REDISTRIBUTION OF POWER
Whether or not Putin gave Xi details of his imminent plans to invade Ukraine at their 2022 meeting, the common goal outlined in their joint statement was clear: The “redistribution of power in the world”, an end to US dominance and the redefinition of democracy and human rights as whatever a given government says they are.
For sure, Xi didn’t anticipate any more than Putin that Russia’s war machine would be humiliated in Ukraine or that the West would respond not by imploding but also uniting and expanding. In the same way, it’s doubtful that when the two leaders met in February 2022, Xi expected the current conflagration in the Middle East.
But in terms of a zero-sum geopolitical confrontation with the US, trouble in Ukraine or the Middle East is a win for China. Both draw on US resources and attention. Both upset the status quo. As the US becomes embroiled in Israel’s revenge against Hamas in Gaza, its alliances with the Gulf Arab states will be strained, creating opportunities for Xi.
So just as Putin immediately laid the blame for Hamas’ horrific attack on Israeli civilians at the door of the US, China has avoided any public condemnation of Hamas, while criticising Israel for its collective punishment of Palestinians in response.
By courting the Muslim world in this way, Putin and Xi are doubling down on their success in persuading the so-called Global South that the problem isn’t Russian aggression in Ukraine or Hamas’ grotesque terrorist acts in Israel, but rather the continued colonialism of the US and Europe.
Never mind Russian suppression of Muslim Tatars in occupied Crimea or Chinese internment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The narrative works because the Palestinian injustice, with its colonial overtones and deep history in centuries of struggle over control of the Holy Land, can enrage the Arab Street like no other.
So get ready for more tenacious anti-Western messaging from Xi and Putin this week. They may have suffered some economic setbacks, and in Russia’s case, military, but when it comes to rallying other nations to their cause, they’re making good progress.