This month, Xi Jinping, current head of the Communist Party in the People’s Republic of China, will become President Hu Jintao’s successor. An active member of the Communist party since 1974, Xi Jinping has had a long history of working in China’s single party government structure and is a second-generation diplomat; his father worked under controversial leader Mao Zedong. Although Xi Jinping has had a steady role in the Chinese government, he has recently gained more prestigious positions, such as taking over as the head of the Communist Party in November 2012. Additionally, last year Xi Jinping was ranked number nine on Forbes Magazine’s list of The World’s Most Powerful People. One of the most important statements that Xi Jinping has made thus far in terms of conveying his intentions as president was the announcement that his first diplomatic trip will be to Moscow. Whilst it is not hugely surprising that this would be the case, as Russia and China currently have a strong relationship, it has triggered particular concern from the western diplomatic community, specifically the United States.
Before diving into potential consequences of a meeting between Xi Jinping and Russian government officials, it is necessary to elaborate on the history of the Russian-Chinese relationship. Though there were several tensions that emerged following the death of Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong’s statement that he did not particularly revere Stalin. In 1992, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin made the first Russian diplomatic visit to Beijing. Since then, Russian-Chinese relations have been extremely amicable. One of the most significant turning points in the relationship came in 2001 when on July 16th Chinese and Russian top government officials constructed and ratified the, ‘Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation,’ between the two nations. At the creation of this communiqué, there was concern from western powers over the fact that Russia promised to provide China with access to Russian military technology. Furthermore, China and Russia constructed an extremely lucrative economic partnership in which they were able to easily compete with the western markets. Though there is an evident diplomatic history between the two states, there is well-founded speculation that Xi Jinping has other incentives in choosing to initiate talks with Russia at this time.
There are several implications of Xi Jinping’s decision to make Russia his first diplomatic visit. In his recent State of the Union Address, as well as in other statements, US President Barack Obama has maintained that the Asia should be the United States’ top priority. It has been highly suspected that Xi Jinping and the rest of the Chinese government have become anxious with this proposition. They are said to believe that Obama’s primary intention is to contain the growing economic and political influence of Beijing. In this sense, Xi Jinping is keen to secure his steady relationship with the Russians. If China can have support from the Russian government, they can have a strong advantage in remaining strong economic competitors and will be unable to be contained by the western democracies.
Furthermore, there is a belief that Russia and China could be working to weaken the power of Japan, one of the United States’ biggest allies and one of the ways in which the US can secure a foothold in the region. In addition, there is a fear that there could be an inverse relationship between the steady growth of the Russian-Chinese relationship and that of China and the United States. Though the United States is concerned for their individual relationship as a result of Xi Jinping’s anticipated travels, there is also more apprehension from the United States with relation to the growing stratification within the United Nation’s Security Council. The stronger the relationship between Russia and China, the more division occurs within the Security Council, thus creating very little leeway for actual directives and resolutions to pass without one side vetoing the other. Beyond the United States and the Security Council, Russian-Chinese strengthened relations will have an effect on the upcoming South Africa summit of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China). In the aftermath of Russian-Chinese meeting, more details of specific international implications will come to pass in the coming months.