Against the backdrop of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the annual showcase for U.S.-China cooperation, President Xi Jinping welcomed another foreign guest to Beijing: Sergei Ivanov, chief of the Presidential Administration of Russia. Ivanov is in China for a three-day visit, according to the Voice of Russia.
Xi told Ivanov that his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin “shows the special characteristics of the China-Russia relationship,” Xinhua reported. Ivanov agreed, and praised the “epoch-making significance” of the deals signed between China and Russia during Putin’s visit to China in May (among them, a massive natural gas deal that was 10 years in the making). The two promised that China and Russia would continue to strengthen their cooperation as agreed to during Putin’s meeting with Xi.
Ivanov also defended China and Russia’s joint military drills, such as the one recently held in the East China Sea. “We are sovereign states; we are not carrying out these drills against somebody. We are holding it to strengthen our bilateral cooperation,” Ivanov said according to RIA Novosti. At the time, there was speculation that the drills were supposed to send a warning message to Japan, and by extension the U.S.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
It’s no coincidence that Ivanov is in China at the same time as the largest annual dialogue between the U.S. and China — or that he scored a personal meeting with Xi himself, which was featured prominently on Xinhua’s English-language website. Previous Chinese leaders placed a massive amount of emphasis on the U.S.-China relationship, something Xi seems less interested in doing. He prefers to shore up ties with other countries, including Russia but also countries like South Korea and Germany. All three of those relationships have been described by Chinese media as being at historic highs in the past few months, thanks to Xi’s leadership. Even as Xi increases ties to other countries, he is less willing to compromise to keep the U.S.-China relationship going strong.
Xi’s meeting with Ivanov is a reminder to the U.S. that China is not reliant on positive ties with Washington. Growing friendships with other countries, especially Russia, allow Beijing to hedge against the possibility that U.S.-China relations deteriorate. Xi’s reference to his good relationship with Putin also serves as a reminder that he and Obama do not share the same rapport. At his keynote speech at the S&ED, Xi emphasized the importance of a cooperative relationship between the U.S. and China, but his meeting with Ivanov underscores that China has other avenues for great power diplomacy should current tensions continue.