, Russia's state statistics service Rosstat published data showing a 4-percent drop in gross domestic product in the third quarter of the 2022. Coupled with a second-quarter contraction also of 4 percent, this officially put the country in an economic recession.

Xi, meanwhile, spent the week in the Indonesian resort of Bali, where he courted Western leaders and those of major developing economies at the annual G20 summit. Putin didn't attend and sent Sergey Lavrov, his foreign minister, in his stead.

Following a lengthy period of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, China's president returned to the world stage seeking to convince old partners of his country's neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine war. Most leaders nonetheless rebuked Putin in Wednesday's communiqué.

President Emmanuel Macron of France left the gathering with the belief that China could help mediate a future political settlement between Moscow and Kyiv, and Ukraine itself appears to believe the same.