With the war in Ukraine and its economic fallout looming over this year’s G20 summit, Xi Jinping’s stance on the conflict is set to be put to the test — both in his talks with US President Joe Biden and over the course of the subsequent two-day summit.
Since the start of Russia’s assault on neighboring Ukraine, China has said it supports peace and claimed to not choose sides, while refusing to condemn the invasion and instead criticizing Western sanctions, spending record levels on Russian energy and accusing NATO and Washington of pushing Moscow to war.
The US and its allies have kept close watch over whether China would send any material support for the war effort to Putin — with whom Xi has a close personal rapport — especially as Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian borders just weeks after Xi and Putin declared their countries’ partnership had “no limits.”
While Western officials have not said they’ve found signs of such support, they have tried to push China to use its relationship with Russia to end the conflict and broker peace.
Such conversations are likely to have been on the table during the lengthy conversations between Xi, Biden and their top officials on Monday night in Bali. And the rest of the world will be watching how Xi navigates the pressure, especially following a series of recent events altering the situation in Ukraine, including Putin’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, his nuclear threats, and the Russian’s military’s growing losses in Ukraine.
Those stakes are even higher for Xi as his attendance at the summit marks only the second time that he has traveled abroad since the start of the pandemic, as China continues to maintain border controls and a strict zero-Covid policy. This meeting places Xi alongside the US and other NATO leaders who have rallied behind Ukraine — even at the cost of their own energy security. Putin has declined to attend the summit in person.
His G20 attendance cuts a stark contrast to Xi’s first oversees meeting earlier this fall, when he joined Russian leader Vladimir Putin and central Asian counterparts for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan. That summit signaled Xi’s preference for an alternate world order free from what Beijing sees as US hegemony.
His current visit to the G20 and upcoming trip to the APEC leader’s summit in Bangkok later in the week indicate a different signal: an apparent bid to bolster China’s standing amid rising tensions with the West.