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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

With His Trip To Moscow, Xi Has Sent A Clear Message To The World

China has adopted a stance of pro-Putin neutrality since the start of Russia's invasion. But this is not an alliance of equals. China has the upper-hand and sees the opportunity to present itself as an alternative world leader.

Photo of ​Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping in Moscow during the Chinese leader's state visit to Russia.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping in Moscow during the Chinese leader's state visit to Russia.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — While Russia is mired in Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin has become the target of an international arrest warrant, China appeared as a lifeline.

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Xi Jinping’s presence in Moscow from Monday to Wednesday was a bit like the "quiet force" visiting a friend in trouble. They offer him "face," as the Chinese expression for showing respect goes, referring to him as "dear friend"...

But reality sets in very quickly: between the couple, Beijing has the upper hand — and Moscow has no choice.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, China has observed what one diplomat astutely calls a "pro-Putin neutrality", a subtle balance that suits Beijing more than Moscow. Putin could have hoped for more active support, especially in the delivery of arms, technological products, or ways to circumvent Western sanctions. But China is helping Russia sparingly, while making sure to not incur sanctions in turn.


An economic play

Xi Jinping's visit, which ended Wednesday, has confirmed two fundamental elements: the first is that Beijing will not let go of Putin, despite the hopes of some Westerners. Xi Jinping even predicted that Putin would be re-elected next year, and invited him to come to China.

The second element is on the economic front, with the negotiation, apparently well advanced, of the construction of a second gas pipeline between Russia and China, via Mongolia. It will allow the gas that has been boycotted by Europe to be rerouted to China. This is vital for the Russian economy, as China confirms it will use Russia as an energy reservoir on its doorstep.

Photo of \u200bChinese President Xi Jinping's plane at Vnukovo-2 airport in Moscow.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's plane at Vnukovo-2 airport in Moscow.

Petrov Sergey / ZUMA

An alternative world leader

There remains a strong complicity between the two countries, a partnership that’s constantly reinforced, yet still not a formal alliance, which China has rejected. Beijing and Moscow share an anti-Western vision of the world, but not to the point of tying their fate in confrontation with the Western bloc.

Ukraine is the least of Xi's priorities.

Xi Jinping sees far beyond the Ukrainian conflict, which is the least of his priorities. He is aiming for the leadership of the non-Western world, those countries of the Global South that did not want to align themselves with Washington in Ukraine, and want to emancipate themselves from the alliances of the past.

Last week, China surprised the world by organizing in Beijing the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This week, Xi Jinping is developing a soothing, non-interference speech in Moscow, to contrast with America, which he blames for the war in Ukraine.

This rhetoric goes far beyond Ukraine. Moreover, Beijing has taken note of the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv, which coincided with Xi's visit to Moscow: Asian rivalries can be found in this part of Europe at war.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Xi Jinping's trip to Moscow, it is that far from keeping a low profile in the face of Washington, China is presenting itself as an alternative world leader.

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Society

Italy's Right-Wing Government Turns Up The Heat On 'Gastronationalism'

Rome has been strongly opposed to synthetic foods, insect-based flours and health warnings on alcohol, and aggressive lobbying by Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government against nutritional labeling has prompted accusations in Brussels of "gastronationalism."

Dough is run through a press to make pasta

Creation of home made pasta

Karl De Meyer et Olivier Tosseri

ROME — On March 23, the Italian Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Francesco Lollobrigida, announced that Rome would ask UNESCO to recognize Italian cuisine as a piece of intangible cultural heritage.

On March 28, Lollobrigida, who is also Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's brother-in-law, promised that Italy would ban the production, import and marketing of food made in labs, especially artificial meat — despite the fact that there is still no official request to market it in Europe.

Days later, Italian Eurodeputy Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of fascist leader Benito Mussolini and member of the Forza Italia party, which is part of the governing coalition in Rome, caused a sensation in the European Parliament. On the sidelines of the plenary session, Sophia Loren's niece organized a wine tasting, under the slogan "In Vino Veritas," to show her strong opposition (and that of her government) to an Irish proposal to put health warnings on alcohol bottles. At the end of the press conference, around 11am, she showed her determination by drinking from the neck of a bottle of wine, to great applause.

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