Russia-China Ties | Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping have a lot in common, and that’s troubling

Akshobh Giridharadas
4 min readMar 13, 2022

Veteran United States diplomat Winston Lord has a funny story. Long before he served as ambassador to China, he was on a secret flight in 1971, accompanying his boss, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.

No American had set food in China since 1949. Kissinger knew this, and wanted to emulate an ‘Armstrong’, so hurriedly ensured that he was the first to deplane. But Lord quips, that he was in the front of the plane when it crossed Chinese airspace, thereby making him the first American to ‘enter’ China.

That trip, unknown to the world then, was to the lay the foundations for a historic meet. This February marked the 50th anniversary of US President Richard Nixon’s famed public visit to China, marking a historic détente with China, and turning a communist adversary into a key partner in the Cold War. Nixon called his trip “ the week that changed the world “.

The world has changed even more so in the last few days, as Russian tanks crush down literal and metaphoric borders as Moscow assaults Kyiv. While Russia faces the heft of sanctions and global excoriation, there is a sense of an ‘ally’ in the corner, as Beijing has veered back towards Moscow.

Not since the famed Sino-Soviet split, have Moscow and Beijing found a new sense of bonhomie. That Vladimir Putin-Xi Jinping camaraderie has morphed into forging deeper security and economic ties. China presents itself as the world’s largest market, and a ready consumer of Russian energy. Putin hopes this will help mitigate the existing revenue hits from European Union markets, courtesy sanctions.

Both Putin and Xi share ire with the West, in what they perceive as ‘a sense of multilateralism with American characters’. One where Washingtonian institutions have long enjoyed geopolitical and economic hegemony. Their sense of authoritarian systems and governance is one that has been reviled ad-nauseum in the West, and seen as incongruous with liberal democratic values.

Both are statists to the core, and more often than not, invoke historical nostalgia, alluding Western powers precluding their success. As evinced with Putin’s speech, Ukraine is an integral part of the Russian identity. Modern day Russia began not in Moscow but in Kyiv, with Kievan Rus being where modern-day Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus draw their sense of identity from. Kyiv also has historical heft for the…

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Akshobh Giridharadas

A journalist by profession. He writes about business & finance, geopolitics, sports & tech news. He is a TEDx & Toastmasters speaker. Follow him @Akshobh