Much has been written about the relationship between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, largely making the case that theirs is a close personal relationship, based on their similarities. One publication went so far as to assert that “Xi is China’s Putin.” As much fun as this bromance theory might be, it misreads both men, and attributes to personalities what is better explained by political realities.
Xi and Putin have met on at least 10 occasions since Xi assumed office. Both have waxed effusive about their friendship. Putin said that he and Xi shared vodka and sandwiches as they celebrated Putin’s 61st birthday together. Similarly, Xi has made remarks reminiscent of George W. Bush’s glimpse into Putin’s soul.
This is largely theater, and the real reasons underlying their frequent contact and collaboration have far more to do with sharing a common enemy than with any great linking of kindred spirits. The fraught history of Sino-Russian relations is well-known, and given this history, we need to ask what has changed so much that the two countries are now drawn together in what Xi has described as the “most strategic” bilateral relationship.
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