Xi Jinping, the president of China, is not known for making spontaneous remarks in front of the public. So when he said on Monday that he and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, were responsible for some of the largest changes to the world in a century, he was making a very unambiguous statement. Days after the International Criminal Court at The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Mr.
Putin for alleged war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Mr. Xi made those remarks while visiting the Kremlin. More than just showing support for Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi’s visit demonstrates China’s growing determination to have a say in how the international system is built and its readiness to use frank diplomacy in those efforts.
Since the end of the Cold War, Washington and its allies in the West have largely set the agenda for war and peace. China is now interjecting itself into international conflicts and positioning itself as a rival pole that can influence how big wars, both hot and cold, turn out. Earlier this month, China brokered a historic deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two longtime rivals, in which both countries agreed to restore embassies in each other’s capitals and revive a security cooperation agreement.
Similar to Mr. Xi, he has proposed a peace strategy to end the fighting between Russia and Ukraine. On the surface, there don’t appear to be many similarities between that conflict and the unrest in the Middle East. The three major players in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel, legitimately view China as impartial. That lends credence to their mediation efforts because the United States of America is unable to participate. But it is apparent that Beijing has supported Moscow in the conflict in the Ukraine. Ukraine has been willing to talk with Beijing because China has now shown that it can help resolve conflicts that seem insurmountable. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, is anticipated to hear from Mr. Xi soon. China is not acting philanthropically in any of this.
This is power play on display, with China making clear it will follow norms that work for it. In that, China is following in the footsteps of the US, which has long placed itself above the rules it sets for others. How that affects the global balance of power is unclear. In the meantime, if Washington does not like what it is seeing, it only needs to look in the mirror.