In the winter of 2013, China announced that the first trip abroad for its newly chosen leader China, Xi Jinping would be to Russia, a country with which China had long had a hot-and-cold relationship. The meeting with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, was fraught with meaning, The New York Times noted at the time, and it sent a signal not just to the world but also to the United States in particular that Mr. Xi would prioritize making that relationship warmer.
Now, it appears, it is signal time once again.
This week, Mr. Xi is to meet with Mr. Putin, this time at a summit meeting of Asian leaders.
With Moscow a pariah among many Western nations since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, good relations with Beijing have become more important to it than ever. Not only has China refrained from condemning the attack, it has also helped keep Russia’s economy afloat by stepping in to buy Russian oil as Western nations curtail their purchases.
There are parallels between Mr. Xi’s trip in 2013 and the one planned for next week.
A decade ago, relations between the United States and China were growing tense. Beijing suspected that the Obama administration’s campaign to bolster American ties with Asian countries was really an attempt to contain China.
Relations now are, if anything, even worse. Amid talk of a new cold war, President Biden and Mr. Xi appear to be on a collision course. Tensions only grew worse in July, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi infuriated Chinese leaders by making a trip to Taiwan, the disputed democratic territory that China claims.
Now, with the West intent on punishing Russia over the war in Ukraine, it is Moscow that has set out to strengthen its ties in Asia. “No matter how much someone wants to isolate Russia, it is impossible to do,” Mr. Putin said in a speech last week. “You just need to look at the map.”
But Beijing appears far more open to Russia’s overtures to Asian countries than it was to similar efforts by the United States. Where the West points to Ukraine and warns of Russian aggression and expansionism, Moscow and Beijing say that the real problem is American attempts at hegemony.
Still, events in Ukraine in recent days have left a question hovering over next week’s meeting: Might Russia’s significant military setbacks lead Mr. Xi to rethink just how closely he wants to throw his lot in with the Russian leader?
A lot has changed since February, when the world was bracing for what seemed an imminent invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi met at the Olympics in Beijing that month, then issued a joint statement. Their friendship, they said, had “no limits.”