President Xi’s Dilemma: Visit Moscow Soon or Hope That Blinken Still Comes to Beijing First?

Going to Moscow sometime soon like his “best friend” President Putin invited him to do this spring during their traditional end-of-the-year call would show that President Xi has been swayed by his military’s hardline anti-US faction into more robustly resisting America’s attempts to reassert its declining hegemony, while continuing to delay this trip under whatever pretext in the hopes of Blinken visiting first to revive the New Détente would signal weakness in the face of US strength.

The Chinese Balloon Incident Could Decisively Shift China’s & The US’ ‘Deep State’ Dynamics” in ways that doom the New Détente that their leaders had been working so hard to make progress on since mid-November. The state of affairs is presently such that their hitherto attempt to seriously explore a series of mutual compromises aimed at comparatively “normalizing” their relations appears less likely than ever.

This assessment is especially so after the US shot down China’s aerial object over the Atlantic upon it completing its flight across the country, which prompted a furious reply from Beijing. The People’s Republic accused the US of “seriously violating international practice” and vowed to “resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of relevant companies, while reserving the right to make further necessary reaction.” Quite clearly, hardliners in both “deep states” are on the ascendency.

President Xi now finds himself in an unexpected dilemma brought about by circumstances beyond his control, namely the unilateral subversion of his grand strategic goal to clinch a New Détente with Biden after his military’s hardline anti-US faction provoked this incident. They set into motion a sequence of events that enabled the US military’s hardline anti-Chinese faction to opportunistically exploit what happened and thus advance their counterpart’s shared goal of offsetting any potential rapprochement.

He’s now faced with the fateful choice of either clinging to the noble goal of New Détente despite mutual “deep state” resistance and thus skyrocketing odds that it’ll fail or abandoning this grand strategic objective and thus accepting a fiercer rivalry with the US than ever before. The first would require him and Biden pioneering solutions to work around their militaries’ powerful obstructionist forces while the second involve complying with their demands and redoubling deterrence capabilities.

The traditional opacity of China’s decision-making processes makes it difficult for observers to discern what he’ll ultimately do and why, but one key indicator that’ll help add clarity to his thought process for outsiders is whether he’ll decide to confirm his trip to Moscow. President Putin invited him to visit sometime this spring during their traditional end-of-the-year call with each other and the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that it’ll be “the central event” in the bilateral agenda this year.

Nevertheless, the Chinese side still has yet to confirm the timing of his visit, with it hitherto having been taken for granted that it would obviously occur after Secretary of State Blinken’s previously planned trip to Beijing next week that was abruptly postponed due to the balloon incident. Had everything proceeded along that trajectory, then the partial purpose of President Xi’s trip to Moscow would have been to reassure his Russian counterpart that the US isn’t manufacturing another split between them.

That assessment is now no longer relevant as a result of the unexpected tensions in Chinese-American relations brought about by the balloon incident that their militaries’ hardline factions each had a hand in orchestrating to their own extent. The resultant dilemma is that President Xi must now decide whether to confirm the dates of his planned trip sometime soon or continue dillydallying under whatever pretext like COVID-19 or so-called “scheduling issues”.

The first would reassure Russia of China’s grand strategic intentions in the New Cold War, which is being fought between the US-led West’s Golden Billion and the jointly BRICS– & SCO-led Global South of which they’re both a part over the direction of the global systemic transition, while dooming the New Détente. By contrast, the second would prompt suspicions from Russia over China’s intentions concerning the aforesaid since it would signal that Beijing still prioritizes clinging to the New Détente despite the odds.

While it’s unrealistic to expect a serious rift in the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership due to these Great Powers’ mutually beneficial relations, trust between them might be irreparably damaged if President Xi signals that he’d still prefer to meet with America’s top diplomat first over traveling to Moscow to visit his “best friend” President Putin. It was earlier understandable why the Chinese leader wanted to see Blinken before his Russian counterpart, but those calculations are now irrelevant.  

The chances of the Secretary of State visiting Beijing anytime soon are very low due to the combination of his military’s hardline anti-Chinese faction rapidly ascending in influence as well as the unprecedented political pressure that the Republicans will put upon the White House over the balloon incident. It therefore doesn’t make sense for President Xi to continue putting off his trip to Moscow in order for it to partially serve the purpose of briefing President Putin about the New Détente.

To the contrary, it’s arguably more urgent than ever for him to prioritize visiting the Russian capital as soon as possible in order to discuss ways in which to recalibrate their strategic partnership in light of the New Détente having been derailed, but that would of course exacerbate anti-Chinese hysteria in the US. By doing so, President Xi would be playing into the hands of both countries’ hardliners, but declining to confirm his trip to Moscow might personally offend President Putin and prompt suspicions from Russia.

The Chinese leader is thus in the midst of an extremely difficult dilemma, with whatever decision he makes having far-reaching implications. Going to Moscow sometime soon would show that he’s been swayed by his military’s hardline anti-US faction into more robustly resisting America’s attempts to reassert its declining hegemony, while delaying this trip under whatever pretext in the hopes of Blinken visiting first to revive the New Détente would signal weakness in the face of US strength.

By Andrew Korybko
Source: Andrew Korybko’s Newsletter

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