Xi Jinping May Be Souring on His ‘Best, Most Intimate Friend’

July 6, 2023

By Ryan Hass

Mr. Hass was an adviser to President Barack Obama on China policy.

“When Xi Jinping ascended to the pinnacle of Chinese power a decade ago, he saw Vladimir Putin as a strong leader who shared his hostility to the Western-dominated international system. They bonded over mutual paranoia about threats to their rule and exchanged best practices for imposing control at home and making the world more accommodating of their authoritarian impulses. Mr. Xi referred to Mr. Putin as his “best, most intimate friend.”

In the wake of the Wagner affair, Mr. Xi’s big bet on the Russian leader isn’t looking so safe.

The disastrous Russian war effort, culminating in last month’s aborted insurrection by the Wagner group’s paramilitary chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has exposed Mr. Putin’s Russia for what it is: a weakened, unpredictable nuclear state on China’s border, with a wounded leader whose long-term hold on power is not assured.

Mr. Xi cannot afford to abandon Mr. Putin altogether. He has invested too much in the relationship, and Russia remains useful to China. But the bromance that has caused so much concern in the West has probably peaked.”