A meeting this week between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin underscores the deepening China-Russia partnership presenting an alternative vision to the US-led world order, as divisions sharpen over the escalating Israel-Palestine crisis.
The Tuesday gathering in Beijing of the two heads of state, both increasingly at odds with Washington and its allies, comes amid urgent calls for a ceasefire as Israel threatens a Gaza ground invasion to eliminate Hamas militants. Moscow and Beijing have pressed for peace and criticized Israel’s retaliation against Hamas rocket attacks as excessive, while the US strongly backs Israel’s right to self-defense.
The timing coincides with news President Joe Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday in a show of solidarity amid the crisis. But the Gaza conflict seems likely to widen splits between the US and allies like Israel on one side and Russia and China on the other, as the two powers promote themselves as voices of moderation.
Xi-Putin Meeting Spotlights Growing China-Russia Bond
Putin’s rare foreign visit to China highlights increasingly close ties between the two countries and their shared resistance to US global dominance. Despite Russia’s isolation after its Ukraine invasion, Xi continues to stand by Putin, seeing him as an important ally in challenging Western power.
This marks Putin’s first known trip outside former Soviet countries since launching the Ukraine war in February 2023, other than an earlier visit to China. With few world leaders willing to meet him, the Chinese capital is one of the only places the Russian leader can travel without security concerns.
The forum presents a prime opportunity for Putin to shift focus from his flailing invasion of Ukraine and for China to flex its growing diplomatic muscle by bringing together 140+ countries. Xi and Putin are expected to discuss Ukraine, as well as proposals for a Gaza ceasefire, according to the Kremlin.
China Positions Itself as Possible Mediator in Ukraine
While not overtly pressuring Russia to end its aggression, China has tried framing itself as a potential mediator in Ukraine. However, with Beijing wary of damaging close Russia ties, experts see little indication China plans to leverage its influence over Moscow despite Western appeals.
China has also condemned Israeli strikes on Gaza while refraining from criticizing Hamas. This contrasts with full-throated US defense of Israel’s actions. China’s more neutral stance could boost its credibility as a broker between Israel and Palestine.
‘No Limits’ Partnership Tested but Still Strong
The Ukraine invasion strained China’s vaunted “no limits” partnership with Russia proclaimed in 2022. While claiming neutrality, China helps sustain Russia’s economy despite Western sanctions. Trade and military cooperation have also grown.
But China treads carefully, rhetorically keeping some distance from Russia when addressing Western nations. Regardless, ties between Xi and Putin have only solidified, with more joint drilling and deepening collaboration across sectors. Though avoidance of the ‘no limits’ label, the alignment remains robust in practice.
Russia Sees China as Key Global Counterweight to US
For Russia, partnership with rising superpower China is crucial to offsetting US dominance and rallying a global alternative. Ahead of his visit, Putin praised Xi as an esteemed world leader and lauded China’s respectful approach to other nations.
With China undeterred by Russia’s pariah status after Ukraine, Putin can reinforce the vital China-Russia pole in a new multipolar order not centered on the West. Beijing also gains from hosting the isolated Russian president at its premier diplomatic event.
Israel-Gaza Crisis Widens Global Divide
Differing reactions to the Gaza crisis exemplify the deep rupture between the Russia-China axis and the US-led camp. While Biden plans to back Israel against Hamas in person, Xi and Putin push for Israeli restraint and dialogue.
This reflects a broader divergence on Palestinian issues. China has ramped up engagement, as with Xi recently hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The US remains staunchly pro-Israel. As divisions grow, joint Russia-China calls for Israel-Palestine calm could bolster their claim as forces for stability.
Gaza Conflict Adds to Mideast Role for China
The Gaza war comes as China moves to expand Middle East involvement. Its foreign minister has suggested Israel has gone too far in Gaza. This builds on China seeking a role in Iran nuclear talks and calling for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
With the US still dominant in the region, China lacks sufficient sway for now. But vocal criticism of Israel combined with neutrality on Hamas helps China portray itself as a more impartial actor. Active diplomacy fits Xi’s vision of China as an indispensable world leader.
Key Takeaways: Russia and China Align Against West
- Xi-Putin meeting shows China-Russia entente challenges US-led order
- Despite Ukraine invasion, Xi stands by Putin as vital partner vs West
- Russia, China call for Israel-Gaza ceasefire, criticize Israeli actions
- Gaza conflict widens global split, with China and Russia against US camp
- China presents itself as potential mediator in both Ukraine and Mideast
- Deepening China-Russia ties remain strong in practice, defying sanctions
- Crisis highlights China’s desire for greater Middle East diplomatic role
With China-Russia cooperation expanding, the Gaza conflict has sharpened divisions with the West. This will encourage Beijing and Moscow’s belief that growing multipolarity is remaking the global landscape in their favor. But questions remain on how far China will go to shield its isolated partner Russia.
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