At the end of the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet in Uzbekistan. Xi will probably try to show closeness to the Kremlin. But it shouldn’t be too big. An encounter that becomes a balancing act.

When Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin last met for the Winter Olympics in Beijing, both were still brimming with self-confidence.

Together, according to the communiqué that the dictatorships had published after their meeting, Russia and the People’s Republic would be able to attack and conquer the free world under the leadership of the USA.

Both despots dreamed of a “true democratic age” into which they would lead the world. Six months later things couldn’t be worse for the two of them: Putin loses his war of aggression against Ukraine. He is being criticized for this in Russia, which is a novelty for him.

Mostly by once-submissive bloggers who are now demanding he change his strategy. In addition, the Western sanctions against Russia are having an effect: economic output is expected to fall by around six percent, and there will be a lack of spare parts for aircraft and telecommunications.

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Putin will not be able to open fairs and inaugurate Ferris wheels for much longer, while young Russian soldiers in the neighboring country are being burned in an unjust war. According to Newsweek magazine, around 15,000 soldiers have died and around 30,000 have been injured.

Things aren’t looking any better for Xi Jinping: Beijing has lost the saber-rattling with the US after politician Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan for the moment.

As with the last such confrontation in 1995 and 1996, the United States ended up sending warships through the Taiwan Straits to continue marking the waters as an international sea. This time it was two.

Beijing cannot afford a war with Washington right now, the economy is devastated, the middle class is deprived of their savings and the prospect of home ownership, youth unemployment is at an all-time high of 20 percent.

The failed corona policy is currently forcing 300 million people to remain in quarantine, the water shortage brought production in the important province of Sichuan to a complete standstill for a week.

In China, too, there are now protests in response to these events, which is just as rare as in Russia. Despite his poor record, Xi Jinping would like to be proclaimed president again at the 20th party congress in October.

When the two dictators meet at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan this week, they may lick their wounds behind closed doors, but try to appear united on the outside.

The SCO is a body that the People’s Republic set up to discuss political, economic and security-related issues with its neighbors: Beijing wants to radiate soft power at events like these.

At the present moment, just after the report of the UN High Representative for Human Rights accredited Xi’s regime as committing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China is as unpopular on the globe as ever.

As a warmonger, Russia can also claim little soft power for itself: the Russian army committed cruel war crimes in its retreat in northern Ukraine. Incidentally, she supports the Chinese in their modernization and trains Beijing’s soldiers for an invasion war against Taiwan.

Russia recently approved of China’s actions against Taiwan, Beijing in turn supports Putin’s activities in Ukraine and, like Russian propaganda, calls the war a “special operation”.

In Beijing’s eyes, the defeat of its partner Russia in Ukraine means a loss of face. Despite this, the nomenklatura has so far refrained from supporting the Kremlin with arms, fearing that if they did so, they would also be subject to sanctions.

In addition to China and Russia, almost all former countries that belonged to the USSR, as well as India and Pakistan, take part in the assembly of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The meeting is likely to be jazzed up by Xi and Putin as an expression of a new alliance.

Putin has already been working on such a story over the summer: The Kremlin dictator visited Iran in July, he bought weapons from North Korea, the latter certainly not without the knowledge and approval of Beijing, the patron saint of the Stone Age dictatorship in the north of the Korean peninsula.

Xi’s trip, on the other hand, is his first abroad since the beginning of the corona pandemic in Wuhan, China. It is therefore eagerly awaited whether Xi will repeat the statement made by the two in February that their friendship “knows no bounds”. It doesn’t look like that at the moment:.

Prior to the meeting, China’s Ambassador to the USA explained that the UN Charter, international law and the basic norms that regulate international relations are also essential for the foreign policy of the People’s Republic.

With the Kremlin currently trampling on all these principles, Ambassador Qin Gang’s statement reads like a departure from the special friendship “without borders”.

In Uzbekistan, Xi will therefore have to show proximity to the Kremlin in order to show China that he is successful in foreign policy and can bring countries together in an alliance against the United States.

On the other hand, this proximity must not be too great, because if the Kremlin and its army cannot defeat Ukraine, Xi’s critics would blame him for having tied himself to an unworthy friend.

Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute of the University of Oxford and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.

Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann

From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.